The 3 Questions That Will Improve Your EQ

Author Justin Bariso
Photo courtesy of Justin Bariso

[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Kevin Kruse: Hey, hey, hey, Kevin Kruse once again welcome to the LEADx Leadership Show where we are helping you to stand out and get ahead. We are helping you to become the boss everyone wants to work for. Now, today on the show you're gonna hear from one of the most popular writers on and among other things, we talk about emotional triggers that hijack our brain, and a three-second technique to stay calm and level-headed to overcome that hijack feeling.

But first, do you want to win a Best Place to Work award? That's what I did. Best Place to Work in the State of Pennsylvania award back in, I don't really remember, 10 years ago or so? Well, I'm teaching you the secrets to employee engagement. How I went from ‘horrible boss' to ‘award-winning, highly-engaged boss,' and I'm gonna teach you that on Just visit, sign up for a free trial, you can check out that course and dozens of others, and by the way, if you have 10 or more managers and you'd like to develop them to their full potential, drop us a line at Just send us an email and we can explain and set you up with a no-cost trial of the LEADxAcademy for all of your managers. It's pretty cool; we just set you up, we put all that time commitment in, set them up with a system, let them go wild and learn and become great in a 30 day or 40 day time period, and give them a survey. And you'll see the data, we'll see the data. If they don't have dramatically improved ROI results, managerial confidence, productivity, less stress, if they don't say they would recommend this to others, then hey, we go our own ways. But, if they like it, they see results, then we think you're gonna want to keep it. So again, drop us an email, that's at

Before I talk to our guest today, let me give you a quote of the day. I guess it's our quote of the week. “No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it's actually more important than book smarts in the making of a leader. You just can't ignore it.” And that's from Jack Welch.

Our guest today is a consultant who helps organizations think differently and communicate with impact. In 2016 LinkedIn named him the top voice in management and culture. Dang, I gotta spend more time on LinkedIn. I'd like to be a top voice. His new book is EQ Applied: The Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Our guest is Justin Bariso. Justin, welcome to the show.

Justin Bariso: Hey, Kevin, great to be here.

Kruse: Great to talk to you again, as always, and we're gonna talk about your new book in just a second, but I give my guests always the same first question, which is, “What leadership advice would you give to a first-time manager?”

Bariso: So first-time manager, I would say take your time to get to know your team and to get to know their problems, get to know their pain points, get to know their strengths, all those things, because a lot of times what happens is first-time manager, you've got all kinds of brilliant ideas, of course, right? But you can't just go in and change everything or try to implement everything, because you don't have your people's trust. And that's the case even if you've been promoted into a position and you already know your team, because now you're different. It's not Kevin the friend, the employee, it's Kevin the boss, right?

So you have to win that trust all over again and so that's what I'd recommend, just take your time to get to know them and once you've built that trust, now be helpful. Help them with their problems. Now you've got their trust, and praise them. Identify specifically what are they doing well, and tell them that. And once you've got their trust, now you can give them some of that critical feedback, because they already know you're looking out for their interests, right, and now you can start to implement some of those brilliant ideas, one at a time, because now they're ready to get behind them.

Kruse: Yeah, so much great stuff in that answer. It reminds me of Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor and she talks about, it's all about feedback, but she says, “Don't just start giving the feedback right away. Start with the praise. Spend a month on praise first, where they're getting positive feedback, then think about the constructive feedback down the road,” which is great.

Bariso: Yeah, exactly.

Kruse: So, Justin, again we were talking before we went on the air here, I'm a big fan of your new book. Again, it's EQ Applied, the Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Beautiful cover, great actionable book, but let's start at the beginning. So how do you define EQ?

Bariso: So I distill it into the simplest definition, probably, that's out there, which is 'emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you.' And there are all kinds of ways that you can apply that and direct that, but basically, that's what it is. We're emotional creatures, we make decisions based on emotion, many times. Others try to reach us or we try to reach others based on a decision, so it's being able to understand those emotions, to manage those emotions, to keep them under control so that you're making them work for you.

