Terri Lonowski: Emotional Intelligence: What It Is, Why It Is So Essential, And How We Can Increase It

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
Authority Magazine
Published in
20 min readFeb 14, 2021


Choose Timing Wisely — I’m a big proponent of authentically speaking your truth and wisely choosing the timing and place to do so. For example, when you need to have a high-stakes conversation with your spouse, hitting them with it the minute you both walk in the door after grueling work days might not turn out the best. However, setting the stage for a calm exchange, after both of you have taken a moment to unwind, will likely be more productive. This approach applies to both workplace and personal relationships.

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Lonowski, M.Ed.

Terri is an accomplished thought leader, whose body of work in evolutionary communication is timely, impactful and deeply relevant as we move forward in healing today’s chaos, divide and disconnect. Terri has had the honor of leading national Human Centered Design teams, which embraced empathy and Design Thinking, to showcase workforce innovations for the Obama Administration at The White House not once, but twice.

Through this experience, significant professional and educational accomplishments, along with her own loneliness journey and inspiration from her Grandma Helga, Terri distinguished the five-elements of Soulful Listening™. When applied in our lives these repeatable elements, steeped in the expression of high Emotional Intelligence, position us to ease feelings of loneliness, create fulfilling connections, and inspire greater human potential.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

First of all, I really appreciate the opportunity to share insights on this critically important topic!

My entire life has led to a simple solution for the devastating impact of not really being heard. If just one person learns to listen in a way that has another realize how NOT alone they really are, we can have a better world for all of us. Millions of people are living in desperate emotional paralysis and crushing loneliness, while businesses and authority figures are unwittingly squelching human potential.

I grew up in Auburn, Nebraska, a small town of about 3,000, where from the age 3 on I lived on the second floor of a mansion. When I say second floor, my family turned the first floor into a bustling restaurant, with banging and clanging and late-night bar crowds right beneath my bedroom EVERY night. To others it may have seemed a charmed life and my cheerful smile hid the reality that for someone with my quieter temperament, it was excruciatingly painful chaos. What I wanted more than anything, without being able to name it, was for someone to hear me. And fortunately, there was one person that did, Grandma Helga. Through the profound listening experience with her, I had the courage to not accept limitations of my high school guidance counselor, who said, “Terri, you’re a small-town girl and you’d get lost in a big city like Lincoln, Nebraska. You need to go to secretarial school and work at your family restaurant.” By having a wise and emotionally intelligent grandmother to bounce that lie off of, I went on to:

Earn a M.Ed. in Educational Psychology — University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Chair the American Counseling Association Foundation, representing over 40,000 professional counselors nationwide; secure a gubernatorial appointment to the Nebraska State Workforce Investment Board; and lead national Human Centered Design teams not once, but twice, to showcase workforce innovations for the Obama Administration at The White House.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

A significant career pivot took place a few years ago. While reviewing research on loneliness for a major national workforce development initiative, I learned of the devastating impact of loneliness. As a result, my career trajectory shifted dramatically. Cigna (the world health organization) reported that over half of the American population is lonely, and the hardest hit are our youth, and loneliness has health implications equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a-day. This broke my heart, shook me to the core, and I wept! I could not turn a blind eye and was inspired to create a better way forward. Reflecting on my education, career, relationships and what helped me thrive, despite the odds, it became clear there were major missing pieces in how we communicate.

Through that soul-searching I created the five elements of Soulful Listening™, which draw upon embodying Emotional Intelligence and help foster more fulfilling connections, whether in the workplace, a romantic relationship, or with a family member.

Although Soulful Listening™ is not synonymous with Emotional Intelligence, it is steeped in it. Let me explain…over and over, in the smallest and biggest ways I have seen real connection be developed in a simple, focused and meaningful way, that is easily repeatable, it requires very little energy and returns tenfold what it takes to give. In my experience, a huge step toward modeling Emotional Intelligence competencies is through embodying evolutionary communication skills, supported by the five elements of Soulful Listening™.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Grandma Helga was always the “wind beneath my wings’’ so to speak. Her wise counsel would nudge me forward into possibility, especially during times of cognitive dissonance and uncertainty. In my early 20’s I was contemplating a master’s degree, first in my family to do so and totally funded by me, when she simply and powerfully said, “Terri, look at all I’ve done without education, think of what you can do with it. All you have to do is to decide what you want to do, and then take steps to do it.” Although she passed in my late 20’s, her profound words have continued to guide me throughout my entire life and career.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I love this question! A colleague and I were challenged with pulling together a three-day eight-state regional US Department of Labor Business Summit on a shoestring budget. Innovation and excellence were our North Stars as we called upon national leaders, CEOs, Fortune 500 HR directors, trailblazers in workforce development and economic development powerhouses to keynote and conduct breakout sessions. In most cases we requested they cover their own expenses.

