How to Overcome Emotional Intelligence Training Skepticism

Oji Editorial Staff | Aug 25, 2022
Trainer standing at whiteboard presenting on Emotional Intelligence skills
Trainer standing at whiteboard presenting on Emotional Intelligence skills

The more you examine the research showing the enormous value of emotional intelligence in the workplace, the more it seems as though businesses that neglect EI training are like a mining company that spends its exploratory budget drilling just a few feet from a massive deposit of gold.

At a time of significant uncertainty—a pandemic, the challenges of remote work, a looming recession—having an emotionally intelligent workforce is more valuable, and more of an advantage, than ever.

Yet some leaders shy away from opportunities to put their employees through EI training. In our recent webinar with the Association of Talent Development, we asked attendees about their experience implementing EI training programs. Their answer: 37% are skeptical about these programs based on prior learning experiences.

If your leadership team is hesitant to implement an EI program, we have some suggestions about how you can overcome their objections. First, though, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about the significant advantages of rolling out effective emotional intelligence training.

The Facts About Emotional Intelligence

The scientific data on the organizational benefits of emotional intelligence are clear, they’re compelling, and they’ve been repeated in numerous studies by several of the world’s most trusted research institutions.

This helps explain why, according to a recent global study by the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence ranks among the 10 most in-demand skill sets for businesses in countries all over the world. Organizations see the value—indeed, the necessity—of building an emotionally intelligent workforce.

So why might your leadership team, HR managers, or L&D colleagues be skeptical about rolling out an EI program at your organization?

3 Common Reasons Businesses Are Wary of EI Training (and How to Overcome Each Objection)

Having trained thousands of employees on emotional intelligence, we can identify the most common friction points when organizations consider EI training. Here are the most common objections we’ve encountered, along with ideas to help you answer them.

Objection #1:

EI is an innate ability that can’t be taught.

Many people mistakenly view emotional intelligence as an inborn trait—a genetic gift, like good math skills. But this is false. EI, like math skills, is built through training and practice.

The reality:

Emotional intelligence is a learnable skill.

Yes, some people are naturally more aware of their emotions and the emotions of others. But numerous real-world studies, including research conducted by cognitive scientists and reported by UC Berkeley, demonstrated that individuals who receive EI training “showed a significant improvement in their ability to identify their feelings and the feelings of others, as well as to manage and control their emotions. What's more, these improvements were apparent not only right after the training but also six months later.”

How to overcome this objection:

If your senior leadership team has the misconception that EI is an inborn, untrainable trait, show them the research above. Having science to support your argument that EI is teachable will be a great way to challenge this legacy and traditional thinking.

Objection #2:

EI training won’t directly improve the bottom line.

Many executives view emotional intelligence training as a nice-to-have program—something to improve interpersonal communications in the office—but not essential to the business in the way that, say, a sales or product marketing course would be.

But here, too, they are mistaken, as a mountain of research demonstrates.

The reality:

EI training delivers tangible ROI.

In the introduction, we noted the Harvard finding that when a medical company put its staff through EI training, the firm saw a 12% boost in annual revenue. Research cited in a recent Forbes article also finds that EI training can lead to

  • 400% higher employee retention rates
  • More than 40% improved productivity
  • A 50% boost in employees’ feelings of inspiration in their work
  • A 1,500% overall ROI on the EI training itself

How to overcome this objection:

If leadership in your organization is skeptical about the connection between EI training and bottom-line benefits, build your case with data. Share the stats above, the data we presented at the beginning of this post, and—if you want to build a bulletproof proposal—additional data points you identify that bolster the value in your particular industry or job function.

Search the web for research on the business benefits of emotional intelligence training, and you’ll be amazed at how many stats you find, from credible research institutions such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and others.

Objection #3:

We’ve been burned before by poor EI training.

This is probably the most common concern we’ve heard, and in many ways reflects why we started Oji Life Lab in the first place. The bottom line: learning a new skill requires a different type of learning program than the narrow, job-specific training that many training firms are skilled at building.

When you were in high school, they didn’t teach drawing, band, swimming, or woodworking with lectures and tests, but for some reason when we teach soft skills - like emotional intelligence - in the workplace, we use the same approach as we use with accounting and tech skills: lectures (or videos) and quizzes.

The foundation of an effective emotional intelligence program is decades of research into psychology and human behavior. Further, it requires activities and an overall program design to build skills that last, including…:

  • Hands-on activities that provide real-world practice, not just watching or reading.
  • Live coaching that delivers personalized feedback and guidance.
  • An expanded learning timeline that can deliver lifelong skills by exploiting learning science concepts like spaced repetition and spiral learning.

Few firms have the academic relationships, technology, and learning design skills to create a program with these attributes. That’s why it’s much more difficult to find effective EI training than it is to find, say, an effective customer service training program.

If an employee or manager has had an uninspiring prior experience or failed to see business results with emotional intelligence training, this can lead them to believe that EI training simply doesn’t work in business.

The reality:

The right EI training program can move the needle for your business.

Emotional intelligence can indeed be taught to employees in such a way that it helps them improve critical business (and life) skills including decision making, communicating, building relationships, defusing conflict, and managing stress.

Here are just a few real-world examples from our own EI training sessions at Oji Life Lab:

Higher sales:

Lower burnout:

  • After putting their team through the Oji Emotions Life Lab, an auto-dealership group saw a significant reduction in employee burnout (as well as an uptick in collections). 85 percent of participants reported feeling better equipped to deal with challenges faced at work and home.
  • A Connecticut hospital’s nursing staff—among the highest-stress positions—went through our EI program and saw a drop in burnout.

Improved communication:

  • After a manufacturing company implemented EI training to support high-potential leaders going through a company reorg, they were able to create better transition plans to address their reorg.
  • A university’s customer service team leveraged our EI training to substantially improve their overall student satisfaction scores.

How to overcome this objection:

If your executives have been turned off by poor experiences with emotional intelligence training, introduce them to Oji Emotions —a mobile program designed with leading psychologists at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Unlike other training firms that your leadership team might have encountered, Oji Life Lab is not a professional training company that built an emotional intelligence program. It’s a team of emotional intelligence experts who built a training company.

Do Emotional Intelligence Training the Right Way

The research is clear about the tremendous benefits of emotional intelligence training: It has direct and profound impacts on employee productivity, inspiration, and retention, and it generates bottom-line benefits to the organization itself.

You can use those data points, as well as the real-world stories above, to build a strong case for your senior leadership team about rolling out the right EI training program at your organization.

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