Kruse: And that leads me into, and again, obviously there's a whole book on it here, but where do we start? How can we better manage our emotions? And I think you even write about, you were taught something called the Three Second Trick, that's one of the methods that you teach. Tell me about that.

Bariso: Right, so I actually learned that from an unlikely source, it was comedian Craig Ferguson, and I was watching an interview one day and he says, “You know, before you say anything, you have to ask yourself three questions: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? And does this need to be said by me now?” And he says it humorously, and he makes a joke about how it took him three marriages to learn that lesson, but that really struck me, especially because of my personality type, which, I'm a little more extroverted, I'm quick to speak, sometimes more quick than I should be. I talk too much sometimes, so those three questions I found were perfect. And I would, it takes three seconds, once you get the practice, it takes three seconds to go through, so I apply them sometimes if I … yeah, if I'm in a meeting, and I have an impulse to say something right away I'll go through the three questions real quick. Usually, it's like, “okay, wait. Let's hear what others have to say first. Let's get more the big picture,” right?

Other times the answer to all three questions is yes, this does need to be said, by me, right now, and boom. And then you have the confidence to speak and not feel like you're gonna regret what you're saying later. So that's the three-second trick. But for others, it's different. See, that's my tendency. For another person that's more introverted, they don't need to ask themselves that, because their tendency is probably not to speak up, and they often regret that. So what I advise in that case, ask yourself the question, “Will I regret not saying this later?” And sometimes just taking a couple seconds to ask you that will give you the motivation to go ahead and speak up.

So it's all about self-awareness. Learning to identify your own tendencies, your own emotions, and then devising a strategy to help you in those moments.

Kruse: This is phenomenal, I love the three questions, it only takes three seconds, and how you've pointed out, for those of us who are more extroverted and quick to just rattle whatever's going on in our mind, it's a good way to maybe hold some things back, but it's as powerful for the introverts who sort of hang back in the meeting. I often say in the podcast, we're always leading. We're always influencing. You lead when you speak up, but you lead in a different direction if you stay silent. So be intentional about it, in whichever direction.

And I know … every year as I get older, I speak less and less, because not that I'm a big extrovert anyway, but it's often from this emotion, or need that I have to be helpful. Or to think that I've got the answer. And what I've learned is there are people out there with a growth mindset that might ask you, “Hey, can you help me? What's your advice? What do you think of this?” But if they're not asking you, often they don't want to know. If … nobody asked me my opinion, right? And so if I voluntarily tell you a better way that you could've done something, what are the odds that you're going to change? Very low. What are the odds that you're gonna be like, “Kevin just hurt my feelings or is a jerk or is a micromanager?” Pretty high. So I think, like you said, does it need to be said? Do I need to be the guy that says it? I think this is really good advice.

So with our emotions, even if you've got some control now, we've got a three-second rule, we've got three questions. I like this phrasing that you use, I mean we still get hijacked sometimes, emotionally. ‘Hijacked,' I love the word. Even when we're doing things right, there are some triggering things that hijack our emotions. And I'm curious; what hijacks your emotions, and what do you do about it? How do you prevent it or get back into control?

Bariso: Okay, good question. So what hijacks my emotions? Well I tell this story in the book, and I love it because I think it illustrates the point really well, which is, you know, I'm in the park, supposed to be watching my kids play, right? And I'm trying to write a work email at the same time. Which many of you will know, that usually does not go well. And so what happens is they're trying to get my attention, I'm trying to finish this task, and all of a sudden I'm going off on my kids, “Be quiet! Just leave me alone for a second!” They end up in tears, and you know, it's like totally, let my emotions get the best of me, right?

