As the CEO of a leading commercial skills training and coaching company, I’m often asked what the secret is to achieving real success in business. And without hesitation, I always reply that what differentiates top performers from the rest of the pack is when they combine their commercial acumen with their ability to recognise, understand and manage their own emotions and those of others.
With research showing that up to 45 per cent of job success is down to emotional intelligence – it’s clear that no one should underestimate the power of developing these so-called “soft” skills. Given this statistic, it’s not surprising that emotional intelligence has swiftly risen up the ranks of the most important skills that people can have. It doesn’t matter what your job title says you do, we all need emotional intelligence to be able to influence others – whether it’s managing colleagues, customers or stakeholders.
By taking practical steps to manage your emotions and those of others, you will be better placed to deal with many of the complex issues we face in today’s workplace, such as mental wellbeing and diversity and inclusion as well as the ever-increasing commercial challenges of the modern world. The great news is that your EQ (unlike your IQ) is not fixed and can be improved over time. So here are four steps to help you leverage your emotional intelligence for business success:
1. Build strong relationships
Whatever job you do, learning how to build relationships is undoubtedly one of the most important emotional intelligence skills to master. Even if you’re an introvert, you still need to rely on other people for help as hardly anyone is an individual contributor at work or in life. Once we recognise that we can’t be successful on our own, we begin to understand the true value of investing in other people to help us get things done. It’s about communicating with emotional intelligence to engage with others and build high-quality relationships. People with high levels of emotional intelligence focus on what they have in common with others rather than noticing the differences. They recognise that everyone brings something to the table. This lays the foundation for a win–win relationship where both parties feel valued and empowered. The ability to use your social skills to build trust and rapport in this way, is key to commercial success whether you are dealing with colleagues, customers or suppliers. By harnessing your emotional intelligence to find common ground, you will be able to build strong relationships that benefit both parties over the long term.
2. Put yourself in other people’s shoes
It’s important to remember that people like doing business with people they like. As with any relationship – both parties are in it for what they can get out of it. So, it’s crucial to create wins for the other side. The first step is to dial up your empathy – a key EQ skill – to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand what really makes them tick. People often interpret this to mean you need to ‘be nice’ to get ahead, but this confuses sympathy with empathy. Sympathy suggests you feel sorry for the other person, whereas empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences. By showing the other party that you understand their situation and value their perspective, you are far more likely to reap the rewards of increased levels of collaboration and creativity that will keep you ahead of the competition.
3. Be a champion of change
In today’s rapidly changing world, adaptability is crucial if you want to achieve business success. It’s therefore more important than ever to be open-minded and flexible in your outlook. Embracing change is hard. It’s not surprising that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. People with low levels of adaptability prefer a predictable daily routine, find it difficult to change an opinion and like to stick with the tried and tested. Thankfully, as the Covid pandemic showed us, most of us are more adaptable than we realise. The first step is to change your mindset and view change as exciting, not scary. Try to look for the benefits that change can bring. Don’t sweat the small stuff – focus on the bigger picture instead and see things as a learning opportunity. Above all, resist the temptation to play it safe, be flexible and say “yes’ to new opportunities. By embracing new ways of thinking and seeing change as an opportunity rather than a threat, you will benefit from increased levels of motivation and improved commercial performance.
4. Bounce back when times are tough
When circumstances don’t turn out as you’d hoped, it’s easy to fall into a downward spiral of negative thoughts. People with high levels of emotional intelligence, however, have the ability to draw on their resilience to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones. This doesn’t just mean flipping negatives into their opposites instead, it’s about being realistically optimistic. For example, if you’re worried your job may be under threat, a resilient person would think, “What can I do to make sure I am the person they keep.” By avoiding black and white thinking and finding shades of grey instead, you are more likely to bounce-back from setbacks by taking the learnings from the situation and moving on.
Finally, it’s important to remember that developing your emotional intelligence is no quick fix. I often remind people that these “soft” skills are often the most difficult ones to master. Aim to use every opportunity available to you during your working week to hone your social skills, boost your empathy levels and develop your adaptability and resilience. Remember, life is not a dress rehearsal. Whatever your stage of life, you need to commit to leveraging your emotional intelligence to help you achieve your full potential and reap the rewards of increased business success.
Nicole Soames is CEO of Diadem, and author of The Emotional Intelligence book