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1. Can you develop your emotional intelligence? »

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and internationally recognised Emotional Intelligence Coach.

In a blog in June 2012, Daniel Goleman, the man who brought Mayer and Salovey's work on emotional intelligence into public prominence, was asked whether we could enhance our emotional intelligence.

Specifically he was asked the following question:

"You explain that emotional intelligence has four parts: self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy and social skills. Is it possible to enhance them, with practice or training?"

I found his answer interesting and would like to give a more comprehensive answer, as well as a shorter answer.

What Daniel Goleman replied was this:

Emotional intelligence competencies are learned – and can be improved at any point in life. But first you have to be motivated – ask yourself if you really care. Then you need a well-structured learning situation where, for instance, you have a clear picture of what you want to improve, and can practise specific behaviors that will help you enhance the targeted competence.

What do I make of this? Well it depends.

What does it depend on? How much of your innate emotional intelligence you are already using to the maximum and how much is still lying untrained and dormant. It isn't only about how motivated you are.

If emotional intelligence is an intelligence, it isn't something that we can all becoming shining stars in, no more than we can all develop an IQ of 150 or more. There is a bell curve distribution for emotional intelligence in the same way that there is for IQ.

What this means is that most of us will have average amounts of emotional intelligence, because that is what average means! Also, some of us will have lower levels of emotional intelligence, and some of us will have higher levels.

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Can you develop your emotional intelligence?

In answer to what Daniel Goleman has said I would say an emphatic, yes! We can develop more emotional intelligence skills, definitely, well most of us anyway! The reason I say this is that the analogy between IQ and EI does not apply to the whole consideration of the question.

There is at least one big difference between IQ and EI that matters here. The difference is this.

Our IQ is the focus of thousands and thousands of hours of training in our education system. As we grow up we are taught how to use and develop our IQ skills. We are given activity after activity, lesson after lesson, and exam after exam, in its development and application. We are taught to read and write, to recite the alphabet, to learn the rules of mathematics, to measure and collect facts. Indeed, we are exposed to an ongoing training to make the most of our innate IQ. For most of us, this continues throughout our childhoods and into young adulthood, and even beyond.

This is not the case for emotional intelligence and EQ. For the vast majority of us, we got very little training or assistance in developing our innate emotional intelligence.

When we were reciting the two times table, or being marked for our knowledge of history and geography, or being trained how to write, were we also reciting an extensive vocabulary of feeling words, or being marked on our knowledge of how two emotions relate to each other, or being trained for hours in emotional recognition?

It is highly unlikely. If your schooling did focus upon aspects of emotional intelligence it still would not have been anywhere near to the same extent as IQ. Think how many hours you spent learning to read. The time spent learning emotional literacy would nowhere near have involved the same number of hours, would it? Did you even spend ten hours doing that? 

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Can you develop your emotional intelligence to its maximum?

How does this bear any relation to what Daniel Goleman says? It is good news. It means that you are highly unlikely to have developed your emotional intelligence to its maximum potential. There is hardly anyone who has who has gone through this kind of schooling. Thus, you have every chance of being able to benefit from work to develop it.

So Daniel Goleman is right, (and I do not always agree with Goleman's take on emotional intelligence). In a well-structured learning situation where you have a clearly defined goal of what you want to improve, and can practise specific behaviors realted to it, you should be able to further develop your skills related to emotional intelligence.

There is mounting research evidence to back this up in Australia. Studies have been conducted with groups in the workplace. Some have been put through an emotional intelligence training programme and others haven't. Pre and post tests have then been done and significant differences in performance have been found between the start and finish of the programmes, and between the trained and untrained groups.

I have also seen my own clients show demonstrable improvements in skills following coaching and training. People, who for instance, may have found it hard to control their emotions when dealing with difficult customers have been able to learn how to keep their cool and stay calm and composed.

I have also personal experience in witnessing my own emotional intelligence development.

How long will it take to develop my emotional intelligence?

A word of warning. Emotional intelligence is not "one thing". It is an intelligence involving a wide and comprehensive set of skills. You don't just do one exercise to develop your emotional intelligence skills, you have to work on specific skill sets, and specific tasks, in specific areas, to reach specific goals.

EI is like IQ in this regard, there isn't one set of skills to learn to develop and use your IQ, and you don't do it in a day or a week. The same can be said for emotional intelligence.

It is a journey of a lifetime, but you can take a step each day to develop your emotional intelligence skills. I have seen people take significant strides in developing their emotional intelligence in specific areas after attending just a one or two day course. How exciting is that!

A good starting place for many of my clients has been in developing their emotional self-awareness and emotional self-management, and this may help you too, but that's another article. 

For now, let me finish with a quote, by the master himself, Dr John (Jack) Mayer, from his article in the book "Emotional What?" 2010.

When most people ask the question, what they may mean is “Is it possible for someone to increase his or her emotional knowledge?” and, perhaps, “Is it possible for someone to improve their social and emotional functioning?” In both cases, the answer is almost certainly yes.

In other words, if you want to design an EQ program for yourself or your team at work it's a good idea.

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