Emotional Intelligence: How Much, How Quickly, Can It Be Learned?


Emotional Intelligence is an increasingly important topic in the field of people management, and rightfully so. In a previous post I defined EQ at some length so wont repeat that here. In that post I argued that EQ is a golden link in the engagement chain at work: it is vital at every level from CEO to salesperson. It is basic to a great corporate culture.  So, given its importance, can it be learned?  How quickly, in a weekend? My first answer is no, but you at least make a start on the journey and understand how far and how deep you need to go.  Raising your EQ is a marathon, not a sprint, and the last thing we need is a bunch of people running around with catch phrases and quickie learned behaviors who try and fake a real, deep understanding of themselves.  I want to take a first shot at this, knowing it is not a simple subject and that I may need more than once post to cover it.

As a young psychologist working on my doctorate I studied groups which were intended to train managers in people skills, much of which we now call emotional intelligence.  A few of these people were failing as managers and were being given “one last chance” to come around.  This was offered to them typically in groups which lasted a few days, sometimes just a weekend, and which were often facilitated by people who (in my opinion) were barely one page ahead of their students when it came to many of these skills…..

As you can imagine this was not very successful, a conclusion I confirmed after a lot of work : I carried out a study of these people for three years, preceding the training with psychological testing, and following on with more testing and with family and work colleague questionnaires focused on the behavior of the participant for a long time after they had gone through the training. Had they changed, especially if they had had a very emotional training experience? Yes some of them had, but no more than those who had signed up for these trainings but who had not gone through with them for various reasons!  Life and the passage of time had “trained” the latter to learn things just as well as those in the groups.

Why had this happened? And what can this teach us about emotional intelligence at a time when many are offering training and coaching in this field?

–One of the main conclusions was that people who go through training in this type of material need to do so with those with whom they work. The people I studied were usually there without work colleagues. Had they had those present with them, I think they would have had someone else with whom to practice new behaviors when they returned to work; add to this the bonding which can take place in these situations, which can carry over into strong work friendships. Let’s remember that “having a good friend at work” is a sign of a more highly engaged individual. Quite a few of my participants had none of these advantages.

–Secondly there was a great deal of pressure for some of these people to “shape up”; can you imagine your career in an organization depending on your response to a 3-4 day training program? But doesn’t some pressure enhance performance? Yes, but much research shows that extreme pressure degrades it…and the way many of these trainings were run, the pressure was extreme.  Especially in this area, EQ is something which an individual must WANT to learn.

–That brings me to the third point, which is that outcomes depend on the skills of the facilitator(s).   Any of you who have been through therapy for even a short length of time might know that your therapist can only take you to a place where he/she has been themselves. This is a similar, but much shorter journey; but it has the same rules. EQ trainers are not going to be able to help you through emotion-loaded areas which they still have not worked out inside themselves.

EQ is a huge set of knowledge to have: far, far more than a simple “skill”.  It predicts performance on a job much more than the better-known general intelligence (IQ), which cannot predict it at all!  Developing more emotional intelligence will make you not only more skilled but also more happy at work and in life in general, on top of any improvements in your work performance. Any investment is valuable, but buyer beware! Look for the following:

–Programs which you can attend with others from your own organization, or if not that, with a group with whom you can have ongoing contact after the training

–Trainers who have an extensive background in this or related fields, including psychology. A few weeks training in this (absent any other previous related experience) does not qualify anyone, in my opinion, to facilitate in such a sensitive and powerful subject. You would never go to a psychotherapist who had almost no qualifications or experience, because in most countries that would be illegal. But EQ coaches, life coaches, work coaches….are growing like mushrooms and are not regulated in the US at least, and probably elsewhere.  Some, of course, are great;  others are inexperienced and shallow in their skills and knowledge.   You should not pay the price…financially or emotionally…for this.

— No one learns about EQ under pressure: if you have a boss who tells you to raise your EQ….or else….find another job!

Remember this is not about learning how to use the latest version of Excel or Word; it is learning about some of the deepest things inside …you. Its exciting, exhilarating, rewarding, but be careful how you tread on this path!

Next: What You Need to Learn to Boost your EQ

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LinkedIn profile/contact: http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidbowlesphd

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