5 min

By Seth Eisenberg

Leading economists and psychologists agree that skills training is vital to strengthening America’s economic future. Increasing numbers of young professionals are enrolling in relationship skills training classes – marriage education – to enhance their “emotional intelligence,” offering benefits for both family life and careers.

In 2005, Raghuram Rajan, a University of Chicago economist, urged economic policy makers to recognize the approaching financial disaster.  Scoffed at the time, it turned out he was right.

In a recent interview, Rajan said financial reform may not be enough to tackle America’s economic challenges. “The forces are much deeper and broader,” he said. “We need to provide better skills to the population … it’s not just fixing the schools, it’s about families and the communities kids grow up in. It’s a very big social problem, and that’s why politicians say, ‘It’s going to take too long to tackle this, let’s try something else.’”

A decade earlier, with the 1995 publication of Emotional Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman argued that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) that enhances “emotional intelligence” should be included as a core subject in the academic curriculum.

Emotional intelligence, at the most general level,” Goleman said, “refers to the abilities to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others.” Goleman suggested training for effectiveness at home and work should include lessons in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, skills that are at the heart of marriage education programs such as PAIRS Essentials and PAIRS for PEERS classes for teenagers.

“Careful research evaluations are showing that SEL not only improves children’s social and emotional abilities, but also lowers risks like violence, substance abuse, and unwanted teen pregnancies, while making kids better behaved and more positive about learning,” Goleman reported. His research found that academic achievement scores improved by an average 12 to 15 percent for youth whose education included social and emotional learning.

In a study on the impact of emotional intelligence (EI) on job success, Goleman looked at star performers across a range of professions.

“For jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies [for star performers] as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined.”

For individuals in leadership positions, Goleman discovered career advancement was closely related to emotional competencies.

“In general, the higher a position in an organization, the more EI mattered: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain … in distinguishing successful people within a job category or profession, EI will also emerge as a stronger predictor than IQ of who, for instance, will become a star salesperson, team head, or top-rank leader,” Goleman said.

The messages from both Rajan and Goleman explain part of the motivation leading thousands of professionals to marriage education classes that include skills training to improve emotional understanding and expression. Of nearly 5,000 people who have participated in PAIRS classes through a federally-funded Healthy Marriage Initiative program in South Florida since 2006, more than 15 percent have Masters or Doctoral degrees. Nearly 50 percent have completed at least two years of college.

Although lessons focus on strengthening marriages, graduates quickly recognize the impact of relationship skills training for improving performance at work.

While those skills may might not have been vital for stable families or careers for past generations, much has changed in recent decades. (See Marriage education and baby boomers.)

As high speed communications nearly eliminated global boundaries and advances in technology brought affordable web-based, computer hardware and software solutions to perform increasingly complex repetitive and analytic tasks, emotional intelligence has become widely recognized as a key predictor of effectiveness both at home and work.

Marriage education helps professionals understand the logic of emotions, become more aware of emotions in themselves and others, and discover skills for emotional expression that enhance interpersonal relationships.

As greater numbers of adults improve their ability to navigate emotional experiences constructively instead of getting hijacked by feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, frustration, and disappointment, they are better prepared to sustain happy marriages and families, while also improving performance at work.  For employers, customers, family members and the potential for economic prosperity, the benefits are significant.

Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and leading relationship skills training organizations.