I recently read an enlightening case study about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that exemplifies the importance of how these principles are applied. In the study, a very successful company hired an emotional intelligence consultant to teach EQ as part of the training curriculum for their sales force. They happily realized an immediate return on investment with an 18 percent sales increase. Later, when management cut costs, they fired the vendor who delivered the classes and assigned the curriculum to their internal training department. The following year, the program failed to produce the anticipated success or realize the same increase in performance as the previous year.

What happened?

Developing emotional intelligence (EQ) is not like our intellectual quotient (IQ) where capability is assessed through the memorization of knowledge, words or concepts. Emotional self-regulation lives in the limbic system of the brain and, although connected to the reasoning brain, stimulating emotional, experiential activities with a highly skilled facilitator/coach or therapist enhances this skill development. It can be very messy work. In the case study above, the in-house trainers were not experienced to facilitate the deeper emotional work needed to induce the practice of empathy and self-regulation skills. The trainers fell back on teaching techniques that they knew – delivering the class in lecture/PowerPoint format, which diminished skill-transfer efficacy. Knowing EQ and demonstrating EQ are two different concepts and require different teaching methods.

This is perhaps why so many organizations hire to EQ rather than try to develop it in their employees. It is easier to hire it, than to develop it. However, organizations with executive coaching programs are certainly one step ahead. Just-in-time coaching and 360-degree feedback with coaching are powerful methods for developing self-awareness and empathy skills. Still, leading others to water through coaching does not guarantee they will drink from the cup of emotional and social awareness. I have seen many leaders come and go with stellar coaching interventions, only later to be derailed by lack of people skills. “We hire you for what you can do and we fire you for who you are,” a human resources professional once said.

I often hear participants in my EQ programs say, “My boss needs this class” or “I am going to take this home to my husband; he needs to control his anger…” It is my point of view that EQ can only be developed when the individual is willing and wanting to change through the sometimes-painful process of self-reflection. It can be practiced – but only through the willingness of the participant. The defensive mind can close off the waterspout to the cup of knowledge so there is really nothing to drink.

We all come to emotional development in our own time and maturity, and as empowering to the individual it feels to integrate the rational mind with the messy, social mind; this type of schooling is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.