Can emotional intelligence be learned?
For ages, people have debated if leaders are born or made.
So too goes the debate about emotional intelligence. Are people born with certain levels of empathy, for example, or do they acquire empathy as a result of life’s experiences? The answer is both. Scientific inquiry strongly suggests that there is a genetic component of emotional intelligence. Psychological and developmental research indicates that nature plays a role as well. How much of each perhaps will never be known, but research and practice clearly demonstrate that emotional intelligence can be learned.
One thing is certain: Emotional intelligence increases with age. There is an old-fashioned word for this phenomenon- Maturity. Yet even with maturity some still needs training, to enhance their emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, far too many programs that intend to build leadership skills- including emotional intelligence are a waste of money. The problem is simple: They focus on the wrong part of the brain.
Emotional intelligence is born largely in the neurotransmitters of the brain’s limbic system, which governs feeling, impulses, and drives. Research indicates that the limbic system learns best through motivation, extended practice, and feedback. Compare this with the kind of learning that goes on in the neocortex, which governs analytical and technical ability. The neocortex grasp concepts and logic. It is the part of the brain that figures out how to use a computer or make sales call by reading a book. Not surprisingly but mistakenly it is also the part of the brain targeted by most training programs aimed at enhancing emotional intelligence. when such programs take effect a neocortical approach has shown they can even have a negative impact on peoples jab performance.
To enhance emotional intelligence organizations must refocus their training to include the limbic system. They must help people break old behavioral habits and establish new ones. That not only takes much more time than conventional training programs, it also requires an individualized approach. It is important to emphasize that building one’s emotional intelligence cannot-will not – happen without sincere desire and concerted effort. A brief seminar won’t help. nor can one buy a how-to mannual. It is much harder to learn to empathize- to internalize empathy as a natural response to people- than it is to become adept at regression analysis. But it can be done. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If your goal is to become a real leader, these words can serve as a guidepost in your efforts to develop high emotional intelligence.