Emotional Intelligence by Cary Cherniss and Daniel Goleman, Bloomsbury

Executive Summary

Introduction

Ever since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s first book on the topic in 1995, emotional intelligence has become one of the hottest buzzwords in corporate America. Many business leaders have found compelling the basic idea that success is strongly influenced by personal qualities such as perseverance, self-control, and skill in getting along with others. They point to sales persons who have an uncanny ability to sense what is most important to the customers and to develop a trusting relationship with them. They also point to customer service employees who excel when it comes to helping angry customers calm down and be more reasonable. Conversely, they point to brilliant executives who do everything well except get along with people, and to managers who are technically brilliant but cannot handle stress, and whose careers are stalled because of these deficiencies.

Many studies have confirmed that the so-called ‘soft skills’ are critical for a vital economy. For instance, the influential report of the United States Secretary of Labor’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills argued that a high-performance workplace requires workers who have a solid foundation not only in literacy and computation, but also in personal qualities such as responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity, and honesty (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991). Emotional intelligence is the basis for these competencies.

But what exactly is ‘emotional intelligence’? What is the link between emotional intelligence and organisational effectiveness? Is it possible for adults to become more socially and emotionally competent? And finally, what is the best way to help individuals to do so?

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately identify and understand one’s own emotional reactions and those of others. It also includes the ability to regulate one’s emotions and to use them to make good decisions and act effectively. EI provides the bedrock for many competencies that are critical for effective performance in the workplace. For instance, one’s effectiveness in influencing others depends on one’s ability to connect with them on an emotional level, and to understand what they are feeling and why. To effectively influence others we also need to be able to manage our own emotions.

Can Adults Become More Emotionally Intelligent?

Many managers and executives who accept the notion that emotional intelligence is vital for success are less certain about whether it can be improved. On the other hand, there are consultants and trainers who claim that they can raise the emotional intelligence of a whole group of employees in a day or less. Who is right? The truth lies somewhere in between. A growing body of research suggests that it is possible to help people of any age to become more emotionally adept at work. However, to be effective, programmes need to be well designed, and the change effort requires months, not hours or days.

Several examples of effective change programmes can be found in the Model Programs section of the CREIO website (www.eiconsortium.org). These models, all of which have undergone rigorous evaluation, show that well-designed training and development interventions can produce significant improvements in the so-called ‘soft skills’, and these improvements in turn result in greater productivity and reduced costs. Unfortunately, while it is possible to improve workers’ emotional competence, it is not easy to do so. Many programmes intended for this purpose fail because they are poorly designed and implemented.

What Is the Best Way to Improve Emotional Intelligence?

To be effective, change efforts need to begin with the realisation that emotional learning differs from cognitive and technical learning in some important ways. Emotional capacities like self-confidence and empathy differ from cognitive abilities because they draw on different brain areas. Purely cognitive abilities are based in the neocortex. But with social and emotional competencies, additional brain areas are involved, mainly the circuitry that runs from the emotional centres to the prefrontal lobes. Effective learning for emotional competence has to retune these circuits.

Unfortunately, these particular neural circuits are especially difficult to modify. Emotional incompetence often results from habits learned early in life. These automatic habits are set in place as a normal part of living, as experience shapes the brain. As people acquire their habitual repertoire of thought, feeling, and action, the neural connections that support these are strengthened, becoming dominant pathways for nerve impulses. When these habits have been so heavily learned, the underlying neural circuitry becomes the brain’s default option at any moment—what a person does automatically and spontaneously, often with little awareness of choosing to do so.

Because the neural circuits that need to be modified extend deep into the non-verbal parts of the brain, the learning ultimately must be experiential. Learning to control one’s temper, for instance, is like learning to ride a bicycle. Understanding what needs to be done on a cognitive level only helps to a limited degree. It is only by getting on a bike and riding it, falling over, and trying again repeatedly, that one ultimately masters the skill. The same is true for most emotional learning. It usually involves a long and sometimes difficult process requiring much practice and support. One-day seminars just won’t do it.

Implications for Training and Development

Because emotional learning differs from cognitive learning in a number of ways, training and development efforts need to incorporate a number of elements. Below are some of the most important ones:

  1. Practice: There needs to be much more opportunity for practice than one normally sees in the typical work-based training programme. Not only do there need to be many opportunities during the training itself, but also the learners need to practice new ways of thinking and acting in other settings—on the job, at home, with friends, etc. And this regimen needs to occur over a period of months.

  2. Ongoing encouragement and reinforcement from others: Even with ample practice during the training phase, the old neural pathways can re-establish themselves all too easily unless learners are repeatedly encouraged and reinforced to use the new skills on the job. The best change programmes continue to help participants to apply what they have learned after the formal training phase ends. They also provide periodic reinforcers and reminders to help the participants maintain the fragile new patterns of behaviour that they have so recently learned. And effective programmes provide social support to help individuals continue to work at strengthening the new competencies that they acquired in the training.

  3. Support from the boss: A learner’s bosses play an especially critical role in providing the support necessary for successful change. Reinforcement by one’s supervisor can be especially powerful in helping new emotional competencies to take root. Also, supervisors influence transfer and maintenance of new competencies indirectly by serving as powerful models.

  4. Experiential learning: In addition to sustained practice, feedback, reinforcement, and support, effective social and emotional learning needs to be based primarily on experiential activity rather than more intellectual, didactic approaches. Developing a social or emotional competency requires engagement of the emotional, non-cognitive parts of the brain.

  5. Emotionally intelligent trainers and coaches: Because the competencies involved in social and emotional learning are so central to our personal identities, special care and sensitivity is required in the way that training is presented. The personal nature of what is involved in this kind of learning also makes it critical that there be a trusting and supportive relationship between the learners and trainers. Trainers need special skills and more than a little emotional intelligence themselves.

  6. Anticipation and preparation for setbacks: Even when a training programme has all of these elements necessary for successful personal change—ample practice and support, emotionally intelligent trainers, etc.—learners will inevitably encounter setbacks. The old emotional memories and social habits will tend to reassert themselves from time to time, especially when people are under stress. Thus, effective training programmes also include ‘relapse prevention’, which refers to a set of techniques that help people to reframe slips as opportunities to learn.

Conclusion

Emotional intelligence can make a big difference for both individual and organisational effectiveness. However, if the current interest in promoting emotional intelligence at work is to be a serious, sustained effort, rather than just another management fad, it is important that practitioners try to utilise practices based on the best available research. Only when the training is based on sound, empirically based methods will its promise be realised.

The Best Sources of Help

Books:

Cherniss, C., and M. Adler. "Promoting Emotional Intelligence in Organizations". Alexandria, Virginia: American Society for Training and Development, 2000.

Goleman, D. "Working with Emotional Intelligence". London: Bloomsbury, 1999.

Biography

Cary Cherniss, PhD, is professor of applied psychology at Rutgers University, specialising in emotional intelligence, work stress, management training, organisational change and career development. His six books include "Promoting Emotional Intelligence in Organizations" (with Mitchel Adler; American Society for Training and Development, 2000) and "Beyond Burnout" (Routledge, 1995). He has also consulted widely in both public and private sectors. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, PhD, has written several best-sellers, including "Primal Leadership" (Harvard Business School Press, 2002). He worked for many years for the "New York Times" covering the brain and behavioural sciences; has been a visiting faculty member at Harvard University; helped found the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning at the University of Illinois, and speaks on emotional intelligence and leadership worldwide. Daniel and Cary co-chair Rutgers’ Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations. Together they edited "The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace" (Jossey-Bass, 2001).