How was your emotional intelligence in the first months of the pandemic?
Time has passed. Collectively, we’ve now got some experience under our belts when it comes to adapting and surviving (dare I say thriving?) in our new world.
I’ve found myself reflecting on some of my client interactions early on in the life of this pandemic. I’m now realizing that so many of those conversations were fraught with land mines that neither of us recognized at the time.
We were both under stress but thought we were coping. There wasn’t yet access to the information we have now. And those stresses and worries leaked into our interactions.
The simple truth? Like it or not, what your client has been facing is going to impact how they engage (or not) in your conversation.
And, the relationship you were able to develop with your client leading up to the pandemic will have a huge impact on whether you come out the other side with a stronger client relationship. Or not.
For example, if you’ve done good work up to then, and you’ve invested in getting to know your client outside of your business with them, odds are you’ll be able to get good answers and have insightful conversation. Even if they’re not their “normal” self. However, if you haven’t developed a relationship, you’re probably not going to have the most productive conversations. Especially when you layer on the stress many of us were under (and still are).
When it comes to building strong client relationships, we need to rely on more than just doing great work that adds value to our client’s business. We also need to use our emotional intelligence skills. When it comes to client management during a pandemic, we need to rely on emotional intelligence more than ever.
What are some ways to nurture emotional intelligence in your client relationships?
People are emotionally fragile right now. And it’s occurring across the spectrum. Witness Stephen Colbert’s recent interview with Dolly Parton. When she started singing acapella he got choked up, explaining that “Americans are under a lot of stress right now.”
So, how do you interact with people to calm them, build trust and then talk about business? This requires great effort at any time. But these days, it’s a much more complex question considering the ways we’ve built connections in the past are no longer truly available to us. To build trust back in the good old days, aka 2019, we used to do things that are close to unheard of now. I’m thinking of going for a coffee, experiencing a chance meeting on a plane, or having a great conversation at a networking event. These aren’t really common options during a quarantine.
Here are some tips on nurturing emotional intelligence I’ve found to be most useful in my client interactions. Especially during the pandemic.
1. Adjust expectations on time and place:
First off, we need to mentally reset our expectations and bring that sense of patience and empathy to all of our conversations. During many of my client interactions, I’ve noticed that things may or may not move at the same pace as before. As a result, I’ve had to say to myself “that’s ok” and let it go.
2. Connect on a personal level:
It’s always better to connect with the person before you start to talk about business. And that’s because you don’t know what that person has gone through – that day, the past month, or the past year. A template I found useful early on in the pandemic, was something a colleague shared on LinkedIn from August. I thought it was a great resource for a team check-in, to understand the full picture of their lives as they were adjusting to working from home. I think this could just as easily be used with clients.
3. Take a pulse check - on both sides:
Take stock of where both you and your client are at during the beginning of your chat. For example, are you or they distracted? Angry? Remember, anger about one thing may spill into the feedback they give about something else, and can also affect how we accept that feedback. To prepare, I like to try and determine some questions I can ask at the outset to do a pulse check on what additional emotions either one of us might be bringing to the conversation. I often decide on a little tidbit I’ll share prior to a meeting as a way to open up conversation and then leave some space. The client can either decide to engage, or not. And that reaction helps me to navigate the rest of the conversation in a more informed and empathetic frame of mind.