High Emotional Intelligence played a vital role in soliciting buy-in and coalescing support at all levels. We vulnerably sought input from all eight states as we crafted the agenda and focus for the event. This first-time public-private partnership set the gold standard for future collaborative events nationwide.

Many lessons were learned along the way, including experiencing that excellence inspires collaboration and it’s okay to boldly begin taking steps up the ladder toward your goal, without being able to see the top of the ladder.

Now to the mistake…

As mentioned, this was a first of its kind and we had turnout of well over 500, WAY beyond what we had anticipated. Yes, we had a registration process, however word spread on the nature of a robust agenda and it drew a huge influx of last-minute attendees. And we decided not to turn anyone away.

Shockingly, first thing in the morning breakout sessions were standing room only. These content rich, in-demand sessions were vitally important to attendees. We were under tight budget constraints and inflexible Federal contracts with the venue provider, facing what to do in the crisis of the moment.

Having honed Emotional Intelligence skills and agility to draw upon saved the day. By being able to hold space for multiple perspectives, keeping calm, and sensing emotions of all parties involved, we were able to orchestrate a bridge to connect and find resolution within a matter of moments. Some of the emotional landmines included:

  • Speakers — frustrated that the rooms were bursting at the seams and all could not see them or their presentation
  • Attendees — angry that they might not receive the much-needed content
  • Venue (a mega Atlanta hotel) — irritated and concerned that more would be asked of them
  • Federal partners — concerned with honoring their regulatory guidance

Whew! End result was that we miraculously rallied support of all and moved the overflow sessions to larger rooms. Everybody chipped in, including attendees by moving chairs, tables and AV equipment from one room to another. An interesting by-product was an expanded sense of community and pride in pulling together and contributing to making this quality event a monumental success.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Simply begin and know that you’ll receive clues and cues along the way. Listen carefully. Consistently up-level your skills. Surround yourself with positive influencers and model others with high Emotional Intelligence. Talk kindly to yourself and listen to your cognitive dissonance and take action steps to address your unrest. Fall forward, learn to grow, recalibrate, rest, renew and restore. Accept the gifts of imperfection in yourself and others. Then, take another step. In the end, incremental steps forward one after another, yield success and confidence in your journey.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho immediately comes to mind. To me it offers hope, transformative empowerment and a gaze toward greater possibility. A couple of my favorite quotes are:

  • “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
  • “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Life is about choices, and you have the ability to choose. You always have had this ability. I suggest that not only do you have the ability, but you also have the responsibility to make choices for yourself. It is your life, and you are in the driver’s seat, if you choose to be. We move toward and become like, that which we think about. Our present thoughts determine our future.” ~ Lou Tice/The Pacific Institute

I love his inspirational words and focus on self-responsibility and power in creating one’s future. It resonates with me on many levels and through meeting Lou Tice numerous times and participating in high-level leadership training at The Pacific Institute, the concepts truly came to life on the deepest level.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Thanks for asking! Yes, there are several projects that light me up and I’m excited to offer pearls of wisdom along the journey. My heart overflows as each of the following move us closer to compassionate, evolutionary communication, inspired by my Grandma Helga. To date thousands, upon thousands, have been touched by Soulful Listening™.

As a featured guest on numerous top-tier podcasts, I’ve been struck by the wide-spread interest and hunger for evolutionary communication in virtually all settings. I love the varied direction talented podcasts hosts explore with their insightful questions and I’m excited for additional appearances on the horizon in 2021.

I’ve authored several articles, published in world-wide publications, and my work will be featured in an eBook scheduled for release later in 2021.

At a Soulful Listening™ 2020 virtual event, hosted by “Own Your Impact” of Nice, France, I was particularly thrilled with attendee engagement from five countries.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?

