How to Leverage Emotional Intelligence and Empathy for Maximum Success



6 min read

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Being the best among today’s business leaders is no longer just about innovating great products or services. It’s also about having empathy, which allows you to navigate emotions to help other people — the foundation for solid relationships. Empathy is a natural result of good emotional intelligence. Therefore, if you leverage emotional intelligence properly, you can improve the empathy you have with those on your team for outstanding results.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to monitor and manage your own emotions, interpret emotional cues from others properly and then use all of that information, both internal and external, as a positive guide for what you think and do. When all of these things happen properly, it’s usually easy to understand what others are feeling; in other words, your empathy is high. You can control what you feel by noticing, naming and navigating your interactions. 

Related: How to Deploy Emotional Intelligence for Work Success

What’s the connection between emotional intelligence and doing well at work?

People who are aware of their emotions by noticing, naming and navigating their interactions, and those who can read emotional cues from others well, tend to be better adjusted, more resilient and even more successful. In fact, in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves assert that 90% of top performers have high EQ and that people with high EQ earn $29,000 more per year than those with low EQ. The significance of this cannot be overstated; they also claim as much as 58% of your job performance is a result of emotional intelligence. This supports why evaluating employees and their “how,” or behavior, is equally as important as evaluating an employee’s “what,” or performance.

Emotional intelligence also enhances overall work culture. Leaders hire and retain people that add or detract from their personal brand and company culture. Consider emotions and energy in terms of bank transactions. If you show negative emotions (anger, manipulation, lack of trust) as a leader, that’s a withdrawal. You have to make up for those withdrawals by paying back positive emotions (praise, kindness, trust). So, even though we are human and everybody has bad days, you need to know whether you are operating in emotional debt. For every negative interaction, you have to pay your debt in multiples.

In my own experience, I’ve seen that leaders who don’t have good EQ tend not to last long in an organization because they failed to build psychological safety. By contrast, teams typically thrive when they have an environment where they have solid psychological safety and can convey their emotions properly. The good news is that if you don’t have good EQ yourself, it can be learned. Make sure that the people you hire have or maximize their own emotional intelligence, then you can create the positive atmosphere necessary for the business to be successful.

Related: What Is Empathy, and Why Is It So Important for Great Leaders?

Practical ways to improve your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence isn’t static. It’s something you can learn and get better at, and giving your EQ a boost usually starts with looking at your growth mindset. When you look at situations, are there things you gladly take on to solve or do you sit and stew on everything that went wrong instead?

As humans, we tend to have a negativity bias and assume the worst. Flip the switch and assume positive intent: We can be intentional in pursuing positivity and happiness. A gratitude practice can help you recognize all the good things in your life. Studies have also shown that being intentional about forgiving others and not holding onto resentments results in greater happiness. Simple mindfulness practices like walking meditation can help you stay present and enjoy the moment, resulting in the creation and release of better energy.

Taking responsibility for our own actions and how we treat others can sometimes be challenging, but showing vulnerability and apologizing when you are unkind or make a mistake can help others understand your situation. Accept your imperfection and the role you play in whatever happens so that you can be receptive and corrective when your behavior hurts others. In order to do that, you need to acknowledge and take accountability for hurting someone’s feelings, which is usually half the battle.

One way to take accountability is to picture yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about how the other person perceived what you did and imagine what he or she is feeling. How would you feel if someone said or did that to you? Did you hold back information or share the tools and resources the person needed? Did you blame him or her, or help remove obstacles and communicate your expectations? Shifting your perspective like this can help you avoid automatically placing blame on the other person and becoming blind to how your actions made him or her feel. 

Once you’re in the right headspace, be a good active listener. Don’t worry about answering to impress. Instead, give people the chance to tell you what they really think and feel, and focus on making sure you understand and have learned something.

Lastly, sometimes it takes a concerted effort to change. Look to build some mentoring or coaching relationships to help you experience new and different perspectives. Mentors and coaches can help you understand what’s at stake, such as your job or the well-being of others. And once you’ve learned how to pinpoint those kinds of areas, you can reciprocate this practice by being a mentor or coach to others.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Empathy Is Good for Business

Emotional intelligence is arguably the most critical element of business because both employees and customers use their emotions to determine how to interact and whether to be loyal. As Maya Angelou put it, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Improving your EQ and building it within your team and cross-functionally puts your company on a more solid footing to build both psychological safety and capital. Make it a high priority starting today.



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