Whether managing an office or working with home buyers and sellers, these actionable tips will help you hone your emotional intelligence for more successful relationships. 

Brooke Wolford’s clients had been contemplating their next home purchase for about six months. The Minneapolis-based agent with BRIX Real Estate had shown the couple close to 30 properties in the $1 million–$2 million range, but they passed on almost every one without giving much meaningful feedback during showings. But Wolford wasn’t as frustrated by tight-lipped clients as she might have been. Not long before, she had taken an online emotional intelligence assessment because she thought it might provide insight into her own behavior when working with clients. In fact, the results helped her tune in more carefully to her clients’ mannerisms, body language, and changes in facial expressions.

“It’s a Minnesota thing for people to not want to upset anybody,” she says. “I look for signs that will tell me what people really mean.” To get to the bottom of what was holding her clients back, Wolford paid attention to the couple’s interactions. She noticed that when the husband pointed out house features he favored, the wife failed to echo his enthusiasm or sometimes simply turned away. Wolford soon realized they wanted very different things in a home. She recognized that she needed to initiate an honest conversation with her clients about their disparate desires. “She wanted to live in one part of town and he wanted another. You learn pretty quickly what people are into even if they don’t verbalize it,” Wolford says.

Read more about how to "Own It"

The concept of emotional intelligence has gained a lot of credibility as a useful business tool in recent years. While skeptics used to dismiss the notion as a fad with little scientific basis, academic research over two decades in psychology, neuroscience, human development, and yes, business, has validated its benefits for navigating human interactions.'

There’s a common misconception that EQ is about being nice or getting people to like you, says Vanessa Druskat, associate professor of organizational behavior at University of New Hampshire’s Peter T. Paul College of Business & Economics. In reality, EQ involves more complex interpersonal skills and one’s ability to read and interpret emotion. While our rational thinking, planning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills come from the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the emotion center of the brain—the amygdala—is constantly scanning the environment for nonverbal information. Most of the time, the various sections of the brain work in tandem, Druskat says. She recommends Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence for more insight.

“We have emotional intelligence because it helps us deal with conflict. It gives us an evolutionary edge,” says Hendrie Weisinger, psychologist and author of The Emotionally Intelligent Real Estate Agent. Weisinger has written extensively on applying EQ in the workplace. “The idea is, if you have two people with equal intellect, the one with high emotional intelligence has an edge.”

Get in Touch With Your EQ

Emotional intelligence informs your motivations, how quickly you can bounce back from setbacks, and the quality of your relationships. Here’s how Weisinger describes the main categories of EQ.

High self-awareness: Your ability to tune into yourself and get information from your senses.

Mood management: The ability to manage your own emotions—including difficult ones like fear, anger, and stress—and to change your mood for the better. For example, if you lose a listing at 9 a.m., are you still depressed about it by noon?

Self-motivation: How easily you accomplish necessary tasks and recover from challenges. External cues can help, not just for yourself but for others, Weisinger says. At your next open house, he suggests having light, upbeat music in the background. Put out good things to eat. When meeting a buyer, bring coffee. Think about how many ways you can put your client in a good mood. Keep in mind that a person in a good mood is more apt to buy.

Interpersonal expertise: Your ability to listen to and relate with others, take and give criticism, and work through conflict.

Emotional mentoring: The capacity to help other people deal with their emotions though motivation or conflict mitigation. Separate yourself from your own biases so that you can offer advice that best suits the other person, Weisinger says. “Emotions are contagious. If you yell at your spouse, they yell back. If you give someone a dirty look, they’ll give you one back. If you smile at someone, they’ll probably smile back.”

The brain is collecting 11 million bits of information per second, often as nonverbal, emotional signals. For instance, when you’re about to meet a new prospect, Druskat says, study the person’s face. Is he or she excited or anxious? If the person seems nervous, you’ll want to speak slowly and calmly. If you’re not sure, ask what’s on their mind. “People trust your nonverbal cues,” she says. “A good agent will meet people where they are, mirroring where their emotions are. The more intentionally you can do that, the better.”

EQ’s Link to Performance

Druskat, who specializes in leadership and team effectiveness, says high EQ is linked to better job performance. For managers and team leaders, she offers three ways to set up an environment where EQ can thrive. 

Let people know they’re valued. Celebrate people’s distinct talents. Acknowledge their contributions publicly and privately. Create a culture of inclusion and belonging so agents feel free to ask questions, seek advice, and work through failures. 

Develop a shared understanding. Being nice to agents isn’t enough. Make sure you communicate authentically so that everyone knows the office or team mission. Suggest improvements through constructive discussions. 

Give people a sense of control. Build a trusting environment by giving people responsibility. Be the guiding force behind a positive social and emotional office environment.

Each week, Gino Blefari, CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC, writes a “Thoughts on Leadership” blog post aimed at both agents and brokers about how to improve leadership skills by bettering yourself and the way you interact with others. “EQ is as much about internal adjustments as it is about taking external cues from the world around you and heightening your emotional sensitivity to them,” he says.

In real estate, culture is vital to the success of the brokerage. “Organizations may have the latest technology, the greatest talent, the hardest-working employees, but if they don’t have a positive culture, what do they really have?” says Blefari. For brokers, watch for top producers who are constantly helping others. Ask those agents to share their best practices at a sales meeting. If you have a mentoring program, Blefari says tap potential mentors in the office with high EQ. 

