How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better Leader

Empathy and vulnerability go a long way in when it comes to solving problems and building trust.

Illustration of a heart and a brain plugged into one another

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A high level of emotional intelligence is a superpower in relationship-based work like real estate, says David R. Caruso, Ph.D., a psychologist who co-authored the Mayer, Salovey and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test and co-founded the Emotional Intelligence Skills Group. Although this form of intelligence is important for agents because of their work with clients and partners, it’s equally, if not more, critical for brokers. “Managing emotions—your own and others’—allows you to help your staff with challenges and to create an environment where people can thrive,” he says.

Emotional intelligence is an essential component to effective leadership, especially in an industry that’s constantly changing. Here’s the lowdown on EI, including what it is, why it’s so beneficial, and how to lead in a more emotionally intelligent fashion.

What is EI?

Think of emotions as information or data, Caruso says. Emotions are expressed by people in one of two ways: verbal signals like words or tone of voice and nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, body language and eye contact.

EI is a person’s capacity to accurately perceive, understand and manage their emotions and those of others, says John “Jack” D. Mayer, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire.

The Harvard Business Review defines the four components of EI as:

  • Self-awareness, an understanding of yourself—your strengths, weaknesses and your own emotions—and how those components affect those around you.
  • Self-management, or competency in managing your own emotions and impulses and asking for help in areas that are not your strong suit.
  • Social awareness, which is essentially being able to “read the room.” Those with social awareness have the “ability to recognize others’ emotions and the dynamics in play within [their] organization.”
  • Relationship management, or how well a leader can help ease and solve conflict. Relationship management has everything to do with mentorship and respect.

The better leaders are at perceiving emotions, the more likely they are to adeptly diffuse conflict and navigate highly emotional siuations.

Why EI is Key for Brokers

In volatile, uncertain or complex environments like the real estate profession, competency in EI is important, Caruso says. “People in these environments are experiencing a lot of different emotions, at high levels, and these emotions impact performance. The question is whether people will address them in a smart way.”

Brokers are managing emotions from all directions: their agents, their agents’ clients, their own clients, managers, office staff, business partners and more. Brokers also have to effectively manage their own emotions so that they can come to the office regulated and ready. That’s why practicing the four components of EI is essential for a broker to maintain equilibrium within themselves and their offices.

Serve as a Role Model

By aptly navigating their own feelings, brokers set an example of self-regulation. They possess the emotional resources to help their agents and to persevere. “Think of a leader controlling their own anxiety during a crisis to present a calm, ‘in charge’ persona to those they lead out of that crisis,” says Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. Through their example and conflict resolution skills, they help others regulate their emotions as well, such as when a fellow employee or client becomes distraught, he says.

Lead Strategically

“A critical part of a leader’s EI is being able to ‘read’ other people: understanding their likes and dislikes, needs, feelings and motivations,” says Riggio. “Brokers higher in EI are savvier with their communication and can use different approaches depending on which one will be most effective with each person,” adds Traci Cipriano, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, consultant, speaker and coach.

For instance, public recognition might appeal to one agent, but it could be undesirable for another, Caruso says. Since agents want and need different things, brokers have to adapt to different communication styles to help their agents reach goals.

Earn Trust and Boost Motivation

“One role of leaders is to motivate and inspire followers, and much of this inspiration is communicated emotionally,” says Riggio. To build positive leader-follower relationships and inspire loyalty, leaders need to be responsive to the needs and feelings of those they lead, he adds.

That means that dismissing agent concerns, worries or fears won’t work. EI is intrinsically linked to culture and, as many brokers know, culture is one of the main components necessary for agent retention.

Provide Expert Guidance

One reason EI is essential among real estate leaders is because the profession itself is highly emotional.

“Buying and selling is emotional,” says Karen Briscoe, creator and author of the “5 Minute Success” series and concepts and principal at HBC Real Estate Group-KW. “Often, people’s greatest asset is their home and there’s a lot of emotional attachment to it. It’s an agent’s opportunity to serve their clients, and a broker’s opportunity to equip their agents with the ability to help their clients move towards a solution.”

Model Resilience

EI helps brokers navigate the changes that come with running a business, explains Briscoe. While one agent might approach a lost deal with a growth mindset, another could react negatively and flail, she adds. Many leave the industry because they lack EI and consequently have difficulty coping with the inevitable market shifts.

When a broker has a higher capacity for resilience, they’re able to weather market changes and help their agents do the same.

How to Lead with EI

Although some aspects of emotional intelligence are innate, skills in emotional communication can be developed, Riggio says. To improve in this area, Mayer adds, brokers can work on identifying, describing and moderating emotions in yourself and others. Because that’s a tall order, though, Caruso suggests using some of these compensatory strategies in the meantime:

  • Spend Time With Your Emotions. When it comes to yourself, work on responding to your emotions with intention, says Debbie Sorensen, Ph.D. a psychologist and the co-author of, ACT Daily Journal: Get Unstuck and Live Fully with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Pause and notice how you feel. Then think through the best way to move forward. “Sometimes, it’s helpful to follow emotions—there can be some wisdom in them,” she says. “But other times, it’s not so helpful.” Ask yourself if your emotions require outside help—talking to a friend or loved one, enlisting the help of a mentor, or speaking with a therapist could help. Sometimes though, it’s just a matter of acknowledging your feelings and moving forward.
  • Listen to Hear, Not to Respond. With other people, truly listen, Cipriano says. As they talk, pay attention to your own internal responses. It’s important to acknowledge someone’s feelings before responding. After you’ve done so, consider what you will say before replying. When you’re ready to respond, do so with empathy, being mindful of your tone. Try to avoid the common temptation of rushing in with fixes, adds Sorensen. Sometimes, just sitting with someone and talking about their feelings is enough.
  • Practice Vulnerability. For many, vulnerability feels like a weakness, but much of today’s conversation around the topic speaks to the opposite—that being vulnerable with others breeds trust and actually makes leaders more powerful. Sorensen encourages leaders to admit when a day or situation was tough and check in if one of your agents seems to be struggling. When people feel psychologically safe, they’ll be more comfortable sharing their challenges, she adds.

For a helpful shortcut, try Briscoe’s “feel, felt, found” script. When an agent tells you about a situation, first say you understand how they’re feeling. Then, say that others have felt that way before, and relate a helpful finding (“what we found was…”). By sharing an action or perspective they can take, you’re helping them move forward rather than wallowing or spiraling. Plus, you’re showing empathy and validating their feelings.