Six ways to improve your emotional intelligence

How to keep a conversation going: illustration of two people talking

We’ve all been in situations where a customer says something to or about us out of frustration. As business owners and employees, we learn to bite our tongues of retaliation and reply with understanding and patience.

This is one element of emotional intelligence, defined by Verywell Mind as “the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions.”

Here at Ruby, our virtual receptionists call on their emotional intelligence countless times per day – whether it’s making meaningful connections, practicing active listening, deescalating difficult conversations, or navigating any kind of customer communication.

As a former bartender and former Ruby receptionist, emotional intelligence is a skill I have been cultivating and strengthening for many years. Learning to manage your own emotions in a positive manner and communicating them effectively is key in connecting with your own emotions and developing a strong sense of empathy. Help Guide breaks down emotional intelligence into four attributes (self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship management) to help to focus on specific areas of EI.

As a business owner, learning how to be emotionally intelligent and encouraging your team to take risks and grow from learning opportunities can only help your business and personal life succeed. Here are some of our favorite tips, with links to articles and insights you can use to become a more emotionally intelligent leader.

1. Practice empathy.

Often confused with sympathy, empathy is a skill built by practice and trial and error. Skill levels vary based on a person’s emotional intelligence. There are four key areas that have been identified as ways to mindfully practice and develop empathy.

Taking on another perspective or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be scary because it makes you vulnerable, but it also helps you to avoid judgement because you may have had a similar experience—which brings us to the next area:

Staying out of judgement. This one is a little tricky because of your negativity bias (you can thank your amygdala for this!), and you don’t want to minimize another’s pain. Brushing off what a person is going through invalidates their hurt.

Recognizing emotion in other people is another and crucial component to empathy. People don’t always verbalize how they are feeling. In fact, we tend to hide it. Checking in with others and recognizing their feelings, emotions, and maybe that they’re just having a rough day validates those feelings and helps them to feel less alone. This leads us to the final component:

Communicating understanding. Instead of responding with “that sucks” or “at least…”, communicate that you understand their emotions and validate their feelings.

2. Embrace Intersectionality.

Intersectionality is about all the ways in which the elements of an individual’s personality and experiences come together. When encountering new people, we tend to pigeonhole and categorize them by a single trait, and without even realizing it. Lawyer and Civil Rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, developed the theory of intersectionality, stating that is it “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms in inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”

In order to embrace intersectionality, we understand that not all members who appear to belong to the same group (religion, race, gender, class, occupation) have the same experiences. Remembering that we are all multi-layered and complex humans helps to reduce risk of harming others and ourselves. Today, members of historically oppressed communities continue to speak out against the many faces of oppression that have affected their lives, and we have a responsibility to listen to sit down, actively listen to their voices, and develop a greater understanding to move forward with advocacy and change.

A few ways to encourage a greater effort toward diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality in the workplace are to make sure everyone is involved, ask targeted questions when developing new projects and campaigns, review your company’s culture and initiatives, continue your education, reflect, and have honest conversations.

3. Learn how to communicate with employees in times of tension.

With difficult news breaking frequently these days, communicating with employees in times of tension might feel synonymous with plain old communication, but it is an ever-present and crucial skill to practice and hone. It’s impossible to have all the answers, but having the ability to communicate authentically, openly, and pragmatically with your team or company can offer a sense of guidance and understanding.

There are different approached in handling various types of crises such as, community unrest, political division, discrimination, mental health and trauma struggles, etc. Learn more about how to navigate through those different types of conversations.

There are a few commonalities in preparing your business and team that can be applied to most crises. These include creating and maintaining an internal information center, making sure your emergency systems are secure, keeping your employees up to date, equipping your managers with the right training in advance, and more.

4. Be mindful of your and others’ mental health.

I’ve lived with social anxiety for as long as I can remember, especially when I’m networking or meeting new people. I have a myriad of potential dialogues running through my head—scripted conversations that can’t possibly go wrong if I just word them exactly right. Shortly after, those scripts are dumped and quickly replaced (over and over), believing that I am an imposter and not as intellectual as my peers.

While I’m in a tug-of-mind-war, the other folx have usually already made connections. Almost every time, I am perceived as stand-offish, elitist, and rude, but in reality, I am in deep concentration and kicking myself for ever leaving home in the first place. Terrified to speak would be a more accurate depiction.

The truth of the matter is that most of us have mental health struggles, and it effects our businesses and how we work. Therapist and executive coach, Megan Bruneau writes in Forbes, “[t]oday we have ample research…to support that – despite its glamorization – entrepreneurship is negatively correlated with mental health”, listing stress, social isolation, and the pressure to manage impressions as a few reason why. In addition, business owners face higher stress because of the greater demands, and the significant personal risk inherent in the job. They also tend to not have the funds and resources to get proper mental health treatment and support.

There are ways to overcome the stigma of mental health, and steps to take to manage your own, as well as steps to offer meaningful support to others. Within the context of your business, creating an environment where your team feels safe to be their authentic selves is key. Ways to create such an environment include using inclusive language, leading by example, and actively listening to others.

5. Work on your listening skills.

When it comes to serving excellent customer service and experiences, listening is the most important thing you can do. Whether the customer is sharing an anecdote about your product or has questions, or even a complaint, they just want to be heard and understood. Being ignored in any capacity is never a good situation.

If you want to be a rockstar at customer experiences, practice active listening. Indeed defines active listening as, “the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully”. It is the foundation of customer service and requires empathy, as well. Want to get on the good side of a not-so-happy customer? Hearing the other person, recognizing what they are telling you, and empathizing and caring about what they’re saying will guide you and your customer to a more productive and resolute conversation.

6. Cultivate a growth mindset.

Having a growth mindset means to be curious and desirous of knowledge and growth. It also means to look for opportunities for growth in your own mistakes instead of berating yourself. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers is the first step to cultivating a growth mindset and encouraging a culture of growth within your company and team will help with personal and business growth.

While not every attempt at company innovation and growth will work on the first try, celebrating the efforts of your team and encouraging more creative problem solving will help you and your team stay motivated to take risks and overcome challenges.

The next time you or a member of your team encounters a setback, try out some of our suggestions to promote and cultivate a growth mindset with your team!

For more ways to learn and grow as a business owner, check out Ruby’s small business resources hub.