Joshua Freedman: Emotional Intelligence for an Empathetic Society

By Bhavani Prakash

Joshua Freedman is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the US based non-profit organisation Six Seconds.   Set up in 1997 and now operating in 10 countries with practitioners in around 100 countries, Six Seconds has the mission to spread emotional intelligence far, wide and deep by supporting, “people to create positive change.”

Joshua Freedman

EQ( Emotional Quotient), a term used interchangeably here with Emotional Intelligence, refers to the ability to comprehend, navigate and use emotions to get the best possible results. Freedman spoke to Bhavani Prakash of Eco WALK the Talk recently during his trip to Singapore.  He strongly believes emotional intelligence is a valuable competence that can be learnt by all, and has important implications for eco-action.

This interview is special to us because it links something we passionately advocate, namely, behaviour change towards a more sustainable world – with emotional intelligence, an essential skill that is required to create a more empathetic society.

EWTT: How did you get involved with spreading EQ or Emotional Intelligence through Six Seconds?

Joshua Freedman: I was a teacher in a school just south of San Francisco that was dedicated to blending emotional and academic development. Daniel Goleman* visited the school in 1992 and he wrote about it as a model of how to teach emotional intelligence. When his book, Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ became an international bestseller, we received many enquiries saying, “OK, Emotional Intelligence is really important but how do we actually use this, how do we actually teach it, how do we apply it?”  To answer that question, in 1997, the founder and executive director of the school and I started Six Seconds together with another colleague, because we believe that actually learning to use these skills is life changing, and world changing.

*Daniel Goleman is the best selling author of the books such as Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1996), Social Intelligence: The New Science of Social Relationships (2006) and Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything (2009)

EWTT: What is the scope of Six Seconds?

Joshua Freedman: Six Seconds has offices in 11 countries. We have a network of certified practitioners in around 100 countries and we work in every sector. We have people who work in prisons, we have people who work in executive boards and government agencies, we have people who work in kindergartens and community organisations. All of these people work in different areas where humans are interacting and wanting to do a better job with that. They are starting to see that emotional intelligence is an invaluable toolset to become better with people.

We know that in all these places, just as in EWTT, people are looking to make change.  We can see it’s not just knowledge that’s missing, everyone now knows the 3Rs, everyone knows they can save electricity, everyone knows that the planet is in peril.  But that knowledge isn’t enough to create a shift – because humans are fundamentally motivated more by emotion than by reason.  So if we can be smarter with feelings then we can be better at change – and better at leading change.

EWTT: Why the name, “Six Seconds?”

Joshua Freedman: Emotions are chemicals, they are neurohormones. The molecules of emotion last in our bodies and in our brains last for around six seconds. So if we’re feeling something longer than for 6 seconds, at some level, we’re choosing to do that. If we believe, as I do, that emotions are valuable, there is this 6 seconds window of opportunity where the emotion is coming and signalling us something and we can pay attention to that

There are two sides to this.  First, imagine a situation that’s escalating – let’s take a couple fighting about the usual nothing (like how to load the dishwasher).  Partner A says something that really pushes B’s hot button.  B explodes, says something delibrately cruel, and storms off.  What a waste!  And maybe even a tragedy.  If, instead, they both knew about the Six Second Pause, they would feel the escalation and shift gears.  They’d ask an important question, or express a feeling in an authentic way, or connect with compassion… and the situation would end up in a positive (and maybe very fun) resolution.  Now take that same dynamic and imagine its in a boardroom making earth-spanning decisions, or in the streets of Palestine – we’ve got to create peace in ourselves to send peace into the world.

The other essential point about the six seconds:  If you believe, as I do, that there is real value in our emotions… that there is wisdom and energy that we need to harness… then you’ve got these little six second windows of opportunity to access that.  When we’re fighting ourselves and eachother, when we’re rushing to take another irrelevant step on the treadmill, we miss these gems.

EWTT: Can EQ be learnt?

Joshua Freedman: Yes, we have quite a bit of research showing that all the 8 competencies of the Six Seconds model can be learnt. In a relatively short amount of time, we can see a 10% to 20% increase in competence. We’ve done this with parents, with kids and all kinds of professionals in different sectors.  Most importantly, we’ve seen that after a little training, and a modest increase in the competencies, people experience dramatically different outcomes in their relationships.  Here in Singapore, one of my colleagues named Sue McNamara did a beautiful study on this:  When parents and teachers increase their EQ just a little, the children in their care behave in dramatically different, far more positive ways.

EWTT: How can individuals take the initiative to create change? It may seem to some like too big a task.

Joshua Freedman: As you said, something like reversing 100 years of global desctruction can seem totally overwhelming. Is that a rational analysis that’s telling us that, or is that an emotional reaction?  Is that a fear, or is that a sense of worry, of not being strong enough? If we could recognise the emotions that are keeping us from stepping forward and doing what we need to be doing, and we could also recognise the emotions that do propel us forward.  Then we could create more of the emotions that move us in the direction that we do want to go, individually, and for all of us collectively.

If I talk about change generally, e.g., if I want to improve my health, I know that eating a salad is healthier than French fries, but the French fries look awfully good at the next table, and I order them and eat them and enjoy them, and I feel guilty about that!  Why did I do that? It’s not that I don’t know. The knowledge is very clear, there’s something else that drives my behaviour. It turns out that it’s emotions that drives a large part of my behaviour. If I can create more mastery about emotions, that’s going to create an opportunity to create change. This is at an individual level. Then we can start thinking about it at a relational level – I’m talking to you and I understand that certain emotions are going to engage and enrol you about some idea that I have, then we can build momentum.  Next we can start thinking about it at a group level and at a societal level.  People want to belong and be part of something significant , they want to make a difference, and often what’s holding them back are these doubts and worries and fears, and we can help them learn how to deal with those obstacles so they can step forward to create positive change.

The critical link as we look at creating environmental sustainability is how we identify individual choices and how we engage and enrol others to make more sustainable decisions. People use phrases like ecological consciousness – those phrases scare me as something big and “weird.” What we’re talking about is a simple, practical thing: Let’s look ahead a little bit further at the impact of our choices – let’s be smarter about our actions.

First we each need to think about what we want, and then how can identify choices that will move us towards what we really want. In the Six Seconds model, we have a process framework that puts our emotional intelligence into action – to Know Yourself, Choose Yourself and Give Yourself – to being aware, to being intentional to being purposeful.

In the “Know Yourself” step, we’ve got to tune in and see what we’re feeling and doing.  We tune into the data of our own feelings and use that to pay attention. What happens to many of us is that we want X, but we make decisions that lead us to Y, and then we are disappointed. We can see that happening to the planet right now. There’s nobody who wants environmental degradation, nobody who wants to live in a barren wasteland, nobody who wants to leave these vast swathes of destruction to our children, and yet somehow we are not linking the choices that we make on a day to day basis and the result we really want.  But we have a choice!

In the “Choose Yourself” step, we can identify that our current decisions are not going someplace wonderful, and we can exercise our autonomy, we can say,“I’m not just an automatic operator where this stuff just happens. I am an agent in this world and I have efficacy, I’m doing something, I’m choosing something… and if I know myself better, I can pay attention to what’s driving me to choose what I choose.”   Of course it’s easy to say this, doing it is harder – but we can all learn the EQ skills that enable this process.

Then we go to third part, ‘Giving Myself’ and we connect with a larger vision.  In this step, I think about what I really want in this world and how I can contribute to that.  Then I can line these three parts up and make sure that what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and why I’m doing it, create these long term impacts that are more of what I want.

These are things we can start teaching at a very young age. My children were barely walking, when we started talking about the impact of our choices. Our refrain would be, “Are we adding meanness or kindness in the world?”

I remember when my son was really little, we started talking about, “In our family we take care of….” That was our mission statement that’s part of the “Give Yourself” bit of the Six Seconds model. I was able to say to him when he was pulling the plants off the sidewalk, “Max, are you taking care of..? “ That helped him think about the relationship he wants to have with the world, and how the choices he’s making right now is contributing to that. This is incredibly empowering. It’s a big responsibility and a big burden but it also recognises the power that we have.

I think if more and more and more people have that kind of conversations with themselves and with their kids, looking at what is it that we are contributing to the world and what is that we want to be contributing, what choices are we making so that we can make the world more the way we want it to be. This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a champion of eco awareness like you at EWTT, though that’s possible too.  But for most of us, we can make this happen in a very simple and practical sense. “I’m in the grocery store, and have a million choices, what am I going to buy?”  We make choices all the time, if we could be a little more thoughtful.  I want every person to say, “I have a choice, and my choice matters.”  This will make a tremendous difference in our lives – and in the world.

The Six Seconds Model

In the Six Seconds Model, one talks about three macro areas:

Know Yourself : Self-awareness

Choose Yourself:  Self-management

Give Yourself:  Self-direction

6 Seconds Model ©2001 Six Seconds, Used By Permission


When we line up these three areas, we unlock an incredible capacity for leadership – starting with ourselves.


There are 8 specific, learnable, measurabl e competencies that enable that process.

You can read more about this on the 6 Seconds website. 




EWTT: What are your favourite reads?

Joshua Freedman:  One of the books that first inspired me into thinking about the planet was “Ecotopia” by Ernest (Chick) Callenbach. It’s an old book. I grew up in Berkeley, California in the 1970s. Chick Callenbach was a family friend and so I read it when I was young. It really provoked something in me into thinking, “Could we conceptualise the world differently in terms of our relationship with the planet?”

One of my absolutely favorite authors is  Ursula K Le Guin.  You could call her a science fiction writer, but that would be missing the point. A lot of her writing is in this realm of imagination and thinking about different ways that human beings could be in different worlds. She wrote a book called “Four Ways To Forgiveness”. It’s a beautiful story about a planet where the dictator/oppressors leave, and the people are left to find freedom or not.  The book asks one of the most important questions of our era: as we become more free, do people become oppressors themselves or do we create forgiveness, openness and opportunity?

EWTT: What is your vision for the world?

Joshua Freedman: My vision for my work is to see a network of change agents who have the wisdom and support and energy to keep fuelling positive change everywhere in society, all the time. And by everywhere all the time, I mean this is something we can do in our day-to-day life. In every interaction that we have – we can be more intentional, we can be more purposeful, we can be more compassionate, we can be more prosperous – this is not about wealth, but real prosperity.

My personal ‘noble goal’ is to inspire compassionate wisdom. This comes from the recognition that  that “I am having an impact on people” and it’s not enough to be ‘smart’ or ‘right’, which is what I grew up with. It’s more about, “How can I use my insight and my energy to create a space for people to grow and flourish themselves as opposed to being ‘right’ over them?”  I’m tremendously concerned about what’s happening in our planet. My way of working on that is perhaps indirect. It’s about equipping people with tools to make better, more sustainable and more compassionate choices for themselves and for others.


To learn more, follow The EQ Network on LinkedIN and Six Seconds on Facebook.   Joshua Freedman can be contacted via josh[at]6seconds.org, his speaking website JMFreedman.com,LinkedIn,  Twitter @eqjosh and on YouTube 


About the Interviewer:

Bhavani Prakash is the Founder of Eco WALK the Talk.  She’s a certified coach with Six Seconds, the experience of which has enabled her to see more clearly the relationship between EQ, sustainability, empathy and behaviour change. Follow Eco WALK the Talk on Facebook, TwitterLinked IN and YouTube




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Posted by on Mar 2 2012. Filed under Behaviour Change, Behaviour Change, Green Activism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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