This week includes Independence Day, but it is also Independents Week – a nationwide campaign to heighten awareness of local businesses, jobs and economic prosperity brought to a community by non-chain, non-corporate enterprises. In my transition from corporate to independent business-hood, I had to manage more diverse relationships, from the perspective of an owner instead of an employee. I found it helped to develop emotional intelligence to navigate those waters. Following are 3 of the lessons that have helped me on that journey.
1) Boundaries – My first year in business, I took on a very nice client who asked me to make house calls. She often had to meet after work, which was a 50-minute trip for me in rush hour traffic. The doorbell or her phone would ring while we were meeting, which sometimes prevented her from focusing on our tasks at hand. I violated my policy of meeting during regular business hours in my own office environment, free of distractions, because I wanted so badly for “her to be happy.” While I believe she was happy, and we got her project completed on time, I was usually exhausted, a little irritable, and resentful before, during, and after our meetings. Yet, it was not her fault – it was mine, because I made a business decision without the intelligence of setting boundaries.
2) Listening – I used to think listening meant keeping my mouth shut until the other person quit talking. That certainly works better than interrupting, which I used to be a pro at. Later I learned that repeating back what I thought I heard, followed by something like, “Have I heard you correctly?” worked wonders for my relationships with clients, vendors, employees, and, wow, even friends and family. There are as many ways to strengthen listening skills as there are ways to strengthen your muscles. Exercising my listening ability has helped me be a better receiver of sensitive information, and deepened my understanding of where others are coming from. Whether it’s a vendor or a client, both of these made me better at business.
3) Customer Focus – I used to think if I advertised or discussed my credentials, picture, achievements, or experience, then I would win people over. Instead, I found that other people’s stories and tribulations are far more interesting than my own. Besides, business is not the best place to get my needs met. I have a support network of friends and family who gladly fill that role. My website, marketing materials, message, and meetings may include personal stories, but their purpose is an attempt to provide a direct lesson or benefit for my reader, client, or even my vendor. These interactions focus primarily on what they have told me is most important to them (which is generally not my credentials, picture, achievements, or experience) – it’s their unique issues and struggles.
Investing in emotional intelligence education is one of the best I ever made. It has helped me remain independent in business, but also helped me grow as an independent person, too. (For one provider of emotional intelligence in the workplace, check out www.kendonaldson.com). #AMIBA