To follow feeds on social media over the past few months, one might be tempted to think the world is in crisis, doom is pending and an apocalypse is just around the corner. Even worse, there is talk of family Christmas’s being ruined due to different political opinions on either side of the roast turkey.
Whatever your point of view, the close votes this year on Brexit and the election of Donald Trump appear to indicate, in the UK and US at least, clear and opposing preferences for the actions that are required to survive in the world today.
Through a psychological lens, maybe this is a predictable consequence of the continuing impact of the global financial crisis.
On one side, the rhetoric of isolationism and anti-globalisation could be seen as an understandable retreat into the safety of what we know and understand close to home – as humans we have evolved to protect ourselves from perceived threats.
On the other side, those advocating ‘we’re stronger together’ may be drawing upon the evolutionary advantages we have gained through our ability to be empathic and build social networks.
Either way, it would appear that each side of the debate feels threatened by the other. And what we know from psychology is that when we believe we are under threat, our evolutionary systems kick in to protect us – our thinking brain shuts down, our emotional brain takes over and we become defensive; we start to see things as black and white, we become rigidly entrenched in our positions, more intolerant, and less able to identify creative solutions to problems.
We lose the ability to manage our emotions and behaviours effectively. In other words, in the face of the perceived threats that the current economic and political climate bring, the risk is that we become less emotionally intelligent.
Yet it seems that right now, and whatever our political leaning, we could all benefit from understanding how our attitudes, feelings, thoughts and actions both help and hinder us from being effective – both individually and collectively – and reaching our full potential as individuals, communities, and countries.
But how do you develop the Emotional Intelligence of others? How for instance would you help President-Elect Trump develop his Emotional Intelligence? What would you do if you were asked to create a programme to develop the EI of the leadership in his new administration? In our experience, there are five key design principles that underpin successful Emotional Intelligence development programmes:
- Sustainable behaviour change requires addressing the underlying attitudes that underpin a person’s thinking and feeling that then drives their behaviour.
- Change comes from experience – experiential activities and feedback are important to help participants understand their own underlying attitudes and the impact of these.
- Spending sufficient time early on to create a safe learning environment is critical in ensuring participants trust each other and are willing to openly share their thoughts and feelings.
- The starting point in developing Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness; the considered use of appropriate diagnostic tools and psychometrics can accelerate the learning journey.
- Plan for embedding change – developing Emotional Intelligence involves habit change; activities and events that offer reinforcement and encouragement are likely to help sustain momentum and ensure new behaviours are maintained.
Yet these alone are not enough. To be a successful EI Practitioner is to be an emotionally intelligent practitioner. And this requires holding the right attitudes, being able to set aside your thoughts and feelings about yourself and your participants, and being non-defensive, authentic and present. You need to fundamentally believe in the potential of others to grow because, if you don’t, how can you expect others to?
And, at the end of the day, it is these emotionally intelligent attitudes – that you and I are fundamentally ok, whatever our political beliefs – that will enable us to put aside our differences and ensure that we can enjoy our Christmas dinner without too much heated debate.
JCA Global has developed thousands of individuals in organisations across the world and has just launched its Developing Emotional Intelligence (EI) practitioner programme. The programme shares expertise developed over 20 years’ research and consultancy practice with EI Practitioners, providing them with the resources, support and materials they need to apply EI with their own clients.