Some people wonder if they can actually do anything about their social and emotional intelligence (S+EI). Are you one? This is especially true for those of us who have been repeatedly sabotaged by deeply ingrained emotional reactions. Negative emotions and linked behavior patterns can surface in a flash and seem to take on a life of their own, so much so that their owner feels like a victim without control. In addition, it seems as if people who are congenial, authentic and high in S+EI are just “naturals” who are born that way.
Well, the good news is “yes you can” grow your S+EI abilities or skills. The other news is that it takes some work. For inquiring minds who want to see the evidence, Goleman’s article “What Makes a Leader” and Boyatzis book “Becoming A Resonant Leader” are good resources.
It’s true that all 4 domains of a person’s S+EI abilities, in particular empathy, are part nature and part nurture. And while people vary in their natural abilities, everyone can improve. For those in leadership positions, getting better is not an option if you want to take your leadership to the next level. In fact the higher the leadership position the more likely the leader is to have lower S+EI ability scores, which is not surprising when you think about it. Who wants to be the one to tell the boss they are acting like a jerk? This is one reason why CEO disease is rampant but that’s another story for another time.
So where do you start? First, understand conventional training just won’t work for improving your S+EI abilities because it is oriented toward concepts and technical details, both of which target the neocortex. Further more, when a typical training approach has been used to improve S+EI, not only has it been shown to fail, but it can have a negative impact as well….you can get worse!!
Because the heart and soul of S+EI reside in the limbic system, that’s where you have to begin and where you have to focus in order to improve. Training the limbic brain requires an individualized approach and takes lot more time than conventional training. This means feedback, motivation, and extended practice are also required. In addition, old behavioral habits not only have to be broken but simultaneously replaced with new ones.
Why the difference in training approaches? Because our brains are hard-wired to give emotions the upper hand, as the diagram below shows.
The fact that our brain can adapt, modify and grow new neural connections makes it possible to improve our S+EI abilities, even for those with the most ingrained negative patterns and behaviors. It’s akin to taking the connection between the limbic brain and neocortex from an simple 2-lane country road to a reinforced, 5-lane super highway. Even better news is that with the right approach, these changes are sustainable over the long term .
Building your S+EI increases the quantity and quality of neural connections which gives your rational centers the resilience to keep from being overwhelmed and hi-jacked when emotions run high. A robust S+EI gives you the capability to put a “space” between stimulus and response. It empowers you to move from reactive to being reflective and responsive so that over time new habits can be built that serve our best interest and replace the old ones that sabotage us.
Nice cartoon and concepts, but is there evidence that improving our S+EI ability actually makes us better in the workplace? Yes there is:
- Senior managers in one company with a critical mass of S+EI abilities real divisions that exceeded yearly earning goals by 20%
- Direct correlations with earnings: every point increase in overall S+EI adds $1,300 to an annual salary
- 83% of people high in self-awareness are top performers while only 2 percent of bottom performers are high in self-awareness.
- S+EI accounts for 58% of performance across a variety of jobs and is the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.
Furthermore, positive effects are transferable to home and other social settings, particularly when it comes to empathy.
If we know that we have the capability to improve our S+EI abilities and that they’re the largest contributors to our success, why don’t more people work on it? One reason is that most people don’t think they can change. They settle for “that’s just the way I am”. I think another is that we all have blindspots and need the help of others to find out what those are so we can do something about them.
Are you motivated to build and improve your S+EI abilities? You know it’s possible, you definitely have the capacity, but you have to take action to make it happen. You’re also going to need to follow the right training principles and strategies. That’s where we are going next so stay tuned.