First and foremost, the life I’ve lived has shown me firsthand the power and value of Emotional Intelligence. This includes substantive professional contributions, holding high-level national leadership positions, and persevering through challenging personal life experiences.

A couple of impactful professional highlights include:

  • Participated in two events held at The White House. I coached Human Centered Design/Design Thinking Teams from across the nation, showcasing workforce innovations.
  • Chair of the American Counseling Association Foundation, representing over 40,000 professional counselors nationwide

A particularly high degree of Emotional Intelligence was called for in latter. All Trustees had a Ph.D. and I did not, as the Chair this presented its own unique challenges. Skillfully navigating strong personalities, viewpoints, and passionate positions was key in the creation of productive alliances. I remember feeling a little wobbly with the daunting responsibilities before me, and admittedly harbored a little self-doubt. Then my mentor, Dr. William E. Cox, set me straight by speaking his truth into me, “They need what you have to offer.”

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

The definition, science, and research regarding Emotional Intelligence has been heavily debated. For the sake of our time together, I’m choosing to take a practical approach to applying Emotional Intelligence in our daily interactions with one another and ourselves. To bring it all to life, I find value in building emotional intelligence ‘muscles’, expanding our emotional vocabulary, and applying these in real-life situations. To me, Emotional Intelligence is a cornerstone to authentic personal and professional success.

You see, Emotional Intelligence doesn’t mean you only feel positive emotions, it means you feel and experience all of your emotions, use them as a valuable source of information, and regulate when and how you express them. And it means you are aware of other’s emotions and how your actions impact them and use this effectively to generate greater collaboration and connection.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

Simply stated, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Whereas IQ, or intelligence quotient, is a score derived from one of several standardized tests designed to assess an individual’s intelligence.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Our emotions and those of others provide valuable insights and information as we navigate through all aspects of our lives, personal or professional. In a sense they offer an inner GPS as to whether we are on track, heading toward our True North Star, or if we’re off course. I know this has often been the case for me.

The demands of today call upon all of us to be the very best version of ourselves and Emotional Intelligence is critical to tapping into the power of the collective genius of us all. The words of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman (America Poet Laureate, 2021 US Presidential Inauguration) challenge us to step up and be this version. In her words, “Love becomes our legacy and changes our children’s birthright. So, let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with… for there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” We can be better; we can leave a legacy of compassionate connection by demystifying and modeling higher Emotional Intelligence and an evolved way of communicating, thereby embodying a better way of being.

Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.

In my current, some would say courageous 2020–2021 journey, I’m calling upon Emotional Intelligence on a wildly elevated level. In the midst of COVID-19, global economic uncertainty, and national unrest, I was asked to relinquish my comfy cozy condo (with all its amenities and a community of friends, conveniently nestled in the heart of Midtown Atlanta). I had called this oasis home for over a decade and my 47-year-old landlord tragically passed away from lung cancer. His family, understandably, wanted to settle the estate and selling the condo was part of that and I didn’t want to buy.

Normally level-headed and well emotionally regulated, in contrast I was spinning, facing the impending short-fused deadline to vacate. My wise adult son, Jacob, picked up on this uncustomary distress and from his commanding 6’5” 275lb stature, with calm reassurance said, “Mom, why don’t you slow down, put everything in storage, and go on the ‘Terri world tour’ to see where you want to be next?” I looked at him, cocked my head in a somewhat sideways tilt, like that you see when a dog is puzzled and said, “Hmm…I don’t know. Why don’t I? Hmm, I think I will.” And then began an adventure to destinations unknown, discovering, experiencing, and connecting anew. At the time of this interview, I have already sampled New Orleans, Dallas — Fort Worth, Santa Fe, and Scottsdale.

Whether it was going through a lifetime of possessions, deciding what to keep or donate, or charting out immediate next steps, checking in with my emotional barometer became a lifeline to thriving in the midst of epic change. I also have found it helpful to seek out others with high Emotional Intelligence, like my son.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Daniel Goleman has been quoted as saying, “Emotional intelligence counts more than IQ or expertise for excelling on the job.”

Emotional Intelligence really does provide a competitive edge, particularly when the goal is to harness the collective genius of a group or coalescing authentic partnerships. When a person feels seen, heard, and understood on a deep level, it inspires expression of greater human potential and productivity. Imagine a work culture where it’s safe to express bold creative ideas and action is taken on these ideas, and feedback is given. Wouldn’t you thrive in that setting? I thought so. Relationships in the workplace are affected by how we manage our own emotions and understand the emotions of others. This sets the stage for more cooperative and productive conflict resolution. The Business Summit mentioned earlier is a great example.

