How to Use Emotional Intelligence for Small Business Success

How to Use Emotional Intelligence for Small Business Success
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While “emotional intelligence” sounds like a fancy corporate term used exclusively in leadership programs, more small business owners need to intentionally cultivate their emotional intelligence so they can reach their own potential in their small business ventures.

People with a high level of emotional intelligence have the ability to spot, read and take action, not only on their own emotions, but also the emotions of others. These people are the ones who seem to handle emotionally charged or difficult situations with grace and express themselves clearly.

After all, customers, vendors, employees and strategic alliances are all based on relationships before profit and loss statements or contracts are ever brought into the picture.

While the concept of emotional intelligence can be traced as far back as the 1960s, it was Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer who took the lead on research on the topic since 1990. Their article, “Emotional Intelligence,” defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Wait, what?

English, please.

All that means is that if you practice developing your emotional intelligence, you will be able to better understand your feelings and the feelings of others, a super-power that will help you to make the most informed and wise decisions in your business and in life.

Photo by Viktor Hanacek -

The Four Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

1: Perceiving Emotions

The foundation of this emotional intelligence theory rests in your ability to practice awareness. Reading between the lines through body language, picking up on tones in people’s voices, observing long pauses or the volume of voices, and interpreting word selections are all imperative to recognize and interpret emotions.

For example, if you personally observed a conflict between employees, and one later recounts the story claiming she was “yelled at,” when no one raised their voice, ask yourself why she chose to interpret the situation that way. Being able to analyze why she would recall the situation as more threatening than it really was, rather than chalking it up to a drama queen response, will help you get to the bottom of the conflict in the most effective, swift and professional manner.

2: Reasoning With Emotions

The second layer of emotional intelligence enables you to process and prioritize what situations garner your attention and response.

For example, if you see your employee crying out of frustration, you would likely prioritize and address that issue immediately. However, if you have begun to see a “Chicken Little” pattern displayed by this employee, your reasoning helps you understand that the issue is likely not a real priority, but merely a ploy for attention. That also needs to be addressed, but obviously in a different way.

3: Understanding Emotions

After you perceive and reason with an emotion, you are then able to understand its true meaning.

One emotion that is often misconstrued or misunderstood is anger. Anger is notably a secondary emotion used to protect oneself from a more vulnerable primary emotion, such as fear, rejection or hurt.

As you can see, when trying to understand emotions it is important to look deeper to get to the crux of the actual situation.

If your business partner expresses anger, is it because you have let her down, or is it perhaps that she just was in an argument with her husband and brought that underlying emotion into your meeting?

When you employ your emotional intelligence, you have the ability to look beyond the surface of a situation and peer deeper for a possible alternative cause. Then, you can avoid escalating situations that could easily be diffused with even a little bit of further investigation and empathy.

4: Managing Emotions

The way you express your emotional intelligence is how you manage your own emotions. In fact, how you actually respond to your emotions and the emotions of others is a crucial component of managing emotions.

Sometimes you might just want to punch a customer in the throat. (What? I’ve coached enough female entrepreneurs to know this has crossed your mind!)

Your choice to resolve the problem professionally instead, shows your ability to manage your emotions. You may never find out why this customer is acting like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, but by first managing your own emotions you will better manage hers and the problem in general.

While that may be an extreme example, it does prove that you are, in fact, already practicing managing your emotions, and therefore impacting the emotions of others. (So maybe this is not such a fancy corporate concept, after all.)

Use Emotional Intelligence In Your Small Business

All of that said, while it is great to understand the theory of emotional intelligence, it is most important to understand the practical application of emotional intelligence. So turn on your emotional intelligence filter today, and see for yourself how this super-power contributes to your business running more smoothly, and ultimately results in your professional and personal success.

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