MTa + Goleman: Emotional Intelligence Workshop Activities

As well as his work on leadership styles, Daniel Goleman is known for his transformative – and contentious – research into emotional intelligence. 

Goleman’s work suggested that emotional intelligence played a role in many aspects of life and, more importantly, that it could be developed and improved through targeted education: a direct challenge to the then-dominant view that intelligence was innate and largely fixed.

In this article we’ll briefly explore the implications and limitations of his theories, before sharing emotional intelligence workshop activities you can use with or without reference to Goleman himself. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is emotional intelligence
  • What are Goleman’s theories
  • Bringing Goleman’s theories of emotional intelligence to life with experiential learning
  • Emotional intelligence workshop activities
  • Emotional intelligence facilitation tips

Click here to skip straight to the activities.

What is emotional intelligence?

The term emotional intelligence, sometimes abbreviated to EI or referred to as EQ (a play on IQ), was first used by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey in their 1990 paper. They defined it as –

“the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”

What are Goleman’s theories of emotional intelligence?

In 1995, Daniel Goleman published a book called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The book was an immediate bestseller and generated significant interest in the concept of emotional intelligence.

In it, he posited five key components of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: the ability to recognise and understand your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and drives. People with developed self-awareness are conscious of their emotional state and how this impacts others.
  • Self-regulation: the ability to control or redirect disruptive emotions, and to adapt to changing circumstances. People with developed self-regulation are composed, able to handle stress, and to demonstrate flexibility.
  • Motivation: a passion for work that is motivated by more than money and status. People with developed motivation are driven to achieve for its own sake, and have a strong desire to set and meet goals.
  • Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. People with developed empathy find it easier to build relationships and to respond to the emotional needs of others.
  • Social skills: the ability to manage relationships and build networks. People with developed social skills are effective communicators, can resolve (or avoid) conflict, and can effectively lead and inspire others.

While popular, Goleman’s theories were and remain contentious, with critics considering them to be anything from “ill-defined and bankrupt” to incomplete, or limited in their perspective. Some common criticisms to be aware of when researching or utilising his model:

  • Many of Goleman’s conclusions move beyond what the data suggests
  • The raw data from which his conclusions are drawn is unavailable to independent researchers for repeat studies and validation
  • Emotional intelligence tests rely heavily on self-report measures
  • There is low validity between the results of different studies 

Why Goleman’s theories still attract attention

On his website, Goleman succinctly explains why emotional intelligence is important:

“By teaching people to tune in to their emotions with intelligence and to expand their circle of caring, we can transform organizations from the inside out and make a positive difference in our world.” 

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine a conceptualisation of the self that doesn’t include emotional intelligence, but Goleman’s theories went against the grain and contributed to a shift in the debate. The key areas where his theories challenged and expanded upon what went before include:

  • Perceiving intelligence as not wholly innate, but as something that could be developed
  • Recognising that emotions were a crucial part of decision-making, rather than something irrational that should be ignored or suppressed
  • Suggesting that emotional intelligence could play a more important role in interpersonal relationships and leadership than cognitive intelligence
  • Believing that emotional skills could be improved, with improved emotional literacy having a direct impact on an individual’s life prospects 

It’s easy to see that each of these components can have significant value in a training context. Developing emotional intelligence can help individuals to develop better self-awareness, to manage their stress more effectively, to stay motivated, to recognise and respond to others’ emotions, and to enhance their social interactions.

It’s also clear that the objectives Goleman outlined – to help people tune into their emotions, to transform organisations, and to make a positive impact – are valuable whether or not they are achieved with reference to his theories.

How (and whether) to measure emotional intelligence

Various assessment tools are available to evaluate different aspects of emotional intelligence, including two recommended by Daniel Goleman on his website:

If you’re a facilitator looking to run an emotional intelligence workshop, your participants may have results from the ESCI or some similar test. While encouraging (or requiring) participants to have these results can help to qualify their current position, bear in mind that the goal of effective facilitation is to help participants identify, reflect on, and develop specific behaviours. Too strong an emphasis on moving from one result to another risks focussing their attention on the wrong thing: we recommend using tests as a prompt to discuss potential limitations of specific theories, and to discuss the importance of specific behaviours that can be identified and developed independently of any theoretical backdrop.

Bringing Goleman’s theories of emotional intelligence to life with experiential learning

This section is for facilitators looking to develop emotional intelligence. We explore how Goleman’s five components can be used as a framework to generate and guide discussion around behaviours associated with emotional intelligence.

First let’s look at how Goleman’s five key components can manifest in the workplace, and how experiential learning can help to meaningfully develop associated behaviours.

Developing self-awareness with experiential learning 

Low self-awareness might manifest as someone frequently snapping at their colleagues when they’re stressed, whereas someone with high self-awareness might take a short break when they notice their stress levels building.

By their nature, experiential learning activities invite participants to reflect on the outcome of the activity both alone and as part of a group, with a focus on how their performance contributed. Getting this direct feedback on the impact of their behaviour, with reference to specific aspects of the activity, lays the groundwork for strengthened self-awareness.

