Skip to content

Emotional Intelligence: Learned or Innate?

July 25, 2019 in
By Shannon Quaranta

As explained last week in our blog, Emotional Intelligence (EI) affects performance at work and has a profound impact on many skills important for consultants to possess, specifically communication, flexibility, and teamwork. We also learned that while EI may seem to come naturally to some people, it may not come as naturally to others. This begs the question, can organizations train employees to be more emotionally intelligent? Or is EI an innate trait that should be assessed during the hiring process? This week we’ll explore the differences between the models of EI, see how EI is measured, and address the question: can we train for Emotional Intelligence?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Here’s a quick refresher: Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” As you may have guessed, there is some disagreement among researchers on how to exactly classify EI, leading to two primary schools of thought and two accompanying types of EI models: Ability Models and Mixed Models[1][2]

Ability Model[3]

The Ability Model considers EI to be a standard intelligence or an ability that should be measured by assessments. For example, one popular ability model states that EI has the following four dimensions: 

(1) Emotions Identification

(2) Emotions Utilization

(3) Emotions Understanding

(4) Emotions Regulation

This model measures these four dimensions using an intelligence-like assessment, which means there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. The downside with this type of assessment is that it aims to measure maximal performance rather than typical performance. 

Mixed Model 

The second school of thought considers EI to be a Mixed Model, meaning it is a mix of ability, traits, and competencies that should be measured by self-reporting instruments[4]. An example of this type of model is Daniel Goleman’s, which organizes 16 competencies into four different categories as shown below[5]

(1) Self-Awareness:Emotional Awareness, Accurate Self-Assessment, Self-Confidence

(2) Self-Management:Emotional Self-Control, Transparency, Adaptability, Achievement, Initiative, Optimism

(3) Social Awareness: Empathy, Organizational Awareness, Service Orientation 

(4) Relationship Management: Developing Others, Inspirational Leadership, Change Catalyst, Influence, Conflict Management, Teamwork & Collaboration

This Mixed Model uses a self-reporting survey (similar to a personality self-assessment) to determine an individual’s level of competence in these 16 competencies. Self-reports are popular primarily for their ease of use (and low cost), but a common problem is that people tend to think they have a higher level of competence in certain areas than they actually do. Also, someone with low EI may be less introspective and therefore could struggle with accurately completing a self-assessment.

Can we train it?

While these two perspectives disagree on how to classify EI, where they do align is that EI is not “fixed.”[6]Rather, EI generally increases as people age and mature, and it can be enhanced through the use of training. So, great news to everyone wanting to improve their own EI (or that of their organization): the answer is yes, we can train for Emotional Intelligence! While we may never get a clear answer on the exact classification of EI, there is evidence that training leads to improvements in it[7]

More good news! Training programs using both types of EI models and both types of performance measures showed increases in EI after training, compared to other control groups[8]. In both organizational case studies and research studies, people trained on EI had a significant increase in ability or competency, and not just in the short term, but also in the long term67. In one study, researchers followed up six months later and found that those who had received EI training still showed the same increase that they had shown immediately after the training[9].

Implementing EI in your organization

Now that we have determined that we can train for emotional intelligence, you may be wondering which type of model is best to implement at your organization. The answer to this question is one of my favorites in the consulting world: it depends. Both models and assessment types have pros and cons, and neither school of thought is wrong. Regardless of the model you choose, here are some training areas that should be included in successful EI training8

  • Importance of emotion
  • Identifying one’s own emotions
  • Identifying others’ emotions
  • Empathy
  • How to express emotions
  • How to use emotions to solve problems

Additionally, ensure that no matter which type of performance measure you use, you use pre- and post-training assessments to really understand the impact that your training has on EI ability or competency. 

Now, to return back to one of our original questions posed at the beginning of the article – should organizations assess for emotional intelligence in their hiring process? Since we now know that we don’t have to choose between EI training and hiring for EI, absolutely! Ideally, an organization would both assess candidates for EI during the hiring and selection process, and also provide them with additional EI training if necessary. Research shows that we can expect an increase in EI of up to 25% due to a good training program[10], so it’s in the best interest of the company to hire candidates with an existing higher level of EI and to use training as a supplement. In short, integrate EI into recruiting and training to ensure that your workforce is operating with a high level of emotional intelligence.

Interested in learning more? Let us know at bd@fmpconsulting.com!


[1]Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., & Salovey, P. (2011). Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Personal, Social, Academic, and Workplace Success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass,5(1), 88-103. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00334.x

[2]Clarke, N. (2006). Emotional Intelligence Training: A Case of Caveat Emptor. Human Resource Development Review,5(4), 422-441. doi:10.1177/1534484306293844

[3]Mayer, J. D., Salovay, P., Caruso, D. R., & Cherkasskiy, L. (n.d.). Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from http://ei.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/pub312_EIchapter2011final.pdf

[4]Mayer, J. D., Salovay, P., Caruso, D. R., & Cherkasskiy, L. (n.d.). Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from http://ei.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/pub312_EIchapter2011final.pdf

[5]Goleman, D. (2015, April 22). How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? Retrieved from http://www.danielgoleman.info/daniel-goleman-how-emotionally-intelligent-are-you/

[6]Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014, August 07). Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em

[7]Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., & Thorsteinsson, E. B. (2013). Increasing Emotional Intelligence through Training: Current Status and Future Directions. The International Journal of Emotional Intelligence,5(1), 56-I 27.

[8]Fletcher, I., Leadbetter, P., Curran, A., & Osullivan, H. (2009). A pilot study assessing emotional intelligence training and communication skills with 3rd year medical students. Patient Education and Counseling,76(3), 376-379. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2009.07.019

[9]Nelis, D., Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible? Personality and Individual Differences,36-41.

[10]Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014, August 07). Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em

Share Knowledge