Most people believe that being emotionally smart helps in business, and there’s no shortage of empirical evidence to suggest that this belief is accurate. The real question is, can people learn to be more emotionally smart? The answer is, yes. As with all forms of intelligence, there is a natural aptitude (nature) and a learned component (nurture). Individuals with high emotional quotients likely were lucky in both areas, born with the abilities and surrounded by good role models. However, you can boost your skills by attending an experiential workshop that nurtures your abilities.

There are a few well-regarded tests for emotional intelligence, and they usually explore one’s capacity in five areas: intrapersonal, interpersonal, adaptability, stress management and general mood. Each is then broken down into subcategories. In over 25 years as a professor of communications and corporate trainer, I’ve noticed three particular skills that stand out as predictors of professional success: curiosity, empathy and resilience.

Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but at least that cat was taking a chance. Being curious and asking personal questions of others has a real business reward. We all have an autobiographical urge (a desire to talk about what we’ve done and what we’re doing), and we’re just waiting for someone to show a genuine interest in us. The bedrock of an emotional connection is authentically (i.e., not as a means to an end) asking questions about our story. Questions tap into our autobiographical urge, and we love them for it.

For some, being curious is a risky business. I’ve noticed three reasons people don’t show interest in others. First, they’re afraid they’ll stumble upon an uncomfortable topic. Second, they don’t want to appear nosy. Finally, they just don’t care. Yet, there’s compelling business evidence to support the rewards of getting to know people as people by asking biographical questions. Whatever the reason that stops someone from being curious, it needs to end.

Empathy

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” It’s a classic chorus, but I’ll settle for more empathy. If you Google “empathy and business,” you’ll see a plethora of articles promoting the importance and power of and the need for more empathy. Again, the question is, can it be learned? Again, the answer is, yes – if training participants are given the opportunity for experiential learning.

First, learners must understand what empathy is. It’s not sympathy (“I feel sorry for you”). Empathy is, “I really understand you and where you’re coming from.” It’s not, “I appreciate your perspective when I agree with you.” Empathy wouldn’t be in short supply if we counted agreeing with people as being empathetic. Empathy is required not when we agree but rather when we disagree.

To learn to be more empathetic, people need to experience the challenge of disagreement with the goal of building consensus. When a psychologically safe environment is created in an experiential workshop, participants can delve into the uncomfortable world of disagreement in order to practice empathy.

Resilience

Resilience is all about reacting rationally to negative emotions. Emotions are either positive or negative. Feeling negative emotions when justified is fine; it’s not fine to feel negative emotions that are unjustified.

Thinking is the precursor to all feelings, and resilience is about questioning our thoughts. The inner strength to challenge our thinking is what brings us calm. We’re all guilty of being upset over things that don’t really require our being upset. Once we learn to take a moment to explore the real source of negative feelings, we can learn to overcome them and move forward with greater confidence and positivity.

The research is compelling; emotional intelligence in the workplace is fundamental to effectiveness. Over my decades of teaching in the academic and corporate world, I’ve seen first-hand how individuals prosper personally and professionally when given the chance to improve their emotional intelligence.

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