Sandra Thompson may be an emotional intelligence expert, but when I got her onto my podcast she jokingly called herself an “aspiring actress”.
“I think I really missed my opportunity when I was in my late teens to get on the stage. So any opportunity to present professionally, I’m there in a flash!” she laughs.
Sandra works as a lecturer at a business school in central London, where she teaches concepts like leadership, customer management and emotional intelligence. She’s also a customer experience and employee experience consultant, and to top it all off, an emotional intelligence coach.
“That’s really where my soft spot is,” Sandra says. “It’s where my niche is: bringing emotional intelligence to customer experience and employee experience.”
In our conversation together, we talked about why humans need connection, what drives Sandra “nuts” about other people’s beliefs on EI, and why emotional intelligence isn’t a soft skill.
Here are the key takeaways.
The very short answer, says Sandra, is that we need to recognise who we are as human beings and build on the fact people want to connect with one another.
“I’ve been meeting some of my friends again for the first time in a couple of years and it brings me great joy,” Sandra explains. “And when we think about customers and employees, where’s the difference? The difference isn’t that a product is really fancy and works all the time. It’s about the people who are selling it to us. It’s about their personalities. We’re desperate as human beings to connect in whatever way is meaningful to us.”
This is where emotional intelligence comes in from two perspectives, Sandra says.
Tapping into your emotional intelligence is how you can create memorable experiences for customers and employees, Sandra explains, pointing out that people can only usually remember a handful of times when someone deeply connected with them because they performed an incredibly thoughtful act. “It’s the skill of emotional intelligence that enables you to dial in and find the thing that creates a deeper connection,” she says.
The simplest explanation is to recognise emotion within yourself and be able to manage it, Sandra explains. That ability then helps you start to recognise emotion in others, which assists you in building relationships.
“It’s really about having self-awareness of how you’re feeling and then choosing how you want to show up based on that,” Sandra says. “It sounds really simple, but it takes time to undo and unlearn all of the behaviors we’ve accumulated over dozens of years.”
To develop your emotional intelligence, she suggests you sit with an experience and then decide:
“That’s where the magic happens,” Sandra explains.
That it’s the same as empathy, Sandra says. “When you think about emotional intelligence, there are 12 competencies within the skill – and empathy is just one of those competencies,” she says.
“But if you don’t practise self-awareness, it’s highly likely that when I, for example, talk to you and sense that you might be feeling this or that way, what I’m actually doing is thinking about how I’m feeling and projecting those feelings onto you,” says Sandra. “When I have the skill of emotional intelligence, I can recognise how I’m feeling, wonder how you’re feeling and ask you really great questions to figure it out.”
It also bothers Sandra how some people believe emotional intelligence is just a soft skill and nothing more. “It drives me nuts,” she says. “It’s not just a ‘nice to have’: it’s essential. People who have this skill earn more money, are healthier and happier. They’re promoted more often.”
The great news is that we can learn emotional intelligence at any age, says Sandra. She points out that we’ve discovered in recent years how the brain isn’t completely hardwired and that you can, through changes of behaviour and repetition, create new habits and rewire it.
These are some of the signs:
“I can think of a handful of people I get so much out of conversations with because I feel valued,” says Sandra. “I feel like they’re holding the space for me, which means they don’t jump in. They don’t steer. They’re just curious and ask great questions.”
Then it’s likely that you have a high EQ already.
Sandra points out that they’ve usually travelled quite a bit. Some had parents who encouraged them to explore and read.
Immersing yourself in a range of experiences helps you find the language and expression to describe how you’re feeling, or at least identify feelings in yourself, according to Sandra.
“It’s called emotional granularity, an idea that came up from the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett. She says that if you travel, go to the theatre, read and watch documentaries, all these things that enrich your lexicon and the range of language you can use to describe your feelings, then you’re likely to have that skill [of emotional intelligence].”
Some people Sandra has coached are really nervous about what they call “opening the floodgates”. They feel that they have contained a range of emotions for a long period of time and are frightened of what might happen if they begin to explore them.
“But it’s about being in the present moment, quite different from counselling and any type of therapy, because that looks more at stuff that’s gone on in the past,” says Sandra. “And it’s much deeper rooted. So this isn’t that space. [EI] is definitely where you’re able to just talk about how you’re feeling.”
Remember that your work is never done when it comes to developing your emotional intelligence, according to Sandra. This is because the situation, relationships, environment and job that you’re in are always changing.
Sandra says this can be “a bit of a bummer, but you know, that’s OK because the curious will always be in the pursuit of something better.”
To work on your EQ, she suggests carving out a little bit of time every day, or at least once a week, and committing to that.
Then you can:
Interestingly, this all creates adaptability, as what you’re doing is switching your mind from busy-ness and being on autopilot to being present and not on autopilot, because you’re there in that moment, says Sandra.
“Honestly, it’s happiness,” says Sandra. “Just feeling a sense of greater calm.”
Thanks so much to Sandra for sharing her knowledge about emotional intelligence. I hope her good vibes will inspire you to make a change for the better to both your personal and professional life.
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