One of the most celebrated actresses in Hollywood, Uma Thurman has repeatedly showcased the ability to deliver soul-stirring performances on the big screen. But none of her roles match the remarkable emotional control she demonstrated during a recent interview.

And it's obvious she wasn't acting.

At a press event covering her new Broadway play, a reporter asked Thurman the following question:

"In light of recent news... What are your thoughts about women speaking out about inappropriate behavior in the workplace?"

Thurman's response was extraordinary--equal parts measured and emotionally powerful:

"I think it's commendable," she begins. Then, she takes a slight pause to gather her thoughts.

"I don't have a tidy soundbite for you," she continues. "Because I have learned--I am not a child. And I have learned that when I've spoken...in anger...I usually regret the way I express myself."

Another pause.

"So, I've been waiting. To feel less angry. And when I'm ready, I'll say what I have to say."

I can't begin to describe how much I appreciate Thurman's response to this question. (Thurman has worked repeatedly with Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer who has recently been accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment and assault.)

They say the eyes are the window into a person's soul, and Thurman's eyes reveal a  whirlwind of powerful emotions threatening to break free any moment. At one point, the actress seems to literally grit her teeth as she forces out the words, holding herself back from an expression of complete and utter rage.  

How does she do it? How does she manage to stay so remarkably poised, despite this violent storm brewing inside of her?

Thurman's response is a striking, real-world example of emotional intelligence--the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you.

Harnessing the power of emotion.

In a way, our emotions are like fire: Left on the loose, they can bring on a great amount of pain and suffering--to ourselves and others. Feelings like anger, sadness, and fear can be overwhelming, and can quickly cause us to say or do things we later regret.

But just as you can turn fire into a useful tool, these emotions can also be a force for good. Feelings of rage and fury can serve as a catalyst, inspiring us to flee or confront a dangerous situation. Exercised in the proper degree and channeled in the right way, these emotions can move us to act and inspire needed change.

This is what emotional intelligence is all about--learning to harness the power of emotions, then directing them in a way that's beneficial.

In this interview, Thurman visibly demonstrates the power of the pause: the practice of taking a moment to stop, think, and process your emotions before saying or doing something you'll later regret.

Easy in theory, I assure you, the pause is very difficult to practice. Just look at how many people fall victim to foot-in-mouth disease on a daily basis--at work, home, or even on social media. (Learning to pause effectively is so fundamental to harnessing the power of emotion, I included it in what I've termed The 10 commandments of emotional intelligence.)

Take a moment to watch Thurman's reply again.

In the course of about 40 seconds, the famous actress takes at least 10 slight pauses. These hesitations allow her not only to gather herself and contain her emotions, but also to express herself carefully and thoughtfully. The interview culminates in a final pause--one in which Thurman ends the discussion on her terms. In doing so, she subtly (yet powerfully) reveals there's more to this story, and that she'll share that story when she's good and ready--and not a moment sooner.

Learning to pause is especially difficult in today's world, where electronic communication has conditioned us to respond immediately. Is there an issue that affects others emotionally? Jump on Twitter and tell us how you feel about it. Share your personal experience, no matter how difficult. And tell us right now, lest someone cite your silence as tacit support for the most unspeakable of horrors.

In contrast, Thurman teaches a valuable lesson:

Thoughtful responses are always better. Focus on being proactive, and get a hold of your anger before it gets a hold of you.

Now that's what I call emotional intelligence.

Published on: Nov 5, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.