Independence, Emotional Intelligence, and Better Business

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This month included Independence Day, but it is also included Independents Week – a nationwide campaign to heighten awareness of local businesses, jobs and economic prosperity brought to a community by non-chain, non-corporate enterprises. As an independent businessperson for 10 years now, I learned that practicing emotional intelligence is one of the best skills for managing the multiple relationships that come with running a business. Following are 3 of these skills.

1) Boundaries – Being unaware of my need to please people, I took a very nice client in my first year who asked me to make house calls. She often had to meet after work, which was a 50-minute commute for me in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. The doorbell or her phone would ring, which sometimes prevented her from focusing on our tasks at hand. I violated my policy of meeting during regular business hours in my own office environment, free of distractions, because I wanted so badly for “her to be happy.” While I believe she was happy, and we got her project completed on time, I was usually exhausted, a little irritable, and resentful before, during, and after our meetings. Yet, it was not her fault – it was mine, because I made a business decision without the intelligence of setting boundaries.

2) Listening – I used to think listening meant keeping my mouth shut until the other person quit talking. That certainly works better than interrupting, which I used to be a pro at. Later I learned that repeating back what I thought I heard, followed by something like, “Have I heard you correctly?” worked wonders for my relationships with clients, vendors, employees, and, wow, even friends and family. There are as many ways to strengthen your listening skills as there are ways to strengthen your muscles. Exercising my listening ability has helped me be a better receiver of sensitive information, and deepened my understanding of where others are coming from. Whether it’s a vendor or a client, both of these made me better at business.

3) Customer Focus – I used to think if I advertised or discussed my credentials, picture, achievements, or experience, then I would win people over. Instead I found that the more I make it about them, the happier everyone, including me, is. I find other people’s stories and tribulations far more interesting than my own. Besides, business is not the best place to get my needs met. I have a support network of friends and family who gladly fill that role. My website, my marketing materials, my message, and my meetings may include personal stories, but their purpose is an attempt to provide a direct lesson or benefit for my reader, my client, or my vendor. These interactions focus primarily on what they have told me is most important to them (which is generally not my credentials, picture, achievements, or years of experience) – it’s their unique issues and struggles.

Investing in emotional intelligence education is one of the best I ever made. It has helped me remain independent in business, but also helped me grow as a person. (For one provider of emotional intelligence in the workplace, see www.kendonaldson.com).

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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