How the pandemic is highlighting the crucial role of emotional intelligence in business
Here's why EI is key to making the best of the current situation, according to Gary Williams.
Finding a true differentiator in a highly competitive and crowded market is challenging. Technological innovation, pricing structures, expertise and experience are all key to success – but it's emotional intelligence (EI) that will really give you the edge over your competitors.
All too often the focus is on demonstrating competence to a potential new client – at the expense of empathy and a genuine interest in building a trusting relationship.
Winning new business has become vital to survival for many companies during the current pandemic. But at least one positive effect to emerge from the crisis has been a greater emphasis on EI in the workplace – which, if harnessed in the right way, can provide a much-needed boost when it comes to growing your business.
Engaged, happy staff with high esteem are more productive – and stronger client relationships help a business run more smoothly and win more work. At the heart of both these things sits EI. The good news is that the explosion in working from home during the pandemic has led, in many cases, to demonstrations of empathy becoming 'business as usual'.
In virtual meetings, for example, more time is being spent at the start to check in with team members at an emotional level – 'How are things?', 'How's everyone in your house coping?' and so on. Small talk is the new big talk for all of us – and this is feeding through into client conversations, too.
Too many people equate being 'nice' with strong EI – but they are not the same thing. Just saying nice things doesn't cut it
Technical introverts, for example, are starting to understand the warmth versus competence balance and appreciate that clients don't just want competence 100% of the time, they also need warmth – so things like empathy, care and relationships matter.
Of course, there are still people who are not getting it – or not getting it fully. Too many people equate being 'nice' with strong EI – but they are not the same thing. Just saying nice things doesn't cut it. You can't put on a thin EI veneer and think 'job done'.
You have to be proactive in your care of others – remember what they've told you in the past, for example, and refer to it: 'You mentioned your daughter was struggling with home schooling. How’s she doing?'
Here are a few simple ways of demonstrating EI in dealings with clients:
Be aware of how you feel in a given situation. Tune in to that emotion, recognise it and learn from it. If, for example, you’re about to join an online meeting or present to a new audience, take stock of your mental state and evaluate how it might affect the situation.
Channel the acronym WAIT – Why am I talking?
Some people talk when they’re nervous or excited. It's easy to get carried away when talking to a client and begin to 'solutionise' too early – potentially missing something crucial. So, take a breath, slow down and ask yourself: 'Why am I talking?'
Empathy is not necessarily agreeing with everything someone says – but standing in their shoes and understanding their perspective. If you can reflect back to the client their hopes, concerns, challenges and fears, you will be building a strong relationship.
Develop a high degree of curiosity
Genuinely enquiring about people and taking a real interest in them and their situation will build rapport and create trust. As former US president Franklin D Roosevelt said: "I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care."
Be quick to praise
Accentuate the strengths in others and go out of your way to deliver positive feedback on them. This can be anyone who is relevant to the discussion – a receptionist, a junior on the team or your client. Don't overdo it though!
It’s easy to make someone happy at the point of promise – but we are all measured at the point of delivery. Being known as someone who always does what they say they’re going to do is a powerful personal brand.
If you want to do the best for your clients, come up with the most innovative ideas and secure their buy-in for future projects, you have to return to basic human relationship principles.
About the author
Gary Williams is founder and CEO of professional services business development coaching consultancy BD Coaching Hub
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