Emotional intelligence (EI) addresses specific components of one’s self, including self-awareness, personal reflection, and the development of human interaction. It gives an individual the ability to read the environment, understand how and why he or she and others react, and craft a response.
Emotionally intelligent professionals can choose their battles wisely and are able to command respect without having to overtly demand it. A new study involving neurodivergent individuals shows that developing EI leads to significant improvements in personal and interpersonal capabilities.
These findings are explored in the white paper Championing Neurodiversity and Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which was released by PSI’s talent management team in conjunction with Executive Resilience Coaching’s (ERC) mental health specialists. The white paper features insights from a study that included 324 employees from a U.K. public sector organization.
The groundbreaking study demonstrates how a self-development program led to improvements in EI for a group of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees containing a high representation of neurodivergent individuals.
In an initial EI assessment, participants in the program scored lower than the comparison group (middle managers) in all 16 aspects of EI. At the end of the program, participants completed the EI assessment again. The group showed:
- Significant improvement in all aspects of EI, with an average improvement of 12%;
- A significant increase across 7 scores, most notably “self-regard” (+21%), the primary aspect of EI that underpins all other scales, and “reflective learning” (+18%);
- Scores higher than the comparison group in 3 areas: “regard for others” (+10%), “authenticity” (+10%), and “trust” (+6%);
- Scores the same as the comparison group in 7 areas and below the comparison group in just 6 areas; and
- An improvement of 13% in both feelings scales (“self-awareness” and “awareness of others”).
Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe those of us whose brains and thinking styles are slightly different from the norm. Many businesses currently attach little value to these behaviors, with competency frameworks that merely assess for and reward behavioral norms. This paper shows why, and how, an understanding of how to value and nurture divergent thinking styles can improve performance and well-being.
Dr. Jo Maddocks, Chief Psychologist at PSI Talent Management, says, “Neurodiversity is a term that many of us in the corporate world are becoming familiar with. But to date there has been little understanding of how to nurture the non-typical thinking styles that are crucial for innovation in our fast-changing world.
“This new study supports the view that developing attributes of EI can help neurodivergent individuals to work to their strengths and cope with the emotional and functional challenges that they face at work. It’s not about changing people but helping them to learn to manage their emotions and their relationships to become happier and more effective at work,” Maddocks adds.
Cathy Harris, Director at ERC, adds, “We believe it’s time for a paradigm shift in HR practices which recognizes the relationship between peoples’ emotional state and their effectiveness. Ultimately, we’re looking to help people fulfill their potential in a healthy way. This requires teaching people how to manage anxiety, attention, and energy levels in healthy and effective ways as well as raising awareness for HR professionals.”
Developing an EI Training Program
EI training is important for both your employees and your organization. And you’ll want to uncover the benefits of such training behind the hype of other passing trends. Otherwise, your EI training might end up falling flat, or you might end up losing motivation to fully promote and implement it once it’s developed.
Before you begin training for EI, you must understand the science behind it because you’ll need to know that it will not prompt instantaneous change or yield immediate results. And you’ll want to know that you’ll be undergoing efforts to change individuals’ neuro pathways and deep-seated behaviors.
As mentioned above, EI consists of four basic components:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
As you create your learning materials and activities for your EI training, make sure they focus on one or more of the components listed above. Otherwise, they might lose their effectiveness.
Essentially, it’s important to remember that EI isn’t about being emotional but is instead about learning how to positively reflect on and manage one’s behavior, navigate multifaceted social situations, and bring about positive personal decisions and achievements.
5 Tips for EI Training
Here are five tips to follow when training your employees to be more emotionally intelligent:
- Train leaders first as “servant leaders.” If you want your EI training to be effective and long lasting, you must train your leaders first. Emotionally intelligent leaders will inspire their employees to be more emotionally intelligent, too, and will help set the tone for their entire organizations and promote a positive company culture.
Leaders with high EI can also be considered “servant leaders” because they exhibit great listening skills, are highly aware of themselves and others, have high levels of empathy, and have other similar attributes.
- Implement interactive workshops. It’s imperative that your EI training modules include real-time and interactive workshops, even via virtual simulations or gamified modules. Workshops should include role-playing exercises in which employees must practice active listening, empathy, and self-regulation. And have employees write in journals when they self-reflect on their own range of emotions and circumstances. Be sure to offer interactive exercises that promote social awareness and effective relationship-building among employees.
- Develop coaching and mentorship programs. It’s important to consider developing programs that help support your EI training program long term. Peer coaching, through which employees talk to one another about their EI journeys, struggles, and wins, could prove helpful. And coaches who help employees navigate more complex situations and emotions could also significantly benefit and support an EI training program long term.
- Encourage and promote corporate social responsibility (CSR). Because social awareness is critical to promoting EI and is, in fact, a key component of it, consider implementing programs and initiatives across your organization that further promote social responsibility among employees. For instance, you could start a food drive for the homeless or team up with a local nonprofit that needs volunteers and so on.
- Create an environment with safe spaces. To truly have an effective EI training program, it’s critical that your employees have safe spaces where they can learn about themselves and how to regulate their emotions, learn about others around them, and learn how to effectively manage their relationships and social situations. Employees must feel safe and secure when undergoing EI training and must be assured they won’t be ostracized or ridiculed when it’s time for them to learn and grow.
The research mentioned above makes one thing clear: Developing your employees to be more emotionally intelligent is great for business! Your workers will be more self-aware, be able to better regulate their emotions, be more inclined to help out in their communities, and foster great relationships across the entire organization. Keep these training tips in mind when developing your workforce for EI.