Contrary to what some hustler entrepreneur will have you believe on Twitter, emotional intelligence (often referred to as EI or EQ, the emotional quotient) is one of the most important traits an entrepreneur can have. In fact, numerous studies have found that emotional competency is closely linked to superior job performance. From executives and partners to supervisors and front-line sales reps, virtually every position benefits from a strong EQ.
Unfortunately, strong EQ appears to be an exceedingly rare trait in today’s corporate world. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes on Glassdoor to find disgruntled employees (past or present) complaining about their management team’s lack of empathy.
“Upper management doesn’t care about making us work long hours. But they sure do have nice houses!”
- Anonymous Glassdoor review for a leading multinational
So, what actually is emotional intelligence? Although academics still debate the existence of EQ today (there is no official psychometric test for emotional intelligence, like there is for general intelligence), most people tend to agree it plays a role in their lives.
Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence in the following manner,
“Emotional intelligence is generally said to include at least three skills: emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.”
I can sum up emotional intelligence in one word: awareness. People's edges are often dull when it comes to their social environment. They are the "star of the show."
We can all take steps to enhance our emotional intelligence. In fact, our friends, family members, employees — and very livelihoods — may depend on it. Below, I’ll list some of the actions entrepreneurs can take to improve their emotional intelligence.
Journal every day
Daily journaling was something I struggled with until I realized that what you write doesn’t have to be perfect. I'm not talking about a "Dear Diary" journal entry here either; I'm referring to writing down your reflections, goals, thoughts, and taking note of those that are important in your life.
Instead of trying to create a magnum opus of your feelings every day, just write down whatever streams into your mind and how you might be able to improve on it or practice gratitude for it. This will naturally bring out feelings and ideas you may have otherwise kept bottled up.
Journaling with a pen or pencil is a much more personal experience.
Label your feelings
Entrepreneurs often like to think they’re above the emotional fray — that getting in tune with their emotions is a waste of time or worse, a sign of weakness. I know I previously thought this way.
Boy was I wrong.
Without acknowledging our day to day feelings, each of us is at the mercy of our emotions.
By labelling your feelings, you give yourself the agency to regulate them and identify what triggers them. This is something Buddhist monks have been doing for thousands of years through mindful meditation, whereby they bring awareness to their feelings and label them (i.e. “I am feeling direct energy” or “I am feeling direct anxiety”).
Make sure you check in with yourself and see how certain interactions and events make you feel. If you don’t accurately label your feelings, you won’t be able to manage them effectively.
Take a moment
How many entrepreneurs have you met that brag about being able to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
There’s a fear that if you stop pressing forward — if even for an hour — you’ll lose momentum, and your business and everything you’ve worked towards will suddenly go up in flames.
Although I believe working long hours is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur, everyone needs a break, and breaks should become a part of your daily schedule. Don’t be afraid to go on an impromptu hike or spend an afternoon in a museum. Your business will likely still be standing by the time you get back. Oh, and leave the leash (phone) behind...
Remember, emotional intelligence starts with you — in other words, how you treat and empathize with yourself.
Volunteer your expertise
While introspection through journaling and labelling is certainly important, nothing is more beneficial for emotional intelligence development than “real-world” practice. In other words, you can’t live inside your own head — you need repetition interacting and working with others.
The easiest (and most fulfilling) way to do this is through volunteering. More specifically, volunteering your expertise. Are you a copywriter, a designer, or a social media strategist? Whatever your domain is, there’s some non-profit or aspiring entrepreneur out there who could use your help.
Not only is volunteering your expertise a great way to develop emotional competency (i.e. active listening, empathy, the ability to take criticism), but you’ll be honing your professional skills and making a difference in your community along the way.
Building emotional intelligence requires sacrifice
The development of emotional intelligence isn’t easy. It’s a lifelong discipline — one that requires you to be honest about your feelings and take an active role in the lives of others. While this can be challenging for some entrepreneurs (especially those who are introverted or workaholics), it’s well worth the effort.