So this hijacking, but why did it happen? It didn't happen because my kids are doing anything wrong. It didn't happen because I'm trying to be a good worker. It happened because I'm trying to multitask. And I happen to be the worst multitasker in the world. So identifying that, actually one day after that happened, because there was repeated episodes, you know, you feel bad, you're like, “okay, I'm never gonna do this again,” and then it happens again the next day. So after this happens enough times, I said, “I've gotta put an end to this,” you know? I start doing some reflection and I start to realize that yeah, I'm not a good multitasker and I shouldn't be trying to do these things, and it's a matter of prioritizing. And usually that should be that the kids are the priority and I just put the phone away. So I developed strategies, that I don't even take my phone out if I'm with my kids in the park. And I tell myself that's a rule for me. I just don't take it out.

Other times, you know, there's always exceptions, there's always times when we know we have to do that, so being very communicative with my children, say, “Hey, daddy needs just five minutes, okay?” And if I'm with my wife, “Hey, could you just watch the kids for five minutes?” Whatever it is, make sure they're taken care of, and then you can go ahead and do what you have to do. So that was for me. But emotional hijacks, anything can cause them. And basically, what it is, we talk about this in the book, the neuroscience of it is when you encounter a situation where your emotions are sparked, something that scares you, something that makes you angry. Because that what happens in that moment with my kids, for example, is they're fighting for my attention, and I interpret that subconsciously as a threat. I'm trying to get something done, they're trying to stop me from doing it.

So in those moments a part of our brains, an almond-shaped piece, many of your listeners will have heard of it, the amygdala, that takes over. That's the kinda emotional processor of the brain, and where we usually engage other parts of our brain to think more rationally, now the emotional part takes over. Sometimes that can be good, right? So if you really are facing a severe threat then it's great that your emotions take over and cause you to fight or flee or whatever you need to do. But many times it's not that important and it's misinterpreted as a threat, so it's learning to identify, okay, what are the real threats and what are not, and then dealing with them appropriately.

Kruse: Yeah, again, so much great stuff in there. I often talk about the importance of leadership because it's not just about the stuff at work, but how our emotions at work spill over into our personal lives and cross over to others. When you told the story about yourself and the kids, you mentioned like, “I screamed at the kids, the kids are now crying or upset,” or something, and for anybody who's got kids, usually it's kids are the most triggering, right? Especially little kids. And yet that's the … crossover effect. So our emotions at work, good or bad, we carry them into our personal life and they crossover to our spouse, our partners, our kids, because of these moments. So it's important to … not get hijacked. I think for a lot of people at work, you mentioned the fight or flight response, and I might've even learned this from one of your articles back in the day, I can't remember just where I first read it, but there's actually the third, which is the freeze.

Bariso: Exactly.

Kruse: Right? So it's fight, flee, or freeze. And that hits me, I notice. I never quite understood it or observed it until I learned that third thing, and I think a lot of people at work, all of a sudden with that feeling of being overwhelmed. It could be a stress, it could be a boss doing something, and all of a sudden you get hijacked, and it's like ‘boom.' And you can't work, it's like almost frozen, right?

Bariso: Exactly. Exactly, big time. And so that's why it takes time to know what your triggers are and what's hijacking you. And many times, in the beginning especially, it's gonna be after the fact, right? So when you've responded in a way that you regret, or that you're not proud of, that's what you have to take advantage of, because many times, and many people, and I include myself here in the past, you just go on. And that's why I say, ‘and then the next day you do it again,' right? So when that happens, say, “Look, I don't want to respond this way, let me take 20 minutes.” Maybe not right that second, maybe later in the day, maybe before you go to bed, maybe the next morning, “Why did I respond the way I did? What about the situation started building those feelings that way and how would I respond differently if I had it to do over again?” Now, you probably won't respond differently the next time, or even the third time, but if you keep practicing that, you start to train yourself to identify when the hijack is happening.

And now, as in the past where you don't even realize that your amygdala is taking over and you're responding crazily, now you start to realize it and you'll still go to a certain point, but you can actually start to develop control and say, “No, look, I need to pause here. I need to take a brief walk, I need to get a breath of fresh air,” whatever it is, and now you can start to interrupt those emotional hijacks. And what I'll do sometimes, even if I do go a little too far, you can stop and apologize, and say, “Look, I'm sorry, I need a few minutes to gather myself.” And that does so much good because people realize, “Hey, he caught himself and the apology means a lot.” So that's emotional intelligence too, even though maybe you kinda repeated the bad habit, just being able to catch yourself in the middle of the act can do wonders for your relationships with others.

