People spend so much time on their phones and computers, our ability to express ourselves emotionally is on…well…a roller coaster. Technology changes quickly. Just 10 or 15 years ago not everyone had a mobile phone, and if they did, it was a Nokia flip phone.
This virtualization of friends and colleagues dehumanizes our interactions. Emotional intelligence is not only the ability for us to manage our emotions, but also to understand our impact on other people. When you don’t see their facial expression or body language in response to something you said, you don’t get the full communications experience that creates bonds and empathy. They become emojized.
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Emotional intelligence affects everything we do, starting with our social skills. It seems social skills primarily are practiced online anymore. With digital communication, the reality is the relationships we have with other human beings either start online or they end up online. You may meet somebody through LinkedIn or Tinder. When we meet someone in person, we stay in touch online.
My brother and his family live in Boston so our relationship is entirely through Facebook or Facetime. He’s my best friend, and I want to be in the lives of my nieces and my nephew. Many relationships we have are going to be digital. Our ability to communicate effectively in a digital environment, and be who we want to be, is essential.
Do your best to build in-person relationships when you have that opportunity, so avoid texting the person one cubicle over, or emailing someone in the same office when a face-to-face conversation is possible with only a small amount of effort. In-person relationships really are the basis for growing the relationship that may continue virtually.
The first step is to become more aware and emotionally intelligent. Identify, acknowledge and label your emotions. Be aware of the breadth of your emotions, and develop a more robust emotional vocabulary to better identify emotions. Then those emotions can be handled in different ways.
Certain triggers cause people to just snap. It happens rapidly, and once people go down a bad path they have a tough time coming back
Building this foundation helps us better define the emotions other people are feeling, and we will be able to help them through. In work situations, we will be able to accomplish tasks much more effectively.
The second tool for building emotional intelligence is to be more aware of your own destructive triggers. Certain triggers cause people to just snap. It happens rapidly, and once people go down a bad path they have a tough time coming back. The same thing can happen in digital communication. When someone sends you a text or an email that is upsetting, we tend to fire right back.
Recognize the role stress plays in those triggers. What does your emotional intelligence look like in a time of stress? Identify that.
The third tool knowing that the most powerful destructive emotions are the ones directed inward, like when you tell yourself over and over again, ‘I’m not good enough.’ Those thoughts get in your way, and the ability to tamp down those inward emotions is a powerful tool.
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Another consideration is to manage your digital brand, and understand that your digital presence becomes who you are. Be aware of what you are communicating to others, from the pictures you post on social media to the grammar and spelling you use—they are all part of your digital brand. So, step up our grammar game, and if you aren’t sure of word usage take a second to Google it before you use it.
Shonna Shearson, vice president of the contact center and training for Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, has been tasked with training employees and changing the culture of the organization to make it more customer-centric.
Demonstrating emotional intelligence is important every time people try to communicate, Shearson said. “We really see this play out in our contact center. We have 30-plus agents. They are not just on the phone, they are on chat and e-mail with our members, as well. A lot of times when members are trying to contact us, it is because they have had a problem, so triggers play a key role in the emotional state of the callers. Sometimes they just come at us, guns blazing, wanting their problem fixed.”
Handling an upset or even angry member requires significant emotional intelligence, Shearson said. The agents must be hyperaware of their own emotions so they can manage them and focus on the member. Over the phone, you lose a some of the communication cues, but over chat or email you lose even more.
3 Little Questions for Rapport Building
For contact center representatives, thinking about what the other person is going through before firing back is critical, Shearson assessed. You must start from a place of empathy. “What I have learned personally about my communication, especially with email, is I tend to be a little bit on the direct side,” she admitted. “A lot of times I want to start an email by diving right in to the task, but then I have to take two steps back and think about who is on the other side and how they are going to receive it.”
Shearson said it is vital to spend a little time first building rapport, as doing so helps the rest of the message get through. You would say, ‘hello’ in person before barking out orders, right?
The better rapport employees have with each other can help alleviate workplace conflict, too.
Every workplace has conflicts, so it is important to have built personal relationships first – even if those personal relationships are entirely by email. She pointed out many workplaces are made up entirely of remote workers. In such a situation when there is a disagreement – such as how to proceed with a project – the less of a personal relationship two people have, the more the conflict becomes personal when one comes along.
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Shearson encourages her contact center team to express a desire to help. “That human touch has a huge impact, but it has to be genuine. If you have been on the other side – if you have heard someone reading a script in a cold voice – you know it is not helpful…Let the callers know you are here for them.”
Key takeaways: Whenever you start an email or other digital communication, think about the recipient and spend at least a sentence or two on rapport-building before you focus on the task. “I think you will find you can build those ‘tech’ relationships just as well as you can the in-person ones, and it will really pay off in the long run,” Shearson concluded.