Why emotional intelligence is the difference between success and failure

John Lightfoot, Head of Relationship Management

SMEs rely on communication. Whether established with 30 years’ experience or at start-up phase, no business can afford to ignore the benefits of strong communication when it comes to building relationships and delivering excellent customer service.

Mastering it is therefore key and it’s no exaggeration to say it can be the difference between success and failure.

I’ve seen that this is also true for commercial brokers that rely on effective communications to not only understand their customers’ cashflow issues but also to connect them with the right funding partner.

This is why I believe emotional intelligence (EI) is so important for brokers as it can make or break relationships with prospective and current clients.

Defining emotional intelligence

To me, EI is being aware of how I respond to different situations, controlling my response and expressing myself in the right way – it’s certainly had a positive impact on my work relationships.

Employing EI to interactions at work can be enormously beneficial for brokers who spend so much of their time speaking with SMEs in need of financial support. This is especially true given the variety of reasons businesses could need funding, from increased demand to unexpected machinery failure.

In my experience, the context of a conversation is key to its success – for example it may require a very different approach working with an SME in need of funding due to serious issues compared to one who is looking to scale-up operations.

The journey to emotional intelligence

I now apply EI to all communications I have with my team and clients and believe it’s made of two distinct areas:

 Personal awareness – No matter how self-aware you or those around you think you are, personal awareness can be worked on over time. To develop it, I’ve found it’s worth asking yourself questions you may never have considered before – who and what pushes your buttons during the working day? How do you react when put under stress?

When faced with particularly stressful situations I’ve been known at times to begin making less considered decisions and start sending short emails to avoid work piling up. Others stick to the slow and steady approach but may feel physical changes, such as a feeling in the pit of their stomach. I now aim to step away for a short break to gather my thoughts, allowing me to question myself and take time to consider if I’m making the right decisions.

For brokers, there are times when clients are wound up, demanding, and pushing to get to a solution. Serving that client well is about taking the time to consider all options. Sometimes that involves taking a step back to analyse the factors at play to ensure the right decision is made.

 Social awareness – Given the importance of client communications, social awareness is a key skill to have. Being aware of what pushes your colleagues’ or client’s buttons ensures you’re able to adapt appropriately to any situation. Trust can take years to build but seconds to break – one slip thanks to a lack of social awareness can undo months of relationship building.

One strategy I’ve used is to encourage regular feedback from colleagues, to discover perceptions of me, and how we are all working as a team. Taking this approach, you could discover that something you’re doing with the aim of supporting colleagues or clients, actually does more harm than good. Anonymous client feedback that highlights potential areas of improvement is just as beneficial, especially once changes have been made to rectify anything that had previously rubbed clients up the wrong way.

It can take time, but once you begin to embrace EI it’s likely you’ll notice a significant change in approach to challenging situations. I’ve found that removing traditional agendas from the equation when attending meetings is hugely beneficial. Instead, I focus on what keeps clients awake at night and aim to resolve issues more far-reaching than cashflow worries. For example, if a client’s website isn’t performing, I will put them in touch with a company that specialises in exactly that. It’s beyond the traditional remit but resolves a problem the client is struggling with and often strengthens the relationship. This is a perfect example of EI – understanding and adapting to the situation. rather than pushing ahead without considering the wider context.

EI isn’t something you’re born with, but there are many ways to improve over time, from gaining feedback, analysing your own behaviour or even going on a course. One size most certainly doesn’t fit all, but taking the time to invest in EI will likely significantly improve internal communications, but also strengthen client relationships.

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