Emotional Intelligence: What it is, and why it’s so critical for SAMs

By Jessica Worny Janicki and Bo Golovan

Analysis vs. empathy

A SAM is a business manager and a true LEADER in managing strategic relationships, and this requires much higher and more complete interpersonal relationship skills and EI than the average sales rep: from technical expertise, analytical and strategic thinking to communication, management, leadership and negotiation skills. Successful SAMs understand how to integrate this complex mix of hard and soft skills.

The SAMA competency model articulates how technical and cognitive skills combine with social and emotional competencies to create high performance. For why this combination is so rare and difficult to achieve, we turn to the field of neuroscience. The brain contains what’s called the “Task Positive Network (TPN),” which is analytical and task-oriented, and the “Default Mode Network (DMN),” which is empathetic and social.

“In the business world right now, the emphasis is more on the task orientation of leaders rather than cultivating empathy,” says Anthony Jack, assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University. “That is partly because it’s easier to assess task-oriented leadership.”

But the long-term consequences of this cultural bias are damaging, Jack says. He and a group of researchers at Case Western suggest that business leaders should strive to cultivate both skill sets (analytical/task-oriented and empathetic/social) so they can learn to cycle fluidly between the two networks and better perceive when each mode of thinking is appropriate.
With its focus on social and emotional functioning, EI provides a perfect framework to develop the Default Mode Network. It offers a guide to how and when to deploy it to leverage performance.

What is EI?

EI is a set of social and emotional skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.
Most SAMs have spent a lot of time learning and developing hard skills but much less time on soft skills, potentially resulting in an unbalanced skill set and a lack of agility between the TPN and DMN brain networks.  EI can be used as a tool to establish a more effective balance.

EI for professional development

To co-create value with customers, SAMs need to possess strong communication and influence skills, know how to listen beyond what is said, effectively articulate a value proposition, persuasively promote their ideas, get buy-in among key decision-makers and be comfortable addressing difficult situations or conflicts. To lead orchestrate an ecosystem of resources and stakeholders, they must demonstrate strong interpersonal skills to develop and maintain trustworthy relationships, develop a team vision, lead teams in implementation and execution, and demonstrate sensitivity, understanding and empathy for cultural differences in order to adapt and be effective in a global environment.

The EQi 2.0 model of emotional intelligence comprises fifteen competencies across five categories that form the building blocks of abilities such as communication, decision making, time management and resilience. The framework provides an effective structure to support and develop these competencies.

Interpersonal skills are at the heart of the competencies SAMs need to build and develop strong relationships, manage cross-functional teams, align stakeholders, influence and negotiate. But it is essential to understand that these skills also build on others, such as self-perception and self-expression.  Although the model’s competencies are separated into five distinct groups, they are all interrelated and mutually impact each other.

Self-perception is an essential building block, as it is about our internal world, which determines how we perceive ourselves, our mindset and our attitudes. Being self-confident, for example, helps SAMs overcome obstacles, while being motivated ensures they are driven by a desire to perform and excel.

Self-expression is the flip side: focused on the outside world, it describes how we choose to express ourselves and how we communicate. Sharing and expressing feelings in an open and transparent way helps SAMs establish rapport with stakeholders and build trustful relationships with cross-functional teams. Emotional expression, of course, happens in a context and is a matter of degree, which SAMs assess by being tuned in to others and having empathy. An effective SAM reads and understands these social cues and adjusts his or her behavior accordingly and in the moment. For example, a SAM is more open with a long-time customer than with a new one.

Decision making is highly relevant for SAMs, as they constantly face multiple and often complex decisions. To optimize their decision making, SAMs must integrate emotional information in an effective and meaningful way, along with analytical and strategic elements, data and facts. Understanding and managing emotional undercurrents to get buy-in or during negotiations, for example, can be the difference between success and failure.

Stress management is particularly important in the SAM environment, which is fast paced, competitive and high stress. Stress, especially if chronic, can be detrimental to performance, both cognitively and emotionally. Being aware of stress, assessing its impact and developing appropriate coping strategies reflects valuable stress-management practice and is key to effective functioning. Developing flexibility, resilience and remaining optimistic in the face of adversity allows SAMs to process stress more effectively and mitigate its damaging effects.

Each individual has a unique profile, with distinctive strengths and areas in need of further development. Results of an EQi assessment provide SAMs and sales leaders an individualized road map that can become a daily guide that empowers them to accelerate their professional development.

Here are two tools you can use to start developing your EI skills immediately.

Gauge your mood. Developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the Mood Meeter app is both fun to use and rich in content to expand users’ emotional self-awareness and emotional expression capabilities. The app enables users to quickly and easily track emotions througho. ut the day, expands emotional vocabulary, provides tips for moving one’s emotional state, and provides stats for further reflection and analysis.•

Reflective listening. Adapted from “The EQ Edge” by Steven J. Stein & Howard E, the following listening exercise strengthens users’ reality testing, empathy, interpersonal relationship and problem-solving skills.  Step 1: Ask someone you know well how he or she feels about a given topic.  Let the conversation roll for five minutes without sharing your own point of view.  After five minutes, describe to the person your version of what he or she thinks and feels.  Compare your version with the other person’s version and note any differences. Step 2: Review this video to learn about reflective statements. Repeat Step 1 with another person, this time using reflective statements with the speaker.  Compare the amount of information you collected in both conversations.

Jessica Worny Janicki is the owner of JWJ Consulting. Bo Golovan is the owner of Strategic Solutions Associates. 

They will deliver their highly rated “Emotional Intelligence for SAMs” workshop on Wednesday, July 25, at SAMA Academy Chicago. Click here to learn more and to register.

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