And Emotional Intelligence is essential for high-value creative problem-solving in the workplace. And Neil DeGrasse Tyson had this to say about emotions, “Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

Our very humanity thrives on feeling seen and heard and supported by others. When we connect in this way, relationships are at their best. Our ability to be aware of and understand our own emotions helps us to understand and become better aware of another person’s feelings. This sensitivity positively impacts our communication capabilities in all relationships. In my experience, a huge step toward higher Emotional Intelligence is through embodying evolutionary communication skills through the following five elements of Soulful Listening™.

1.) Self-Care: Many people think, “Oh, I don’t have time for self-care.” But that stems from a misunderstanding of what self-care actually is. Have there been times in your life when you felt more generous with and emotionally available to others because you had enough rest, nourishment or care for yourself? Exactly. And there are SO many things we can do under the umbrella of self-care. It’s more than a bubble bath, and may include evidence-based practices like:

  • Creating healthy boundaries
  • Being mindful of our thoughts and speech
  • Taking care of our physical well-being
  • Cutting out negative media
  • Giving social media a break
  • Getting involved in regular physical activity
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Pausing and taking a breath before responding

And so much more ~ self-care allows us to be centered, nourished and ready to…

2.) Become Fully Present: Spiritual Leader, Thich Nhat Hanh said, Life is available only in the present moment.” When we are giving ourselves what we really need then the part of us distracted by our own social, emotional or physical survival can relax; and we can give our full attention to another person — and focus entirely on our conversations. What a beautiful gift that can be for others. Taking three deliberate slow breaths (in through your nose and out through your mouth) can be one simple practice to help become fully present.

When we truly take care of ourselves, and become fully present, we bring a quality of grace and compassion into every interaction, which allows for the third element…

3.) Empathy and Active Listening: If empathy and active listening had a child, it would be this element of Soulful Listening™. Alfred Adler, one of the founding fathers of modern psychology said, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”

Deep, meaningful conversations call upon us to enter with openness and receptivity, with an awareness of our emotions as well as triggers and to NOT play out both sides of a conversation, before it even begins. In the past it may have sounded something like this: “Oh, he’ll say this, and I’ll say that”.

4.) Inspired Action: The Dalai Lama shares that “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.” We all have access to different connections, ideas or information that can be of enormous value to another on their life path. It’s easy for us to see someone else’s life path from a bird’s eye view and we can help them by making a phone call, an introduction to someone or just looking up information for them. Have you ever felt touched when someone took an action just for you?

All this leads to the…

5.) Feedback Loop: Feedback means letting the person know that you’ve taken some action on their behalf. This creates a bond of trust, respect and deep appreciation. If someone did something kind and helpful for you, with no strings attached when they clearly didn’t have to, would that feel good to you? Simply letting them know you took an action can give a person confidence, empower their decision-making and strengthen your connection.

The best way to pursue happiness is to help others. Nothing will make you happier.” George Lucas, Creator of Star Wars

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

Good emotional health is crucial to overall well-being. When we slip into a space where we feel like our thoughts and emotions are getting the best of us, pausing to take care of our core needs can help. The negative effects of stress are well documented, as are practices to regulate it. By incorporating things like breathwork, meditation, mindfulness, good sleep habits, regular exercise and healthy nutrition, we set ourselves up for optimal mental health. These also help with physical wellbeing and can help in lowering blood pressure, cortisol levels and in regulating our overall parasympathetic nervous system.

Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.

1.) Evolve Communication Skills — Embrace and embody evolutionary communication elements described earlier in detail:

  • Self-Care
  • Becoming Fully Present
  • Active Listening & Empathy
  • Inspired Action
  • Feedback Loop

2.) Maintain a sense of curiosity

When emotionally triggered, it’s helpful to kick in your curiosity muscle and conduct constructive exploration to excavate clarifying information. Open ended nonjudgmental questions can really start the ball rolling. Gaining insights from another person’s perspective in this way can help diffuse a situation and restart with a refreshed, informed stance from which to address pain points. In the absence of this responsible practice, tendency might be to engage in baseless, oftentimes negative and distorted storytelling.