Developing self-regulation with experiential learning 

A manager with low self-regulation might panic when things get difficult, leading to poor decision-making and an escalation in severity of the situation rather than a reduction. Someone with high self-regulation, on the other hand, would be composed and able to effectively lead their team through the situation.

Facilitators can choose experiential learning activities that simulate high stress situations, within a framework of a psychological space that can be controlled, monitored, and managed. Doing so gives participants a chance to understand how their default responses impact a situation; then, repeating the activity after reflecting on performance lets them see the impact of chosen behaviours. Gaining a tangible understanding of the different outcomes demonstrates the value of self-regulation.

Developing motivation with experiential learning 

An employee with low motivation is likely to procrastinate, miss deadlines, and consistently perform below their capabilities, whereas a high motivation colleague would more likely set goals, work towards and achieve them, and trend upward in terms of skill level and output.

Experiential learning activities are fun and engaging, and invite participation from people who might be feeling unmotivated in the workplace. Many activities rely on working as part of a group to create a plan and bring it to fruition, which combined with real time feedback and encouragement from others in the group, is very motivating.

Developing empathy with experiential learning 

A manager with low empathy might disregard the concerns of someone on their team about an unmanageable workload, leading to low morale and more stress. A manager with high empathy in the same situation would listen to their concerns and collaborate on finding a solution.

Many experiential learning activities invite active listening, which is a very powerful tool for developing empathy. By engaging with and responding to the emotions of others, participants can see how an empathic approach has a positive impact on group performance and task outcome.

Developing social skills with experiential learning 

An employee with low social skills is likely to struggle with communicating effectively and with making themselves heard and understood, and to experience feelings of frustration as a result. An employee with high social skills on the other hand can communicate effectively and contribute to (maybe even facilitate) productive discussions.

Experiential learning activities are designed to be collaborative, and to encourage participation from people who might usually opt to sit back and not take part. By spotlighting particular communication skills like listening, conflict resolution, advocating for others and so on, facilitators can hone in on particular areas to improve overall social skills.

Emotional intelligence workshop activities

In this section we recommend experiential learning activities that facilitators can use to develop behaviours associated with  emotional intelligence, with or without reference to Goleman’s theories.

Each activity creates an experience that reflects the way people behave in the workplace. People observe each other’s behaviour and then, in the structured review phase that follows each activity, they ask each other questions, reflect on the experience, and help each other to make sense of what happened.

This process in itself invites self-awareness and self-regulation. Contributing effectively requires empathy, and participants are increasingly motivated to take part as the discussion evolves and they feel excited to share their ideas in a safe, supportive environment.

The Rig, from MTa MINI

The Rig is a challenging activity with lots to do, where participants are likely to revert to their default behaviours: ones that may not demonstrate good self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and so on.

A built-in intervention removes people from the task at a stressful moment and gets them instead to discuss and draw conclusions on what has been working effectively. Restarting the activity after this point lets participants consciously use and explore the impact of new behaviours: a great opportunity to see the difference that self-regulation and the use of appropriate behaviours can make.

The Culprit, on MTa Immersion

Participants work together to solve a crime, but quickly realise that not everyone has the same motivations. How will this information impact team dynamics? Will people leverage appropriate behaviours, or will the stressful situation lead to conflict?

The Culprit is a fun and engaging activity with a powerful feedback mechanism designed to let participants give and receive targeted feedback in a non-threatening way: ideal for exploring empathy and social skills, and for developing self-awareness and self-regulation.

Rectangle, from MTa Team Kit

Participants need to work together to build a rectangle. But with everyone blindfolded and unable to see each other, what will each person’s motivations be? And will the group’s motivations align?

In this activity you can be motivated to involve everybody. Or to help people, to do a good job individually, to beat the team’s previous score, or something else entirely. In short: many motivations can come to the fore, and reflecting on them as a group can help people to better understand their own, each other’s, and how they interact.

Emotional intelligence facilitation tips

Here are some tips for facilitators looking to gain more from their emotional intelligence workshops.. 

  • Use experiential activities that explore related behaviours, rather than focussing solely on  Goleman’s five components or other theories of emotional intelligence
  • Structure workshops to include discussion about the role and value of theories, with an emphasis on  the importance of developing emotional intelligence as a whole
  • Include prompts to reflect on the components of emotional intelligence during the review sessions, but emphasise reflecting on and discussing specific behaviours
  • Tailor your training sessions to organisational challenges and objectives, using activities that explore relevant behaviours that participants will be able to carry forward into the workplace

Facilitating emotional intelligence workshops with experiential learning: let us help you 

Goleman’s research shifted the conversation around emotional intelligence, and while his ideas remain contentious, they can provide a valuable conceptual framework for effective emotional intelligence workshops. For facilitators looking to run emotional intelligence workshops, we hope our activity recommendations and theoretical background will prove useful.

The experiential learning activities we’ve recommended are just a handful of MTa activities that lend themselves well to developing emotional intelligence. If you’re looking for more activities or advice on facilitating these skills , take a look at our experiential learning kits or book a call with Jamie to discuss your needs. 


[Featured image source]