Alumni Profiles

Once More, with Feeling

Kelly Mannel

As the founder of ImagePartners, based in Jacksonville, Florida, Kelly Mannel draws on her training as a certified emotional intelligence coach to guide organizations to achieve better outcomes and individuals to lead more rewarding lives. Here, Mannel GSNB’83 talks about the transformative power of this often-ignored knowledge system.

What is emotional intelligence (EI)?

Emotional intelligence recognizes a very delicate, sophisticated, and rich system in all of us that enables us to learn and understand what we need to about our emotions to make decisions.

How so?

EI gives us rich, powerful information that enables us to navigate ourselves, our relationships, work, and the outer world. Research shows that people who use their EI system usually get along better at work and have better careers. They’re often less stressed, have better resilience, and are often healthier, so there are a lot of net benefits of paying attention to your emotions.

You wrote, “Emotions are there for a reason. Self-awareness gives us powerful information to make good choices.” Can you give an example?

Let’s say you take a new job that looks fun and great. Then there are more meetings, more stress, more clients, and you skip your workout this morning or don’t eat lunch this day. After a couple of weeks or months of this, you start waking up with a stomachache or an anxious feeling. The mindful practice would be to say, “What is happening?” then apply self-compassion by going for that morning walk or workout. You can set new boundaries. I can tell somebody, “Hey—if you send me an email at 5:30 a.m., I will not answer you. I’ll be at the gym. But when I do answer you, it’s going to be really good.” When we access this system, it tells us something.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being with yourself, being present, being in the moment. It’s cultivating self-awareness that enables you to respond rather than react to stress. It means paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them.

You’ve said that the work of Daniel Goleman, author of the classic Emotional Intelligence, is considered the gold standard. What are some things you’ve drawn from him?

I’ve been able to focus on and understand how our bodies supply an endless amount of rich data. The starting gate is self-awareness. It can be as simple as taking a daily walk and being conscious of your breathing. When you focus on your breath, you get out of your head and into your body. That’s really the idea—getting into your body by either sitting or doing yoga or walking. I tell people at work to step back from their desks, sit in another chair, and do a couple of breathing exercises. I teach a 4/6, which is four breaths in and six out to calm your nervous system. Or feel other senses: see something. Smell something. Taste something. Touch something. Listen to something. It gets you back in your body.

What role does self-regulation play?

Now that we have some awareness—we’ve taken a walk, we’re aware of our breath, and we notice a shift that our heart is not racing—my regulation conversation with myself might be: “Well, what makes my heart race? In a good way and not a good way? Is it something I want to pay attention to? Is it something I want to prepare for?” For example, my heart starts to race because I’m nervous about my boss, but now I’m self-aware this could happen, so I’m prepared. I’m doing my breathing. I come to [the situation] with a calm nervous system. Now I’m learning how to regulate, even when I get triggered or get upset. I can anticipate my jitters, so I’m always the calmest one in the room.

Do you have any vivid memories of your time at Rutgers?

When I was studying theater, it was just genius the way we explored the range of emotions and [how to access them]. I remember taking a course in the history department where we learned how to have a dialogue among all the old guys, like [philosopher Immanuel] Kant. The professor [had us] create a theatric performance among these thinkers about how they would argue a key point, like writing a play. He was very inventive. Hardly did I have a professor who wasn’t inspiring.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.