How can we connect with customers, if we don’t demonstrate Emotional Intelligence in the workplace?


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A New Year often marks a time when we do some self-reflection and I’m sure going into 2021 with hopes of a Covid-free life, means this year will be no different.

On Friday, I had a catalyst in the workplace, that really made me take a step back and do some of this self-appraisal. It was a totally unexpected exchange with a colleague in front of other people. Long story short, I’d gone out of my way to make sure we delivered a great asset for a client (and in hindsight maybe should’ve been better at communicating my activities – lesson learned) and someone in the team took negative intent where there was none intended. This person decided to the best way to handle this would be to humiliate me in front of the team. They ranted: “… do you have no EQ or what?” which is not something anyone has ever indicated to me in the past. In fact, as a long-time consultant and qualified coach, EI (Emotional Intelligence) has always been very much front of mind.

This call out was scary given, according to a TalentSmart study, 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence! Had I had a total lapse in emotional self-awareness?

Once I’d got over the initial shock, of the lack of respect the comments had exhibited, I took a moment to think about this ‘feedback’ to understand where it was coming from and if I could have handled things differently.

For me, if I had low emotional intelligence, I would only recognise my own emotional strengths and I would have failed to connect with my environment and those around me. All other feedback would suggest I have this kind of awareness having collated such feedback in team leadership/people/service businesses for over 20 years.

In this particular situation, the person had misinterpreted my action because they had distanced themselves from the project, and therefore, had decided that I had not understood the feelings of other team members, (I’d say that’s exactly what this person was doing, themselves).

What is EI or EQ?

The term Emotional Intelligence (EI and also EQ) was introduced to us by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer and then by Daniel Goleman in 1995 in his book “Emotional Intelligence’. Goleman defined EI as “the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions, recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others.”

EI is framed around four competences which basically centre around ‘knowing what you’re doing’, ‘what you’re feeling’, ‘knowing how to channel or react to those emotions’ and ‘recognising emotions in others’.

Those four competences are:
– Self-awareness
– Self-management
– Social awareness
– Relationship management

In this situation, I found it useful to work through the EI framework for a few minutes to analyse how I and others may be feeling with questions such as: had I controlled my own emotions effectively and positively? Had I read the situation that led up to this outburst? Had I managed relationships as well as I could have?

What’s interesting is that women tend to have greater levels of empathy but that men have more confidence and can better manage situations with distressing emotions (according to the guru of EI, Daniel Goleman).

I couldn’t help wondering (curiosity got the better of me) what the person at the end of the outburst would answer to these same questions; and how they would be feeling right now.

I did take away some positives around relationship management particularly where I need to be clearer and more confident in my actions and intentions with others to ensure that those intentions are understood (and consider the impact of them on others).

Emotional Intelligence is really important (and becoming more so with Artificial Intelligence)

Emotional Intelligence is becoming increasingly important not just in life, but in business.

In my research and digging around I found a really interesting report published by Cap Gemini called ‘Emotional Intelligence – the essential skillset for the age of AI’.

Their key findings were that:
• 74% of executives and 58% of non-supervisory employees believe that EI will become a “must-have” skill
• On average, demand for EI is expected to increase by as much as six times (Displacement of routine tasks, evolving job roles, and the inability to automate certain tasks will be key reasons for an increase in demand for EI skills)
• Although automation and AI will impact all career levels, organisations currently focus more on building EI skills at senior levels than at non-supervisory. Only 26% of organisations provide feedback to non-supervisory employees based on their EI skills
• Organisations benefit from employees who display a high EI quotient e.g. enhanced productivity, high employee satisfaction, increased market share, and reduced attrition and that these organisations can achieve returns up to four times higher by investing in EI skills

I think it’s really interesting if you look at the geographic breakdown, where some countries see EI as a must have skill more than others. The UK actually falls just below the average. India tops the table and Germany trails it.

According to Professor Rose Luckin, EDUCATE Director, UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London (quoted in the Cap Gemini report),

“I think that the workforce needs to change with AI. This is because you need to be much more in touch with your own emotions, your human intelligence, your social intelligence, and your emotional intelligence because these are aspects of our human intelligence that we can’t automate.”

So those who will thrive in the era of robots, machines and AI, will be those who exhibit human intelligence such as EI.

What’s more, whilst we are all working remotely and teams are not necessarily feeling connected, emotional self management is more critical than ever.

Emotional Intelligence (and therefore EQ) can be developed

Where IQ doesn’t tend to change significantly, EQ is something that can be developed.

Whereas, EI has traditionally fallen within the HR arena (softer skills, training, capability building etc…) but it is a crucial capability that everyone in the organisation, irrespective of level or department needs. It’s particularly the case for those in customer facing roles and those setting customer strategy if they are to know how to tune into customers emotions, respond appropriately and make sound decisions that benefit both organisation and the customer.

How to think of EI in day to day (customer) actions?

Justin Bariso published the book ‘EQ, Applied’ in 2018 which was a practical interpretation of EQ and EI. He introduced a list of 13 things that illustrate how EI appears in the real world which are as relevant to the customer and business arena as anywhere. Here’s my take on his list of 13 which are useful principles for organisations engaging with customers.

1. You (the organisation) think about feelings
and the impact of what the organisation has on customers
2. You pause
there is time for thinking, review and reflection to ensure that decision-making and action is sound and well thought through – not knee jerk based on emotions of the moment
3. You strive to control your thoughts
you ensure that emotions don’t take over
4. You benefit from criticism
you look for feedback from customers, listen to it and act upon it
5. You show authenticity
you are honest, trustworthy and act in a way that is true to your values
6. You demonstrate empathy
you understand what customers need and act in a way that reflects this
7. You praise others
you appreciate your colleagues, your stakeholders and your customers
8. You give helpful feedback
you reframe criticism as constructive and consider how to interact with customers
9. You apologise
and put your hand up, when things inevitably go wrong and explain why
10. You forgive and forget
you learn from mistakes and seek to improve and move forwards
11. You keep your commitments
you are reliable and keep your promises. You don’t intentionally let customers down. If you do, you go back to number 9
12. You help others
you listen to what customers need and try to help wherever possible. If you can’t personally, you find someone who can. You commit and take ownership for resolving problems
13. You protect yourself from emotional sabotage
this one is trickier in a customer sense but in essence, you continue to develop your emotional awareness for unforeseen events that may challenge you and your emotions

As my consulting/coaching company strapline goes, ‘Smiling Companies, Happy Customers’ – this is so true of emotional intelligence. If you don’t demonstrate EI in the workplace, you cannot hope to tune in to customers emotions.

EI (and therefore your EQ) is something you can work on and develop in order to prosper in the future both internally and externally, it really should be high up there on the list of capability building initiatives. There are many ways to go about doing this, but an audit is a good place to start to evaluate the alignment of EI, customer and the business. Build skills and equip people within the business to ensure a more emotionally intelligent approach to management, to CX and for your customers.

So, I have learned lessons from the unexpected feedback I received, despite my good intentions, it is so important to use EI early to assess and manage others’ understanding, emotions and subsequent reactions. This applies equally to co-workers as it does to customers.

Smiling Companies, Happy Customers

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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