Leadership is the art of getting things done through people. Nowhere is this more in the spotlight than in service or retail. That is why learning about and managing our emotions and learning to relate and empathize with the emotions of others – without personalizing them – is a vital skill for emotionally intelligent service. This begins with you, the leader.
Neuroscience is proving that emotions are contagious and flow most powerfully from those in the spotlight.
Researcher and author, Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues describe emotional contagion as primitive, automatic and unconscious behavior. According to their research, when a receiver is interacting with a sender, he perceives the emotional expressions of the sender. The receiver automatically mimics those emotional expressions.
Another researcher, Vittorio Gallese, explains that mirror neurons are responsible for how we tune into and mirror the emotional cues from others.
All neuroscience aside, the old saying, “the pace of the leader is the pace of the pack” makes perfect sense. What you do as a leader is mimicked and what you express emotionally as a leader either influences or infects those around you.
If employees can “catch” the emotions of the leader, can your guests and customers also “catch” the emotions of your line leaders? Yes!
Wouldn’t you prefer that your employees lead with emotional intelligence?
For those wondering, here is a basic primer for emotionally intelligent service leaders:
- The ability to identify your and others’ emotions.
- The ability to harness those emotions and think differently to solve problems.
- The ability to manage your and others’ emotions and influence others to cheer up or calm down.
Research has shown that the emotional state of the customer is directly influenced by the emotions displayed by the employee/service provider via emotional contagion.
In hospitality and retail service, most successful employees are somewhat natural at curbing negative feelings, sensing how others are feeling, collaborating with others, and promoting motivation and engagement in self and others.
Interestingly, the influence on the customer is dependent on the authenticity of the employee’s emotional display. So, if the employee goes through the motions and “acts” the part such as using canned brand phrases or perky-voiced (albeit fake) welcomes, the customer picks up on that and the influence of service is really diminished.
That’s why it pays off to do the emotional work to be a “walking mood inductor” (a phrase coined by Sigal Barsade, a Wharton professor).
Here are 5 Tips that will pay off handsomely in your own leadership and emotional contagion:
1. Notice and identify your emotions.
Physical sensations are usually the first clue. Do you feel your face flush, hands sweat, heart pound, gut clench, shoulders hunch. What are your clues? When you can name the emotion, many times the knee-jerk need to react subsides.
2. Dig to find out where those emotions are coming from – are they yours or were you affected by someone else’s emotions?
You just as easily could have “caught” the emotions of another person. Ask yourself some questions about your current state. Does it match the circumstances? Are you expressing an emotion and don’t know why?
3. Do what you can to lift your emotions.
Try gratitude check in, physical movement, music, meditation, reaching out to friendly voice, breathing deeply.
4. Understand the difference between empathy and enabling (doing or feeling for or making excuses for another).
Heart-felt service begins and ends with empathy – the ability to understand and relate to what the other person is feeling or experiencing. Be careful not to tip over to enabling by taking on the mood of emotions of the other person’s as your own.
5. Protect your Mindset versus Retaliate.
Even with the most difficult service situation, you have the power over what you think and how you act. Take a deep breath, forgive the other person and be happy that you are who you are today.
Leaders, practice these five steps and then support your front line leaders to practice them, too. Your emotional balance will trickle down from you to your employees. You will reap the benefits when your customer perceives your company through the lens of your line level leader.
Remember, it all starts with you!