It's not unusual for psychologists to assess potential hires, coach executives and consult on organizational development. It's less commonplace for them to teach communication skills to business leaders, who then teach them to their employees in an effort to improve corporate climate.

But that's exactly what the Chicago School of Professional Psychology is preparing students to do in its pilot training program, Peer Development for Emotional Intelligence (PdEI). Student participants meet monthly for two years to learn listening and leadership skills based on emotional intelligence research.

"The goal is to increase people's EI skills and give them the skills and knowledge to train and develop emotional intelligence in other people," says Steven Nakisher, PsyD, a psychology practitioner and Chicago School alumnus who's leading the pilot program.

The Chicago School is the first psychology program to test PdEI, but the program has already been used with 81 executives at such corporations as Hyatt Hotels, First Midwest Bank and Leo Burnett. In addition, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Boston and Rutgers Universities are conducting a randomized, controlled study of PdEI's effects on corporate promotions and salary increases that involves 162 participants and more than 500 raters. Other pilot programs are under way with Chicago public school principals and UIC physicians and second-year medical students.

The Chicago School is only half-way though its two-year training program, but the school plans to expand it next year based on positive student feedback. The program equips them to move beyond the traditional clinician role, says the school's president Michael Horowitz, PhD.

"Psychologists are uniquely qualified to get these practices started in organizations because of our training in listening skills and organizational dynamics," he says. "It's an opportunity for psychologists to be seen as consultants who launch things for other people who go on to have their own successes."

EI at work

PdEI creator James Liautaud grew interested in emotional intelligence when he read works by Daniel Goleman, PhD, and Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, after working with the Young President's Organization, a worldwide network that connects and supports promising young business leaders. An inventor, engineer and UIC clinical research professor, Liautaud developed a protocol to help people increase their emotional intelligence in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

Emotional intelligence can be increased, says Liautaud. Moreover, research indicates that people with higher EI tend to be more successful in business.

Liautaud also drew inspiration from "Character Strengths and Virtues" (APA, 2004), a positive psychology handbook by Seligman and Christopher Peterson, PhD, that suggests group learning helps foster positive change.

Standardized protocols

Liautaud's approach was inspired by his own work using International Standard Operations (ISO)-technical standards for everything from product manufacturing to medical procedures in manufacturing. When ISO protocols are consistently followed, the result is a consistent outcome, says Liautaud.

The PdEI protocol is simple, says Nakisher, who moderates two, nine-person groups of Chicago School master's and doctoral-level students in the business, clinical and industrial/ organizational psychology programs. One group member delivers a 45-minute monologue about a particular trouble, such as the pressures of graduate school or balancing work and family.

During the monologue other group members use such active-listening techniques as supportive eye contact and body language. Afterward, listeners ask "tell me more" questions to show interest and gain the speaker's trust. Questions also ensure that both speaker and listener clearly understand one another, says Liautaud.

Next, group members share their similar experiences with the speaker, but don't offer advice. This creates a nonjudgmental environment, says Liautaud.

Though the program is still being evaluated, anecdotal evidence suggests participants are enthusiastic about its potential.

"When I told my story, just listening to shared experiences helped me figure out for myself what to do and how to handle the situation I was in," says Katie Schoenhofer, a second-year business psychology student in the PsyD program.

Next year, selected PdEI group members will be eligible to serve asmoderators for other groups. At that point they can take the program to corporations and train business people to lead the groups, say Liautaud and Horowitz. To that end, the Chicago School wants to expand the program next year.

He believes the program can help prepare graduates to work anywhere.

"Psychologists bring great potential for leadership outside the field," he says. "The tools of assessing and solving problems and crafting solutions allow people to be leaders in settings where psychology hasn't typically imagined itself."

Further Reading

For more information on the Chicago School of Professional Psychology Peer Development for Emotional Intelligence Program, visit www.thechicagoschool.edu.