Developing EQ requires practice

piano

There is more than simply knowing about a winning strategy—the ability to execute a strategy depends on the requisite emotional competence—just having the the intellectual understanding is not enough.  And emotional competence depends on the strength of the connections in specific areas of the brain.

There is a crucial difference between declarative knowledge, knowing a concept and its technical details, and procedural knowledge, being able to put those concepts and details into action. Knowing does not equal doing, whether in playing the piano, managing a team, or acting on essential advice at the right moment. Emotional intelligence is procedural knowledge, and developing it — like playing the piano — requires practice.

A study of management training in a supermarket chain found very little correlation between managers’ knowledge of the competencies they were trained in and how they actually behaved once back at their stores. Many trainees came out of the program with high levels of understanding about what they should do back on the job—they just failed to do it when they got there. Intellectual understanding of a competence may be necessary, but it is not sufficient in itself to result in behaviour change.

Teaching about a competence—that is, having workers get an intellectual grasp of the concepts involved—has the least effect on actually changing performance. Intellectual understanding is a threshold process, necessary for learning, but not sufficient for lasting improvement. Deep change requires the retooling of ingrained habits of thought, feeling, and behaviour. And what has been learned can be unlearned—and a more effective habit learned instead—with effort and time. This unlearning and learning occur at the level of the brain connections themselves. As we acquire our habitual repertoire of thought, feeling, and action, the neural connections that support this repertoire are strengthened, becoming dominant pathways for nerve impulses.

While connections that are unused become weakened or even lost, those we use over and over grow increasingly strong. Given a choice between two alternative responses, the one that has the richer, stronger network of neurons will win out. And the more a response occurs, the thicker the neural pathways grow to support it. When habits have been well learned, through countless repetitions, then the underlying neural circuitry becomes the brain’s default option—we act automatically and spontaneously.

Competencies can be seen as a coordinated bundle of habits—what we think, feel, and do to get a job done. When such a habit is dysfunctional, replacing it with a more effective one requires enough practice of the better habit—and inhibition of the poor one—that the neural circuitry for the old behaviour finally withers (psychologists call this “extinguishing”) and the circuitry for the better behaviour grows stronger. Eventually the better habit will replace the old one as the automatic response in key situations. The test of this kind of learning—of such rewiring—for an emotional competence lies in how a person automatically reacts in the salient moment, in situations they have a critical choice.

Extract from Working with Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

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