Emotional intelligence is generally thought of as the skills we use to read, understand and respond effectively to the emotional signals from others. In my last column, I noted that these skills allow us to understand and adjust our reactions to events and people, and they enable us to influence others. Current research shows that having a high level of emotional intelligence enhances your ability to be successful in the competitive world of financial professionals, regardless of your specific role.

Fortunately, emotional intelligence is not a static construct. The behaviors needed to enhance your emotional competency skills can be learned. Therefore, if you decide that you would like to improve your emotional intelligence level it is possible to make the necessary changes.

But, as we all know, habits become ingrained and changing them can be difficult. The challenge becomes not only learning the new behavior, but incorporating it into our repertoire and sustaining it over time.

Essentials of Behavioral Change

In my coaching work with financial professionals, I have determined that there are four essential steps involved in successfully changing behavior. In a nutshell, you first need to acknowledge the need for the new behavior and its potential positive outcome. Next, you must accurately assess your current skill level in the desired behavior. Then, of course, you need to break down the desired skills into simple, feasible steps. Finally, and, most importantly, you need to practice the new behavior consistently, getting feedback to assess the results and making appropriate adjustments. This is all easier said than done, so here is some more specific advice.

What's Your Motivation?

The key to successful behavior change is motivation. You must first recognize the need for change and envision the results that could be achieved if you acted differently.

In Western culture some of the common emotional "fatal flaws" that derail people from experiencing ultimate success include: inflexibility; low stress tolerance; low tolerance for emotional discomfort and frustration; difficulty in keeping negative emotions from affecting others; the inability to manage anger and frustration; difficulty in managing one's emotional state; expressing one's emotions inappropriately; and allowing emotions to interfere with one's ability to make quick and effective decisions.

To appreciate the impact of emotional intelligence, consider the following scenarios that might occur in your role as an advisor or manager.

Scenario 1: You are a branch manager for your firm and there is a large advisor team in town that you would like to recruit. The group has a solid reputation and you are aware that it is being courted by several of your competitors. You don't know them personally and have no way to get a "warm" introduction and you are uncomfortable calling them. You have struggled in the past with recruiting higher-producing advisors and are reluctant to contact them. Yet you feel that if you don't pursue them, it would be a missed opportunity.

What specific emotional competencies would you need to handle this situation? The best response would be to confidently contact this team to learn about their situation and discuss the opportunities at your firm. The key emotional competencies would include a positive self-regard, emotional awareness, assertiveness and problem-solving.

Scenario 2: You are an FA with a dissatisfied client. You have worked with the client for the past five years. Recently, you put together a financial plan, which included reallocation of a number of her assets. The process created taxable events for the client and now her accountant questions those actions. As a result, the client has questioned you, resulting in decreased feelings of trust. The client has asked to speak with your branch manager about her concerns.

Again, what emotional competencies are called for in this situation? This one is difficult. Ideally, the advisor would understand the client's perspective and be able to engage in a conversation addressing her concerns in a non-defensive manner. Skills such as empathy, self- regard, problem-solving, flexibility and stress tolerance would help promote a satisfactory result for all involved.

In both of these cases, it is unlikely that your IQ alone would result in a successful outcome. Hopefully you can see that your ability to understand the emotional nuances of a situation, or your emotional quotient (EQ), plays an essential role in determining outstanding job performance. After reflecting on the questions presented, the next step is to ask yourself if you currently possess the effective skills necessary to resolve these types of situations successfully.

How do you know the level of your emotional intelligence? While you can take a formal Emotional Intelligence Assessment Test, the first step is honestly evaluating yourself and your behavior.

Consider the following factors to determine your EQ. How accurately do they reflect your thoughts, actions and emotions?

  • Emotionally intelligent people make aligned choices more frequently and they re-connect more quickly when misalignment occurs.
  • Emotionally intelligent people know themselves well.
  • Emotionally intelligent people can examine their thoughts, feelings and behavior and then make decisions that support their goals.
  • Emotionally competent people perform better while experiencing difficult-to- manage emotions.
  • Emotionally competent people manage themselves well and act with clarity and intention.
  • Emotionally competent people are committed to themselves, their goals and their values and are unwavering in this commitment; especially when things go awry.

Putting Plan into Action

After assessing your EQ level and determining your strengths and weaknesses, the next step is to start the process of change. The most effective way to do this is to devise a behavioral plan.

This plan should help you identify the necessary skills to achieve your goal and provide a structure for engaging in those behaviors. And you also need to incorporate a feedback mechanism that will reflect your progress and allow you to make the necessary adjustments to cultivate these enhanced skills.

The following is a 10-step plan for developing your EQ:

  1. Select the skill you want to improve.
  2. Test your selection to ensure sustainable motivation.
  3. Carefully define behaviors to change. This entails describing your current behavior and writing a measurable goal to create a vision of how you will behave once you have improved in this area.
  4. Create a plan to get to your goal.
  5. Identify factors that will support and/or hinder your change.
  6. Develop self-monitoring systems to assess your progress.
  7. Identify potential sources of additional training, experience and information.
  8. Develop feedback systems.
  9. Develop self-reward systems.
  10. Develop time lines.

The Ultimate Goal

The best way to evaluate the relevancy and effectiveness of this program is to test it for yourself. Take one of the emotional intelligence skills you would like to improve, such as increasing your empathy or decreasing your impulsiveness. Go through each step and create a plan for enhancing that emotional competency. The key to learning new behavior is to create a realistic plan that allows you to make the desired changes in as painless a way as possible.

By engaging in small, achievable steps, allowing for accurate feedback and making appropriate adjustments, you will achieve your ultimate goal and reach your highest potential.

 

Dr. Denise Federer is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and founder of
Federer Performance Management Group. She has been a consultant
to the financial industry for 25 years
.