Is it Possible to Teach Emotional Intelligence?

Is it Possible to Teach New or Different Emotions?

Most managers have mastered the tangible aspects of their work: managing cost, making critical decisions on what needs to be done, and delivering products / services.

But the intangibles — things such as soft skills and emotional intelligence — remain a bit more difficult to handle. And truly separate managers from leaders.

Daniel Goleman, a name often associated with emotional intelligence, estimated emotional intelligence can account for 85 percent or more of effective leaders and individual contributors’ success. Thus, the more one absorbs the skills of emotional intelligence (e.g., self-awareness or understanding your own emotions, what drives you, gets you excited or incites passion), the better you are able to choose more-effective behaviors.

Emotionsor the lack of emotional controloften make the daily headlines as company leaders are called out not just for misbehaving but for the business impact of their angry or questionable reactions and behaviors. Enter emotional intelligence. Having the ability to recognize and positively manage your emotions, as well as those of others and in groups) can help. But here’s the rub: is such a concept really teachable? Hmmm. While I am not sure, Jackie Green of the American Management Association thinks it can.

“Emotional intelligence is a flexible skill that can be learned,” Green said. “It’s not like IQ, which we’re born with and once you get to be a certain age, you can’t do anything to develop. Emotional intelligence, you can learn and develop. If we recognize or acknowledge the importance of building relationships, getting along with people and using that to be productive in the workplace, developing emotional intelligence can be the key to being successful.”

The development of emotional intelligence might require practicing self-skills via role-play and reflection exercises.Using theory as a foundation to aid learning is equally important, however — Green said theory-based discussions on how best to channel your emotions to motivate and inspire yourself, take initiative, accept challenges and remain optimistic all begin with self-assessment.

“Some people call it self-management — managing your own personal feelings, being able to express them in appropriate ways, knowing things that would trigger you,” Green said. “For example, if every time someone interrupts you, you get angry, that’s a trigger. When someone interrupts, you need to recognize that is your normal pattern and break that. It’s about knowing your own emotional response to different things. How do you manage and regulate that using good judgment and being positive?”

Action Step #1: Consider reading one of my top five Harvard Business Review articles entitled “Managing Oneself” by Peter Drucker. I have this reprint placed prominently in my office, and I re-read it  quarterly. I also keep the concepts in mind when I am assembling a team and watching us form and storm.

The second component of emotional intelligence, referred to as social awareness or empathy, examines interactions with others. “It’s interpersonal awareness, situational awareness, tuning in to the feelings and emotions of others, being interested in others and what concerns them,” Green explained. “The other piece is social skills, effective relationship management, managing the emotions of others, influencing, leading, actively listening, building trusting relationships, coaching, de-escalating conflict, managing the whole relationship.

Action Step #2: Whether you are the leader of a group or department or division or more, add to your list of responsibilities modeling any or all of the behaviors noted above by demonstrating the skills, and creating the environment that supports emotional intelligence by recognizing emotions and dealing with emotional situations that may evolve in the workplace.

Green said modern business practices have contributed to a need for emotional intelligence in the marketplace, as well as recognition of its importance and impact. “There’s acceptance now that people have emotions and that they may demonstrate them in a positive way or a negative way, and the negative way can impact performance. We know people are hired for their IQ or functional expertise and are promoted or are more successful because of their emotional intelligence,” Green said.

I see emotional intelligence trump IQ all the time. Of course a base level of intelligence is assumed, but I’ve seen many high IQ people crash and burn once they hit a certain level of leadership. Some of these leaders may be teachable, but buyer beware: the level of effort required to sustain the new emotional intelligent behaviors can be steep. It is important to ensure you align the right leadership development program with each leader to steer them in the right direction.

Adapted from Chief Learning Officer

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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