As early as 1998 a technical report issued by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations (called Bringing Emotional Intelligence to the Workplace) estimated that American business lost up to 16.8 billion dollars per year by not paying attention to the right guidlines for developing emotional intelligence in the workplace. Yet, a growing body of research on emotional learning and behavior change already showed that it is quite possible to help people of any age to become more emotionally intelligent at work. This means that qualities such as empathy, cooperation, social skill and self-awareness can be enhanced with the right tools and strategy.
The problem was, and still is, that many programs fail to recognize the fundamental facts upon which the strategy needs to be based. The most important fact of all is that there are two distinct types of learning, which must not be mixed up.
Two Types of Learning
Training and development programs in industry frequently fail to understand the difference between what has been called cognitive learning and emotional learning. Let us look at an example. Consider the example of an IT specialist or an engineer who is shy, quiet, and likes to be totally absorbed in the technical details of his job. Cognitive learning can certainly make him understand that cooperating with other people, making connections, and building relationships would be a good thing, but just knowing these things would not enable him to do them.
The ability to do these things depends on completely different capacities, which fall into the category of emotional intelligence. Here cognitive learning does not help at all. A fundamentally different kind of learning is required.
Emotional incompetence often results from deeply ingrained habits learned early in life. As people acquire their habits of thought, feeling, and action, the neural connections and neural pathways that support these slowly become dominant and become the default setting. So, the shy IT specialist must find ways of re-wiring (through neuroplastic techniques) the neural circuitry which has grown out of the habit-patterns he originally ‘inherited’ through his education and upbringing etc. If he succeeds in this, then a new pattern based upon practical intelligence and emotional intelligence can ‘grow’.
Emotional capacities like empathy or cooperation, differ from cognitive abilities because they are rooted in different parts of the brain. Additional brain areas (such as the amygdala for example) are involved in emotional learning. Effective learning for emotional intelligence has to re-tune a whole range of circuits that cognitive learning does not use.
Changing habits such as learning to connect to people, instead of avoiding them, giving sensitve and constructive feedback or communicating complex contexts, is far more difficult than simply learning new information.
We need to realise that learning greater emotional competence can be tough, because it challenges many of our cherished habits and beliefs. In addition, non-cognitive learning is often quite a long process, involving a lot of repetition and practice (like learning the piano, or learning to play golf for example). This is because one must first unlearn old habits and habit-patterns and then learn new habit-patterns and let the neural pathways for them ‘grow’.
‘Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”