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Emotional Intelligence

The Chimp Paradox

Leaders in recent times have come to be judged not only by their Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but also their Emotional Quotient (EQ), also known as Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is how well you can use emotion in your leadership style. Therefore, we must assess both IQ and EQ when trying to determine what makes an outstanding sales manager.

The Wikipedia definition of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

If you have high Emotional Intelligence, you are able to recognise your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships and achieve greater success at work.

The aim of all management – including sales management – should be to win both the hearts and minds of your people. If and when you achieve this, you will be able to tap into that ‘discretionary’ effort that we are all in search of as managers. All your team know with their rational minds that they need to show up for work, do their job, get paid at the end of the month and pay their bills – and they will put in the amount of effort they feel is necessary to achieve that. However, those whose hearts are engaged in their work go above and beyond, put in the extra time, truly care about their job and take real personal responsibility for their own success. Once you have won both hearts and minds, the management job becomes a lot easier.

For a manager to achieve this it means you need to use both your heart and your mind in your leadership style. Do not conclude from this that you should be an emotional manager – quite the opposite. What I mean is that you should be sensitive to others’ emotions and honest with your own. You must not consider your salespeople as a commodity that exist between 9am and 5pm to carry out certain tasks. After all, your people are there to work for the things they enjoy outside of work, so if you engage with the whole person, you are likely to gain better loyalty and engagement inside the workplace. Being sensitive to all the emotional indicators that a person can display is imperative in order to maintain high performance. I don’t think any team members I have had, past or present, are confused about my need to do my job and meet business objectives – but this can be done in a sensitive way while caring about individuals.

The most interesting book that has helped me with this in recent times is The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters. In his book, Peters proposes that each person has three parts to their brains.

  1. The chimp, whose primary motivator is survival. Driven by feeling, impressions, emotional thinking and gut instincts, it defends when attacked, quickly jumps to opinions and thinks in black and white terms. It can be paranoid and its behaviour can be catastrophic, irrational and emotive. We all have an inner chimp.
  2. The human brain is used for higher cognitive functions such as speech and logical reasoning. It is rational, evidence-based, thinks in shades of grey and operates a balanced judgement. It is driven by self-fulfilment, i.e. having a real, greater purpose in life rather than the moment-to-moment survival instinct of the chimp – it sees the bigger picture and is more circumspect.
  3. The computer which is our subconscious and stores all previous experiences, which can affect how we react to things.

In an ideal world, everybody would have the human part of their brain guiding them all times, making their behaviour predictable, rational and calm. However, in reality, all of our chimps do reveal themselves sometimes (e.g. during road rage), and the key to management is knowing and recognising in your team what their indicators are saying. If you try to reason with a chimp, the chances are that your own chimp will be awoken – and we have all seen how that ends. The best thing to do is to wait for the chimp to wear itself out and the human to return – only ever try and converse with the human.

In sales, the chimp often comes out first. For example, if a conflict arises and the salesperson feels as if one of their accounts is threatened, their immediate reaction would be to become very defensive and emotional and to attack the potential source of the threat. If this happens, allow the chimp to react; let him beat his chest, and he will eventually run out of energy and the human will return. You can then rationally talk through the conflict, the options and agree a way forward.

I have actually given copies of Peters’ book to my team before so that they can gain an understanding of this rationale, which means that the next time I get an irate chimp on the end of the phone, we can both recognise it and laugh about it. I can then say, “I understand you are threatened by this, your chimp is freaking out – that’s normal. Let’s leave him to have his moment and talk about it again in the morning.”

As a leader there is nothing to be gained from showing that you don’t have your emotions under control; it unnerves the team and can erode trust and respect. It is better to not react than to overreact, as it is hard to come back from an overreaction. If you become aware that your chimp has taken over your brain, remove yourself from the situation until logic returns.

All elite sportspeople invest time on the psychological aspect of their performance (NB the author of The Chimp Paradox was the leading Sports psychologist to the 2012 GB Cycling Team), and I often think it is a shame that there is not more focus on it in the business world. I do believe that if we become masters of mind management as well as financial management, then we could see a new level of high performance in ourselves and our teams.

Emotional Intelligence is key for sales management. If you would like to understand more about how you could improve your leadership style and get more out of your salesforce through the use of EI, then please click here or contact us.

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