5 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Workshops Fail

In the 1990’s, Daniel Goleman and other authors introduced and popularized the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Goleman, in particular, suggested that EI includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002).

Researchers studied and successfully promoted the notion that EI is critical to personal and professional success. For example, Goleman cited research indicating that when intelligence test scores (IQ) “are correlated with how well people perform in their careers, the highest estimate of how much difference IQ accounts for is about 25 percent. This means that IQ alone at best leaves 75 percent of job success unexplained (Goleman D. , 2005).”

It is easy to see that the salesperson who is unable to connect with potential clients or the manager who strikes fear and anger in the hearts of her employees will not be as successful as the person who is able to manage his own emotions and create an emotionally satisfying climate.

Since publication of these EI books and articles, business leaders and workshop presenters have spent countless hours and millions of dollars trying to enhance emotional intelligence in the workplace.  Typically, employees spend one to three days learning about the importance of EI and how to be more emotionally intelligent. They may participate in role-play situations and discuss times when they were or were not successful at recognizing or managing their own or other peoples’ emotions.

However, Cherniss, Goleman and other researchers  (1998) went on to study in depth what is required to bring EI to the workplace. They maintain that “it is possible to help people of any age to become more emotionally intelligent at work.” However, they assert that businesses spend millions of dollars each year in non-productive efforts to help employees to be more emotionally intelligent.

This information has not been as widely circulated, and it is important for leaders and human resource professionals to understand. Their report suggests at least five reasons why EI workshops are likely to fail. Even though it was reported in 1998, the findings are still pertinent. These findings include:

  • Emotional learning is very different from learning physics. The part of the brain that controls emotions (the amygdala) is very different in structure and function than the part of the brain that deals with reasoning and intellect (the neocortex). One learns emotions through repeated social encounters and interaction with other people. One also "picks up" the emotions of other people.
  • Emotional reactions and habits are very strong and build over time. One must first unlearn old habits before she can learn new ones. On the other hand, intellectual learning often includes new information, which usually does not require unlearning.
  • Emotions are tied to self-image. Being told that we need to learn a new technology is very different from being told we need to learn empathy. Successful EI training must be particularly sensitive to the emotional needs of participants. That includes building a desire to change and having choices in what and how to learn.
  • Successful change in the realm of EI requires understanding and setting the stage for new learning and new behavior in the work environment. Preparation for EI learning is essential. It is also frequently overlooked.
  • Successful EI change requires coaching or focused follow-up. Participants must have the opportunity to practice effective and emotionally intelligent behavior with others, and they need the opportunity to reflect on new behaviors.

In my next post, we'll move around to the the positive perspective and I'll share a 4-step process for building an emotionally satisfying and productive workplace.  But in the meantime, please share your thoughts on these reasons for failure.  Can you think of any others?

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