Can emotional intelligence be learned?
Seabiscuit was just a broken down horse incapable of winning until someone saw his potential and developed it through training. It was only then that he became one of the greatest racehorses in the history of racing. The trick is to be able to identify individual potential and develop it with effective techniques. But how do you teach something like empathy? We have developed a methodology targeted for the construction industry called “Emotional Intelligence – Foundation for Your Future”. It was co-developed with Kate Cannon, a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence.
After the initial EQ evaluation and feedback, we begin with a half-day program where each participant creates detailed, individual development plans. The participant targets specific competencies based on their future needs and then chooses development strategies from different categories depending on their learning style. They also create plans for mental and physical peak performance that are tied into their emotional plans focusing on nutrition, exercise, and stress management. We utilize many different types of exercises and development ideas and use various media such as books, fables, movies, television, magazines, operas, plays, and websites.
We also emphasize the day-to-day application of this learning and provide inspirational quotes for each competency. In addition, we build in many levels of accountability. In a group setting, everyone has an accountability partner. They also provide me with accountability partners above them, beside them, below them, family and friends, and clients. After the six month mark, I call these accountability folks to see if they have seen any changes.
These are all powerful ways to keep the learning in the forefront, but the key to this learning is in the follow-up and coaching. We contact individuals every three or four weeks to check on their progress, offer encouragement, and provide coaching. We also do at least one face-to-face coaching session during the program. Without this individual coaching and follow-up, the participants tend to set aside their development plans. But if they know they will be re-evaluated and that someone will be checking in with them every few weeks, they are much more likely to work on their development plans and create fundamental behavioral change from within. One participant said this about the process, “I thought that people are who they are by their mid-twenties. I definitely feel that people are capable of significant change.”
I love to tell the story of Bryan, a superintendent in his late thirties with an anger problem. He told me that this problem had troubled him since he was young, and that if I could help him find a way to control it, he would be most grateful. This issue showed up in his EQ-i®. He had low emotional self-awareness along with high assertiveness and low impulse control. His low emotional self-awareness didn’t allow him to feel himself getting angry, and eventually, with his low impulse control, it just boiled over.
The first thing we did was work on his emotional self-awareness. I suggested that he try to become aware of where he felt anger in his body and identify it as early as possible. We also worked on basic breathing and meditation techniques along with centering techniques to help with his impulse control.
I gave him a book to read and told him that it may be a little “out there”for him, but to try and find something he could relate to. In the process of reading the book, he found a centering technique that worked for him. He created a focal point by putting a photograph of his two small girls on his mobile phone. When he felt himself getting frustrated, (with greater emotional self-awareness, he felt it in his body), he excused himself from the situation, took ten deep breaths, flipped open his phone, and looked at his little girls. This allowed him to decompress and control his anger.
In his words, “Leaving a bad situation, even briefly, has allowed me to not act in anger or impulsively.” He improved his emotional management and changed his behavior, making him a more effective leader. With this shift, he has learned to listen more without being so reactive. He told me that the people who work with him have noticed these changes. As he puts it, “Listening, not reacting to people I encounter has led to a more positive approach to my professional life.” In addition to improved leadership skills, there has also been an improvement in his mental and physical performance. He is less stressed and better able to handle difficult situations without compromising his health.
Even if the scores from the EQ-i® do not increase; there still can be some very useful information for the participant. Annelise, a purchasing manager from Denmark, decided to work on her social responsibility, which was relatively low. Eleven months later, at the end of the program, when she took the EQ-i® again, she found that her social responsibility score was even lower. Interestingly enough, her self-actualization, happiness, and optimism had increased dramatically.
When we discussed these numbers, I asked her why she chose to work on social responsibility. She told me that she believed that it was the right thing to do, that she thought her family and friends wanted her to spend more time with them. I asked her if she had spent more time with family and friends in an effort to increase her social responsibility. She replied that she had not. She told me that work had been particularly hectic, and she had been working non-stop since the beginning of the program. She usually worked alone rather than in groups or teams. She also indicated that she felt a little guilty for working so much.
I asked her if she enjoyed working and she responded by saying that it was the most important thing in her life. She loved the challenge and felt that the company needed her during this particularly difficult period, which made her feel valued and important. That was the reason for her significant increases in self-actualization, happiness, and optimism. I suggested that perhaps this second evaluation revealed that during this period in her life, her work, which gave her great joy, was something that she would do well to focus on. In addition, since she worked alone, this way of working did not contribute to increasing her social responsibility. This conversation was a great relief to her. Perhaps all she needed was permission to enjoy her work life without guilt. So, in this case, although the competency she had originally chosen decreased, the results of the second EQ-i® gave us some real insights into the direction she wanted for her personal and professional life.
To sum up, people do learn about themselves and shift behaviors that are troubling by working on specific emotional competencies. They actually learn these emotional skills, which are not only reflected in the numbers on the re-test, but in the comments of accountability partners who have actually seen the changes.