How do we conduct Practical Emotional Intelligence Training?

Increasing emotional intelligence is not about understanding concepts, but about developing a sense for other people’s values and reactions. Not everybody has the same capacity for emotional intelligence, and people vary dramatically in how far they are willing to venture to enter another person’s world. The most important step in developing emotional intelligence is a desire to enter the world of others, to try to understand them and connect with them. This desire stems from a curiosity about other people which most of us have, but in different degrees.

Our system of training in emotional intelligence involves three progressive steps of intimacy between people, where not every group will necessarily reach the third step.

The group is divided into two sub-groups, and participants work in pairs. They are first given a set of general, fairly impersonal questions (with some ‘surprise’ personal ones) which they ask each other. The person asked has a blank piece of paper on which they write their own reactions elicited by the questions. These are typically mild reactions which cause no discomfort whatsoever. The purpose of the first phase is for the participants to get a general sense of their partner, their sensibility, their values and general worldview.

The second phase has the same pairs of participants holding two blank pieces of paper and asking each other, in turn, questions of their own design (which they write down). The questions are designed to bring out an emotional reaction. The person who asks the question writes down the question and the possible emotional reactions from the other person that she thinks the other person would feel. The person asked writes down their reactions. The partners swap places, so each person both asks and is asked the questions. Sometimes this phase sees people crying, holding hands, laughing, or leaving the room in anger. All of those reactions are normal and to be expected. At the end of the second phase, participants are given a brief pause (5 minutes) and then asked to de-brief each other about the reactions they felt during the session: this gives everybody the opportunity to gauge their ability to foresee the other person’s emotions. The first two phases are standard and take about 4-6 hours, depending on the group.

The third phase is administered to select groups and involves physical contact. Those most successful in Phase 2 described above, volunteer to work in pairs, again. The pairs do not have to be the same as in the first two phases. They start by touching each other, and are asked to touch the other person WITHOUT regard for what they think the other person may feel about being touched a particular way: each participants is asked to touch the other person the way they feel comfortable with.

Typically people start by touching each other on the hands, the arm, the shoulder. Some follow up by touching the face, hair or the other person’s leg with their knee. Some people hug the other person. Some go behind the partner and try to touch them from the back. In each case the person touched is asked to describe their feelings after 10 minutes of physical contact. Then the partners swap roles. This phase often makes the participants uncomfortable. They show the large variations in our sensibilities and approach to each other. Sometimes people become embarrassed, sometimes they establish strong personal connection. But at the end of the day, after the exercise, invariably, the team members know each others much better and are able to increase their effectiveness and productivity substantially.