By Douglas Anele
At the personal level, self-knowledge, attitude and behaviour are crucial. Knowledge or self-awareness in this context involves accurate understanding of our own feelings, preferences, goals and values, grasping how others feel about us and applying that information in our daily transactions. A positive attitude for success grows by cultivating a “can-do” or winning mentality and believing in ourselves, overcoming self-doubt and taking reasonable risks, being assertive and not aggressive, being goal-motivated, admitting mistakes, and moving on after each setback. With respect to behaviour, the focus is on how to act appropriately in stressful situations, putting our emotions under reasonable control, adaptability and balancing rational and emotional considerations.
The social dimension of EI stands on the tripod of knowledge, attitude and behaviour also. Here, knowledge involves the ability to understand others, having empathy, listening attentively and reading non-verbal cues. With regard to attitude, the emphasis is on having a positive outlook, creativity, being a source of inspiration to others, acting with conviction and commitment. Socially competent behaviour demands that one should find common ground and endeavour to establish rapport with others, cultivate skills for persuading and influencing people, integrity, likeability and building positive, mutually beneficial, relationships.
Recent researches on the nexus between leadership, management and performance indicate that EI skills are indispensable for effective performance and leadership in a corporate setting. For instance, studies of “think tanks” dominated by highly intelligent individuals show that some people outperform others. Such high performers are more adaptable, more prepared to take on responsibility, and tend to establish rapport more easily with co-workers. These EI qualities do not depend on high IQ or technical expertise. In addition, sales managers unable to handle stress are usually in charge of departments that perform poorly, whereas those managers that perform better under stress have high sales volume. Moreover, CEOs adjudged most successful by their colleagues were those who scored highest in the ability to establish relationships with and inspire others, rather than those rated highest in technical competency. EI qualities of empathy, optimism, assertiveness, and self-awareness were highly predictive of success.
As was suggested earlier, minimising the pain of misfortune is the soul of insurance business. Therefore, while interacting with customers employees of insurance companies should display appropriate personal and social aspects of EI enunciated above. Consider a situation in which a policyholder (Mrs. P) is involved in a car accident and expects her insurance company to come to her assistance by either repairing the car or replacing it with a new one, given that the car was comprehensively insured and her premium payment is up to date. Shortly after the accident was reported the insurance company sends one of its claims staff, Mr. A, to handle the case. However, instead of showing empathy and accelerating the processing of Mrs. P’s claims, Mr. A uses subtle delay tactics in order to be “settled” by the client to do his job. Clearly, Mr A’s unprofessional conduct is unacceptable: it is an aspect of the frustrating “Nigerian factor” epitomised in the “come-today-come-tomorrow” syndrome and expectation of bribe, which discourages Nigerians from patronising insurance companies in Nigeria. The situation is better at the corporate level because companies have legal departments that handle issues arising from claims.
General apathy towards insurance in the country is reversible through public enlightenment based on pragmatic, well-structured, human resource development and capacity-building programmes by insurance companies, with special emphasis on improving the EI of their workers. If a policyholder suffers some loss, the claims officer in charge must be sympathetic, attentive and willing to help. He must be creative in dealing with the situation and display professionalism to boost confidence in the insured that her interest is top priority for the insurance company handling her portfolio.
Aside from staff involved in all aspects of claims handling, employees in the marketing department need to bolster their EI to win new clients for their company and retain old ones. This is where deployment of social intelligence skills such as the capacity to interpret non-verbal cues accurately, taking initiative, having a positive outlook, likability and persuasive skills is crucial, because a combination of these skills are needed to overcome apathy and resistance by the general public towards insurance. Insurance personnel assigned to customers must learn to control their emotions; they must be firm but not too aggressive to avoid discouraging potential clients.
In the high-tension competitive world of insurance, some CEOs and managers are condescending and insolent to staff under their supervision. This is a big mistake, for although most employees are keenly interested in the progress of the firm they also want their superiors to treat them with respect and dignity. Bossy, temperamental and overbearing CEOs and managers tend to alienate subordinates, thereby generating a frosty and up-tight working environment that engenders declining productivity. In the corporate world, leaders who actively inspire and motivate others, who encourage teamwork and lead by example, are usually successful. A CEO with high EQ harnesses wisely the diversity of skills and talents at her disposal to achieve corporate goals set by the company. Hence, during brainstorming sessions, intense emotions sometimes flare up, but a thoughtful manager with appropriate EI skills will quickly deploy her sense of care and genuine sympathy to allow employees express their emotions in a manner that solves the problem at hand without rancour. Of course, solving problems as a group helps people to channel their emotions productively; this approach usually leads to better results than anyone could have achieved alone irrespective of the person’s position in the company.
Conflict is inevitable wherever people work together. Instead of seeing conflict negatively, managers should recognise it as an opportunity to take a fresh look at habitual ways of thinking and acting in the company. The very process of working through a conflict to the resolution stage strengthens the team and promotes cohesiveness. Corporate leaders need to assess critically the issues that bring about conflict and endeavour to direct human energies so that the entire team moves forward in the same direction. They can apply EI skills to harmonise conflicting perspectives to enhance the probability of getting the best results from subordinates and preserve team spirit in the workplace.
Corporate success, in terms of top quality service delivery and profitability on a long-term basis, is the ultimate goal of every corporate organisation, especially for insurance companies with responsibility to manage risks and ameliorate the pains of clients who suffered loss in one form or another. Excellent service delivery is the key to sustainable good customer relationship in the highly professionalised world of insurance, as in other areas of human endeavour. From the foregoing, EI, which simply is the harnessing of emotional resources to achieve a particular purpose, is indispensable in the quest to remain ahead of competitors. All employees of insurance companies, from the CEOs down to security officers at the gate, need highly developed EI skills to function optimally for the overall success of these firms.