Do you ever wish that your boss and your colleagues were more emotionally intelligent?

A high emotional quotient (or EQ) boosts career success, entrepreneurial potential, leadership talent, health, relationship satisfaction, humor, and happiness. It is also the best antidote to work stress and it matters in every job dealing with people, and people with higher EQ are more rewarding to deal with.

Most coaching interventions try to enhance some aspect of EQ, usually under the name of social, interpersonal, or soft skills training. The underlying reasoning is that, whereas IQ is very hard to change, EQ can increase with deliberate practice and training. Compelling demonstrations come from neuropsychological studies highlighting the “plasticity” of the social brain.

But what is the evidence? For example, if you’ve been told you need to keep your temper under control, show more empathy for others, or be a better listener, what are the odds that you can really do it? How do you know if your efforts will pay off, and which interventions will be most effective?

Millions of scientific articles have been published on EQ since the concept was first introduced in 1990, and there are five key points to consider:

1. Your level of EQ is firm, but not rigid. Our ability to identify and manage our own and others’ emotions is fairly stable over time, influenced by our early childhood experiences and even genetics. That does not mean we cannot change it, but, realistically, long-term improvements will require a great deal of dedication and guidance.

2. Everyone can change, but few people are seriously willing to try. Think about the worst boss you ever had — how long would it take him to start coming across as more considerate, sociable, calm or positive? And that’s the easier part — changing one’s reputation. It is even harder to change one’s internal EQ; in other words, you might still feel stressed out or angry on the inside, even if you manage not to show those emotions on the outside.

The bottom line is that some people are just naturally more grumpy, shy, self-centered, or insecure, while other people are blessed with natural positivity, composure, and people skills. However, no human behavior is unchangeable. One good piece of news is that EQ tends to increase with age, even without deliberate interventions.

3. Targeted EQ skill training works. While no program can get someone from 0 to 100%, a well-designed program can achieve improvements of 25%. Various meta-analyses (quantitative reviews that synthesize the findings from many published studies) suggest that the most coachable element of EQ is interpersonal skills — with average short-term improvements of 50%.

4. You can only improve if you get accurate feedback. While many ingredients are required for a good EQ program, the most important is giving people accurate feedback. Most of us are generally unaware of how others see us — and this is especially true for managers.

A meta-analysis shows that the relationship between self- and other ratings of EQ is weak (weaker, even, than for IQ). In other words, we may not have a very accurate idea of how smart we are, but our notion of how we come across to others is even less accurate. The main reason for this blind spot is wishful thinking or overconfidence and a belief that you are better than what you really are.  Thus any intervention focused on increasing EQ must begin by helping people understand what their real strengths and weaknesses are.

5. Although fewer than 15% of organizations evaluate the effectiveness of their coaching initiatives, there is strong evidence that using reliable and valid assessment methods, such as the EQ-i or EQ 360-degree feedback, produces the best outcomes. For example, a controlled experimental study of 1,361 global corporation managers showed that feedback-based coaching increased managers’ propensity to seek advice and improved their performance (as judged by their direct reports) one year later. There are also studies that show that the ROI of developmental coaching is 6 times the cost of the coaching.

In our next blog, I will describe EQ Europe´s EQ skills training programs.