People often ask me about the difference between Six Seconds and other emotional intelligence consulting/training approaches. Usually I talk about our depth and breadth of experience – we’ve done this full time since 1997, in dozens of countries, in every sector… and usually I mention that as a not-for-profit, we are driven to do this work, it’s our passion and purpose.

While that’s all true, I’ve been thinking about WHY. Why are you interested in EQ? Is it for knowledge, or for change? And if it’s for change, how do you turn emotional awareness and effectiveness into action? For many Six Seconds practitioners, the answer starts with transformational learning.

In some ways, all of us who are concerned with increasing EQ — as managers, parents, friends, teachers, coaches — are engaged in learning and teaching. So how do we each see that working?

The other founders of Six Seconds and I all come from the world of education, and in particular from a specific philosophy of constructivist learning where discovery and meaning are more important than “right answers.” Coupled with emergent neuroscience on the way the human brain learns, this drives a unique, powerful approach to instruction that requires head+heart+hands working together. For example, Anabel Jensen, our President, teaches her graduate courses in the university with no lectures.

I got thinking about this post because I’m on the plane for Australia, and was mentally reviewing course materials for the EQ Certification… including: Clothes line & pins, playing cards, wikki stix, museum kits, bagels, almonds, candies, sand, rubber ducks, rope, post-its… I usually travel with two large suitcases of this kind of esoteric-everyday equipment.

Change Learning to Change Results

As you might guess, passing through customs as a Six Seconds trainer is… amusing. As are the classes! But using all this “fun stuff” is also extremely serious:

If we genuinely seek to create change by building new awareness – by teaching – then we have to get out of the ineffective 19th Century mindset of instruction-as-information-dump. In that model, the teacher is the expert who wields knowledge as power and seeks submission. “Bow down and I will fill your head with my knowledge.” But in a world where people need to actually think and solve problems (versus regurgitating stale “knowledge”), that model needs to go away. It’s a pervasive trap and is the #1 enemy of transformational learning.

I’d also suggest that as teachers, this requires us to practice emotional intelligence. It’s seductive to be the one with the answers, to be the sage on the stage. In some places, people have called me a “guru” and I wince at the implication, but at the same time I’m delighted by the honor and praise. I grew up in that “knowledge is power” system too, and so a piece of me will always seek the validation of being the one who knows. So I have to notice this seduction, stay out of that pattern, and continually re-choose to be who I mean to be as a teacher — a partner in a shared process of meaningful discovery.

Learning is Human

At the heart of Six Seconds’ learning design is a recognition that learning is a human process — yes, there are mechanics (see above!) but it doesn’t work if it’s mechanistic. To keep this “front and center,” we’ve developed a learning philosophy that drives our teaching, as well as a specific learning design to structure the learning experience. Applying this, by the way, is the central content of our new Advanced Trainer Certification.


Here are the six principles of Six Seconds’ Learning Philosophy:

Wisdom Lives Within: Our job is to create an environment/experience where people can find their own answers. Self-reflection is key!
In action: Ask, don’t tell. Provide time and space for reflection. Share your own reflection. Validate answers — focus on the deeper concepts vs. “right answers.” Don’t read slides — ask good questions about slides.

No Way is The Way: People learn in a variety of ways, and we need to teach to many learning styles. We also need to adapt and flex to effectively work with the complexities of real people.
In action: Engage many different learning styles so different people can learn in their own best ways. In each conclusion, participants are encouraged to do their own synthesis and craft their own authentic next steps.

The Process is the Content: Learning comes from experiencing and reflecting — doing, thinking, and feeling. Our job is to model and to use our own emotional intelligence so others can develop theirs.
In action: Use an experiential approach with many opportunities for discovery — as well as powerful conceptual theories. Facilitators will be most successful if they model their own emotional intelligence in setting up and debriefing the process.

1,2,3 PASTA!: If people don’t take action with what they’ve learned, we have not changed their lives and improved the world. So we need to help them put new ideas into action.
In action: Foster the feelings of anticipation, excitement, joy to motivate action. Invite participants to identify how to put ideas into action and next steps. Be sure to save time for this important component.

Fish Don’t Talk About Water: It takes a moderate level of dissonance to learn and to gain new perspectives. Our job is to make it safe enough for people to go beyond comfort and conformity and to gently push them toward the land of the unknown. Your affect will influence this greatly — if you quickly establish trust in the group, the exercise will give them a new and valuable perspective on themselves and their work.
In action: Do activities and hold discussions that create a small degree of discomfort, encouraging participants to look at situations in new ways. Talk about the “elephant in the room” in a respectful open way.

Emotions Drive People: Feelings are powerful motivators; they can push us to stay stuck, or to move forward. Create the right emotional conditions for change.  In Action: notice and navigate your feelings to facilitate.  Use your emotions to create space for them to engage theirs.  Notice and name your & learners’ feelings. Invite them to create the feelings that will be useful for moving forward.


Learning is Change

I’m curious how you react to this philosophy:

Is there one principle that you find particularly powerful or significant? What would happen if you practiced this more?

Is there one you find more challenging?

Is there one you see as unimportant? Or is there one missing?

– Josh


For more on Six Seconds’ Methodology, see: Structuring Transformational Learning

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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