All business owners face the challenges of keeping employees motivated and engaged, ensuring good communication and helping to avoid conflict, whether the company is going through a time of change or not. For a small company this can be even harder, as they are often so focused on the day to day running of the business they can forget to support the most important factor in the business – the people.

It goes without saying that running a small company can be both challenging and stressful. Often money is tight, which can create a sense of urgency and survival, and the corporate support structure is not available for employees. Yes, business success in a small company often relies on people performing multiple roles and going the extra mile. Employees need to be motivated and engaged to do this.

Business owners may or may not have heard of the term Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – but most won’t have had time to consider what it could mean to their business or simply dismiss it as too touchy-feely or they think it’s related to the Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

In a small business it’s critical for people to manage their own impulses, communicate with others effectively, manage change well, solve problems and build rapport in tense situations. They also need empathy, and to remain optimistic even in the face of adversity. This “clarity” in thinking and “composure” in stressful and difficult situations is called ‘emotional intelligence’ and it is becoming increasingly important for SME business owners to understand this as an important business tool.

Research shows Emotional Intelligence is twice as important as IQ in predicting outstanding performance and EQ can be developed until well into our 40’s, so regardless if we are born as a leader or not, we can improve our performance by improving our EQ.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others in an organisation. When you have high emotional intelligence you can recognise and understand your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and then use this knowledge to relate better, manage better and achieve greater success.

Emotional Intelligence consists of four attributes:

· Self- awareness – The ability to recognise and name your own emotions, and how they affect your thoughts and behaviours. It helps you understand objectively and accept your strengths and weaknesses. As a result you have more self-confidence.

· Self-management – The ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviours, demonstrate and manage your emotions in healthy ways and take initiative and follow through in commitments.

· Social awareness – The ability to understand others point of view, their emotions, concerns, and needs, and show empathy.

· Relationship management – The ability of using social awareness to build and maintain good relationships, to communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, and manage conflict effectively.

Emotional intelligence can enable a SME business owner to build a high performing team and a great working culture, by improving the way they communicate, build relationships and create a positive working environment.

In any company, conflict can lower performance. It affects wellbeing and focus and can create unnecessary stress. Having a good performing team is critical for the success of any company, but particularly small businesses, as teams are smaller and work closer together, often being more sensitive to conflict or emotional situations, as a result.

Becoming an emotionally intelligent leader

By becoming an emotionally intelligent leader you can motivate and inspire the people working for you, to work better, and be more fulfilled at work. Emotional intelligence can help business owners solve their retention and morale problems, improve information flow, getting people working better together and driving forward business objectives.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are self aware, they know their strength and areas of development, and they know how their behaviour affects others, and they can manage their emotions effectively.

In the past, emotions were often thought of as a set of characteristics that needed to be controlled as they demonstrated weakness and instability. It was believed that focusing on the task was the only way to increase efficiency.

However, now we know that in order to function professionally, we have to acknowledge and manage our own emotions and others to encourage smooth communication and avoid conflicts.

Managing emotions

Managing emotions though does not mean simply bottling them up or ignoring them, as this can often lead to stress. The consequence of employees bottling or ignoring emotions can lead to petty conflicts in the workplace which eventually spiral out of control.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman described emotional intelligence as knowing how one is feeling and being able to handle those feelings without becoming swamped; being able to motivate oneself to get jobs done; being creative and performing at one’s peak; sensing what others are feeling and handling relationships effectively.

So how can we develop emotional intelligence? The reality is that some people are better than others at reading their own and other’s emotions, however, unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be developed if a business owner is prepared to implement some strategies.

Here are some tips to increase your emotional intelligence and that of your team.

· Ask for feedback, get to know your own strengths and weaknesses

· Pay attention to your team, notice their mindset, and emotional state

· Encourage open and honest communication

· Take the time to acknowledge and thank your team for their effort