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Can You Develop Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is one of those “sciences” that might be the key to success or it might be a bunch of hooey. Who’s to know? While it might be hard to define emotional intelligence (although I have below, keep reading) we definitely know when it isn’t being exhibited. A three year old lying on the floor screaming Nooo lacks emotional intelligence. So does the forty year old who says “You can’t fire me because I quit!

In today’s fast paced and tumultuous business climate, emotional intelligence is an important skill to have. We need to be able to accept challenges and frustrations, work with others cooperatively, accomplish assignments independently, participate in activities we might rather not, and so much more. Talent Smart has been able to equate high performance in the workplace with high EI (and likewise poor performance with low EI [also known as EQ]). John Mayer, professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, is one of those who thinks that claim is hooey.

But let’s assume that emotional intelligence IS a definable and measureable skill and that we’d like to develop it in our workforce.

Emotional Intelligence Defined

There are five “domains” or competencies of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness (recognizing emotion and its effect, knowing one’s strengths and limitations)
  2. Self-regulation (conscientiousness, adaptability, comfort with ambiguity)
  3. Self-motivation (goal setting, commitment, optimism)
  4. Social awareness (interest in others, empathy, understanding power relationships)
  5. Social skill (communication, conflict management, leadership, etc.)

Each of these can be further broken down. For instance, conscientiousness can be further defined as keeping promises, fulfilling commitments, and holding oneself accountable.

If we believe Talent Smart’s claims, these would be nifty markers on a performance evaluation, don’t you think? Do we assess people on their ability to complete their work correctly and in a timely fashion or are they really being assessed on their conscientiousness? Correcting poor performance would be quite different depending on whether you were assessing the visible output or the EI that underlies it.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

If we want to develop better performers in the workplace, it behooves us to examine whether we can develop emotional intelligence. Many of the things that we do when Teaching Thinking naturally align with increasing emotional intelligence. For instance: being open to and examining different perspectives. Let’s assume your company announced that there will be no bonuses this year. People with poor EI will think “that’s not fair!” while people with higher EI will realize the business climate has changed and the company acted accordingly. To “teach” this skill we can include higher-order, open-ended questions in our training deliveries.

Coaching and Mentoring also help to develop emotional intelligence because coaches and mentors ask open-ended questions aimed at getting people to self-examine. Questions such as, What would you do differently next time? Who could be an ally? and What did you learn from this? get at examining and developing self-awareness – an important EI skill.

Another way to develop EI is to turn the coaching / mentoring idea around and have your trainees act as a coach / mentor. This assignment requires social awareness and the ability to empathize with others. The coach / mentor doesn’t have to be an expert. For example, providing feedback about an upcoming presentation requires the coach / mentor to consider the developmental needs of the presenter, frame feedback in a constructive way – taking in to consideration the emotions of the other person, and provide emotional support (you can do this!) – all EI skills. These are all great leadership skills too… but I digress.

So whether EI can be developed in others or not may be nebulous, the skills that lead to EI can and should be incorporated in to many aspects of the workplace (training, managing, performance reviews, and more).

If you’d like to assess your own Emotional Intelligence, check out this short, on-line assessment.