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has dedicated trainers who visit network offices to train agents and managers on methods for navigating the stress and challenges felt in the homebuying and homeselling process. “Role-playing definitely helps train agents on EQ,” he says. “We place a lot of emphasis on empathy.” Put yourself in the mindset of the consumer or client—especially those who are selling a home where lifelong memories are attached. “No client is the same, no consumer is the same, and we have to try to understand the diverse fabric of buyers and sellers in America—and around the globe—so we can better service our clients,” Blefari says.

Email campaigns with automated search results to reach prospects may seem to be an efficient communication tool, but they lack the personal touch that is essential for building strong, trusting business relationships, “When you’re building a relationship, it should be more personal,” Wolford says.

Emotional intelligence is essential for understanding your clients and reaching your full potential as a real estate professional. “All emotions are intrinsically good,” Weisinger says. “[The power] is in how you manage them.”

Recruit and Hire High-EQ Candidates

At Keller Williams International, educating agents about emotional intelligence is part of the company’s mission. The company encourages agents to build teams and provides tools to help attract talent. More than 90 percent of KW franchises have adopted the Keller Personality Assessment and dashboard tool launched in In July 2016. KW partnered with a professional in the behavior assessment industry and created a technology platform in-house to streamline the recruitment and hiring process that screens for certain emotional and cognitive traits.

Talent strategy leader Leslie Vander Gheynst says the assessment looks at 11 components of a person’s personality, such as assertiveness, sociability, adaptability, intensity, and optimism, and how the person uses those behavioral traits in a workplace. This results in behavior profiles, which tie back to agents’ performance. “We’re trying to understand people, their behaviors, and how they think so we really maximize each person’s potential,” she says.

Karina Loken, president of The Loken Group with Keller Williams Luxury International, oversees a top national team of 59 licensed, independent contractors in Houston. Her primary role has been recruiting and hiring, and she plans to add 23 more people this year. She’s a big fan of the KPA and of Keller Williams’ career visioning program because it gives the interviewer specific questions to use in shaping its detailed analysis of prospective team members. For example, if a candidate is assessed as strongly assertive, the report explains how that trait might show up in positive and negative ways. “Sometimes our biggest assets are also our biggest weaknesses,” Loken says.

Before she gives the assessment, she reviews resumes to start filtering out candidates, then conducts phone interviews, and if all goes well, she proceeds to an in-person interview. If both parties want to continue, then she asks them to complete the assessment via email. Once Loken receives the KPA results, she reviews the report with candidates in person, whether or not she intends to hire them. “Even people who we’ve determined aren’t the right fit have been thankful because they walk away knowing more about themselves,” Loken says.

Not all assessments are created equal. KW’s previous behavioral evaluation examined only four components of a personality. What ended up happening was people felt like they were being associated with specific judgments. “You can’t put someone in a box; it requires a more purposeful conversation,” Vander Gheynst says.

KW also asks new hires and recruits about their future, where they see themselves in five years, and what the best five years of their lives would look like. This allows the hiring manager the opportunity to align the candidate’s goals with the team’s business goals.

If your company doesn’t have a formal recruitment assessment, Weisinger says to look for candidates with action--oriented hobbies—things that reflect their motivations. Druskat recommends asking recruits about a time they had to manage themselves or their emotions in front of a client. “Ask questions to get them talking about real-life situations,” she says. Ask them about when they’ve had a hard time empathizing with a client or how they’ve helped a client who was dealing with a difficult situation, such as selling a house during a divorce. “Focus on questions looking at experience, such as ‘How did you help the clients manage their emotions?’ And look for details in the story,” Druskat says.

Just as self-awareness is critical for a healthy EQ, company awareness is also critical for a healthy business. So, before you begin a recruitment or hiring process, Loken says, have a defined vision, mission, and core values statement written down for your company or team. This will help guide your hiring.

“Get to know people, what motivates them, and what their ideal environment looks like,” Loken says. “You’re the one who knows the internal culture, vibe, and values of your office. If [your office is a fit] for that person, then it’s always good for your organization.”

10 Ways to Apply Your Emotional Intelligence

Hendrie Weisinger, creator of the “Performing Under Pressure” e-workshop, suggests these tips for using emotional intelligence, or EQ, in your work.

  1. Listen to how you talk to yourself. Are you your own worst enemy? When the day begins, “do you say you’re not going to sell anything today, or do you say it’s going to be a great day?” 
  2. Use your thoughts as instructional self-statements. To get through a difficult situation, focus your internal dialogue on positive reinforcements. 
  3. Be aware of your intentions. Does your behavior contradict your intentions? Weisinger says they need to be in alignment.
  4. Observe your actions. Again, ensure your actions are indicative of your goals. This is a key area of self--awareness.
  5. Learn to relax on cue. Learn to put anger and frustrations aside so you can handle difficult situations thoroughly and professionally.
  6. Generate humor. A good sense of humor helps ease tensions and pulls people toward you, Weisinger says. 
  7. Become a good problem-solver. Start with understanding the problem. You may need to change something you’re doing, such as how you’re communicating with a client, responding to competition, or delivering your prospecting message. “The faster you can recognize how you’re ineffective, the faster you can resolve the situation,” Weisinger says.   
  8. Practice the power of positive criticism. Learn to give criticism constructively, respond to criticism nondefensively, and benefit from it.
  9. Listen to the messages of emotions. Anxiety communicates uncertainty. If a client is uncertain, then something is wrong. Identifying the problem allows you to respond more effectively. 
  10. Make big jobs underwhelming. Break down overwhelming situations into small tasks. A baby-step checklist can change your perception of a task so you can approach it with more enthusiasm.