3.) Self-awareness

Develop an awareness of your broad range of emotions, by feeling them and naming them and noting when they bubble up. As you observe yourself, introspect, and become more aware of your own emotions and the behaviors they trigger, you are in an empowered position to manage them. And being aware of your emotions is the first step in regulating them and to controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods and suspending judgement and thinking before acting. In practice, it is your ability to influence your emotional clarity, which may look something like this; “I feel irritated right now, and the current level of information available to me may not be complete. I wonder if something else is going with Jane for her to walk right past me and not even acknowledge me in the hallway just now? That’s not like her.” Upon further query, you learn that Jane received a call and was rushing to be by her daughter’s side at the hospital, when she passed by you. Likely the irritation felt earlier has transmuted to compassion and concern. Keeping emotions in check until a reasonably complete picture is formed, is wise and healthy. Practice, practice, practice!

4.) Regain Equilibrium

Develop your go-to tools for regaining equilibrium, when you notice your emotions triggered and spinning out of control. I occasionally get off kilter too. However, when that happens, I notice it and call upon tried and true practices to bounce back fairly quickly, moving from anxiety/distress to productive action. For me, it might involve slowing things down, pausing and taking a deliberate breath or two before responding. As mentioned before, I also find it helpful to seek out or surround myself with others that have high Emotional Intelligence.

5.) Choose Timing Wisely

I’m a big proponent of authentically speaking your truth and wisely choosing the timing and place to do so. For example, when you need to have a high-stakes conversation with your spouse, hitting them with it the minute you both walk in the door after grueling work days might not turn out the best. However, setting the stage for a calm exchange, after both of you have taken a moment to unwind, will likely be more productive. This approach applies to both workplace and personal relationships.

Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?

Absolutely — just imagine, Emotional Intelligence being modeled by teachers, and effective strategies being incorporated real-time within classroom settings. Roll-playing what to do when triggered, would become a real game-changer in preparing youth for their best future.

Emotional intelligence is part knowledge, part restraint and part wisdom like that emanated so often by my Grandma Helga. Just as we spend years going to school to build our IQ, we need to spend time each and every day working on our Emotional Intelligence. Having a high IQ, without an equally high Emotional Intelligence, only gets us so far. But the combination of the two working together can create limitless opportunities. As youth take stock of their emotions and practice managing them, they are building life skills that will serve them well in all their days ahead. And the world will be a better place because of it.

In his book, “Permission to Feel”, Marc Brackett, Ph.D., Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, writes, “Emotion skills are the key to unlocking the potential inside each one of us. And in the process of developing these skills, we each, heart by heart, mind by mind, create a culture and society unlike anything we’ve experienced thus far…and very much like the one we might dare to imagine. Our future and our children’s future…depend on it.”

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Imagine what a different world it would be if people felt safe to truly be themselves. Would hundreds of millions still feel as desperate to be heard and understood? Would there still be as many heartbreaking stories of mass shootings, addiction related deaths, paralyzing loneliness, and tragically hollow relationships?

I think not.

We have the ability to heal and have beautiful lives. I know we can because it’s built into whom we are as humans, to elevate and empower each other — and in doing so… we also do that for ourselves. I’m imagining inspiring a Soulful Listening™ movement, that fosters a world where:

  • Self-care is a part of daily life, allowing people to be fully present with each other
  • A world where businesses embrace the value of listening to their employees, offering a culture steeped in Emotional Intelligence where it’s safe to share bold, creative, out of the box ideas
  • A world where parents understand the power of empathy and active listening to foster greater Emotional Intelligence and create more meaningful relationships with their children
  • A world where lovers feel more trust and intimacy because they can engage in real conversations
  • A world where the chaos is quieted and loneliness fades, because we are actually listening to one another in a way that matters

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

Well, at the top of my list is Brene’ Brown! Her professional contributions, especially in areas of courage and vulnerability, are unparalleled. What an honor it would be to share in a vulnerable, engaging conversation with the best of the best. I’m imagining our time together would be rich with insights, laughter, and a deeply soulful connection. And from there, who knows what possibilities might open up?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Two great ways to connect are through my website https://soulfullistening.com or on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/terri-lonowski-53536614/ .

Link to photos for article: https://photos.app.goo.gl/6Hp9zAhQob77vyUu7

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.



Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
Authority Magazine

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers