If you want to enhance your emotional literacy, Robert Plutchik’s model of emotions is a useful tool.

In order to practice emotional intelligence, you need to have a robust emotional vocabulary. Here at Six Seconds, we call it enhancing emotional literacy. It’s the foundation for essential EQ skills like recognizing, labeling, and navigating emotions. Robert Plutchik’s model of emotions is tool worth exploring as we look to enhance our own emotional literacy. 



I was fortunate to sit in on the Science of the Mind Forum at the “Happiness and it’s Causes” conference in Brisbane, Australia last week.  During the conference I observed a dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL), Paul Ekman (international expert in reading clues embedded in the face, body and voice), Professor Marco Iacoboni (who pioneered the research on mirror neurons) and Professor Patrick McGorry (Australian of the Year, 201 and world-renowned expert in the prevention and treatment of youth mental illness).  What struck me about this dialogue was the instantaneous connection between these 4 people and then their intense curiousity  to share with and to learn from each other about emotions such as anger, compassion and empathy.

My 3 key takeaways from the dialogue were:

  1. Most of the emotion that disturbs our mind has incorrect perception as its basis – there is a gap between appearance and reality
  2. The antidote to wrong perception is compassion – to have genuine care and concern for the other person because it is from this place that we close the gap between what we think we see and what is really happening
  3. We are wired for empathy and His Holiness now knows what mirror neurons are!!

The remainder of the conference was spent interacting with the conference delegates (over 2000 attending the conference) at the Six Seconds stall.  We discussed the power of the Six Seconds’ Model (Know Yourself, Choose Yourself and Give Yourself), the rules of emotions (there was a lot interest in the Plutchik model) and heard some wonderfully inspiring stories about the generosity of the people of Queensland and Brisbane during the January floods. I continue to replay the many inspirational conversations and stories I heard.  To those of you who came to visit us, thank you for your questions, stories and interest in Emotional Intelligence.

Because of the interest I had, I’m including some further information in this post on Plutchik’s Model of Emotions.

As explained in “At the Heart of Leadership,” Plutchik’s three-dimensional circumplex model describes the relations among emotion concepts, in a similar way to the colours on a colour wheel. The cone’s vertical dimension represents intensity – emotions intensify as they move from the outside to the centre of the wheel.  As an example, a feeling of boredom can intensify to loathing if left unchecked.  This is an important rule about emotions to be aware of in relationships in the workplace, with family and with friends.

The eight sectors are designed to indicate that there are eight primary emotion dimensions.They are sadness, surprise, fear, anger etc.  Each circle sector has an opposite emotion. The opposite of sadness is joy, the opposite of trust, disgust etc.  The emotions with no colour represent an emotion that is a mix of the 2 primary emotions.  For example, anticipation and joy combine to be optimism and joy and trust, love etc.  You can read Plutchik’s original explanation in American Scientist.

I’ve used this model with leaders to explain the “rules of emotions” and to also support them to increase their vocabulary of feeling words.

I’d be keen to hear other ways you’ve used the Plutchik model or how you could use it with your clients.


Melissa Donaldson

For the past 15 years, I've partnered with senior executives and leaders in public and private sector organisations to execute significant change, design and implement leadership capability programs, renegotiate complex industrial agreements and build leader and team performance.

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