Kruse: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's great. One last thing before … we wrap up for the day. I'm a big fan of empathy. I think empathy is a superpower. I've got three kids, my middle child is, she's super high in empathy, and I tell her that's her superpower. It also makes it really easy for her to get at people, because she knows how to get them. But you say ‘not all empathy is the same,' so tell me more about that.

Bariso: Sure, so first of all, I agree with you that empathy is one of the best qualities that a person can develop. We don't see enough of it in the world today, and that's why we see a lot of the conflict that we see. But empathy can also hurt you if you're not careful. And what I mean by that is, there are a few different ways. You can try to come up with quick solutions sometimes because you feel for someone, … a beggar in the street that's addicted to drugs, but you give them money just because “Well if I was …” You don't know all those things, right? But “If I was in that situation and I was poor, I would want someone to give money to me.” And these are complicated subjects, first of all, but empathy sometimes can lead you to make quick decisions that may not be really solving the problem. And if you give someone a little bit of money, your guilt is calmed down and then we really don't care about or explore these issues further when we should.

That's just one example. And then to take it further, to show and feel empathy for others is very emotionally draining. And what happens sometimes, we see it, we talk about some of the research in the book, primary caregivers, nurses, those working in hospice. They have to learn how to limit their empathy, otherwise, they will just completely burn out, and then they're no good to anyone.

Well we can apply that principle on every day, especially now with social media, because you're seeing everybody's news all the time, many times this is bad news, so this can affect you. At work, if you give everyone all your time, if you feel all their problems all the time, you will have nothing left to give the next person or to give your own work. So it's all about learning balance and it's about, I call it emotionally intelligent empathy. So learning how to take care of your own needs and to show empathy to others but not at the expense to yourself.

Kruse: Great advice. Now, Justin, I always like to challenge our listeners to get a little better every day, do something outside their comfort zone. Give me something quick, a challenge, something related to the book that we can go out and try in the next 24 hours.

Bariso: Okay, sure, let me think about it. … so one thing that I think, because we live in this world of constant distraction, right, and we're just going from one message notification to the next, or “I want to check how,” for me personally it's “how's my book doing on Amazon, how my article doing,” this kind of thing. You need to block out time just to think. And you know, we do this sometimes, hopefully, if we're working on a specific project or if we're working on a specific task, but block out time just to think about, to identify what you need to think about. So that doesn't just mean that you have empty blocks in your schedule because we always fill those blocks up, right? Next thing you know you're having an extra meeting or you're trying to finish some extra tasks, but block out 30 minutes, block out an hour just to sit at your desk and identify new things. Who haven't I caught up within a while that I need to? What are the things that my business needs or my people need that I'm not addressing right now? Taking time out to try to identify those things, I think it's invaluable.

Kruse: I love that advice. I think it was … Reid Hoffman maybe who wrote a post about specifically having every day 30 minutes to an hour to think. Bill Gates was famous for his think weeks, where he would take one to two weeks off with a stack of books and just think at the end of the year.

Bariso: Right. Awesome.

Kruse: Yeah, it's just phenomenal and needed. Congratulations Justin, great book, EQ Applied, the Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Tell our listeners where they can find out more information about the book and about you.

Bariso: Sure thing. So it's available where, almost everywhere where books are sold online, so Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks. I guess it's Apple Books now, as of yesterday. You can check out my stuff for free on my blog,, and I write weekly for Inc Magazine, their online version, and you can find me on Time Magazine from time to time as well.

Kruse: Fantastic. We'll put links to all of those places in the show notes, and the articles that come this way. Justin, thanks for coming onto the LeadX Leadership Show.

Bariso: Thank you Kevin, it was a pleasure.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at