Women in the workforce hear it all the time: “You’re so emotional.” It’s a criticism levied at women (usually from men who are afraid to express their own feelings). The subtext is: “You’re too emotional to lead, to make levelheaded decisions, to be a grown-up.”
It’s infantilizing, damaging and, worst of all, aims at our core strength. Because our ability to feel, sense and manage our emotions is actually our superpower.
Women have a stronger drive than men to connect emotionally with other people, and that has both biological and social roots. We’ve evolved for and been trained all our lives to connect emotionally—and that ability is an asset with real economic value.
It’s what our realtor used to win our trust when my husband and I bought our house, for example, and it can be what you use to attract customers who are thrilled to work with you and pay you well for the value you add to their lives. To do that, you need to leverage your emotional intelligence in a cornerstone of entrepreneurial life: sales.
Specifically, within the new model of sales for which women are primed for success. In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to amplify your empathy and apply your innate emotional intelligence to sell more and forge lasting customer connections.
Emotional intelligence and the old and new art of sales
We’re all living in a messy, in-between moment when the old way and the new way of doing sales coexist. In comparing the two, the one thing that sets them apart—emotional intelligence—becomes impossible to ignore.
When it’s missing, salespeople tend to do whatever it takes, such as reaching out blindly to prospects using mass cold calls and other aggressive, impersonal tactics. They ignore or push past objections, sticking to a script, and try to talk the other person into saying yes.
The new way, in contrast, puts emotional intelligence at the center of everything that happens in the sales process. As a seller, your primary aim is to understand the customer’s needs or problems, and you do that by listening—not just to respond, but to understand.
You get out of your own head and into the customer’s by paying attention not only to what they’re saying, but also how they’re saying it. Your focus, instead of being on expressing yourself, is on serving the other person, which is what women are socialized to do. This emotionally informed sales process works better and feels better for everyone.
Empathy is essential
Empathy, which is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling, is a crucial piece of emotional intelligence. It involves not only reading someone else’s emotions but also sharing them. To build and maintain your customers’ trust, it’s essential that your customers see that you genuinely care about them.
Let’s look at my fitness coaching business as an example. My ideal customer was a woman who wanted to take control of her health and her body image but couldn’t do it alone. Before she found me on Instagram, she was feeling pretty crappy about her body. She probably experienced anxiety about her health, confusion about what to eat and how to exercise, and shame for not living up to her aspirations in these areas.
That is not the headspace of someone who’s ready to shell out serious money for high-end fitness coaching and dive into the program with unstoppable enthusiasm. To be ready to buy, she needed to feel convinced that her problem was solvable, excited that I had the right solution for her, and confident that with my help, she would be capable of producing the results she wanted. My job was to lead her down that path from anxiety and self-doubt to trust and self-empowerment—to show her that I empathized, and genuinely care.
The best news: As a woman, you already have an advantage. Because research shows that women generally tend to demonstrate greater empathy than men.
How to strengthen your empathy
OK, you’re thinking, I’m a woman, but sales still freak me out. What if my feeling-with-others tools are a little rusty? Intentional practice can strengthen your empathy and keep it top of mind. Incorporate these into your everyday life to amplify your empathy:
Talk to new people. Invite a casual acquaintance out to lunch to get to know them better or strike up a conversation with that neighbor you always wave to but have never actually met.
Practice curiosity. In every conversation, make curiosity your highest priority. Go beyond the usual small talk with deeper questions that provoke more intimate, genuine dialogue. Follow that up with great listening.
Try out a different life. Get out of your comfort zone and try on a new outlook by doing things outside your normal routine, which can open your mind to the ways other people’s lives and views are different from yours. Start by traveling to a new place. Do something you’ve never done before, like playing a new sport. Read books about people who are unlike you.
If you do a few of these things every day, you’ll quickly notice your instinct for empathy becoming stronger.
Managing your emotions during the sales process
Empathy is just one piece of emotional intelligence you’ll need to master sales. Another is managing emotions. That’s the skill that will allow you to disconnect your ego from the result of the sale, and meet your customer where they are.
If you’re emotionally hung up on whether you’ll get a yes or a no, there’s no way you’ll be able to listen with empathy and adapt your response according to the customer’s needs. You’ll end up interpreting every objection, question or refusal as a personal attack, and that can leave you feeling nervous, angry or dejected. With those emotions in the room, you’d be amazed at how quickly the sales process can unravel.
There’s an easy perspective shift that solves this problem immediately: The sale isn’t about you at all—it’s about the customer. If you’re thinking too much about yourself, you’ll get stuck in your head when you really need to be in their head. They need you to help them solve a problem, so the more you focus on listening to them and showing them how your solution will improve their problem, the easier it will be to take your ego out of the equation.
For my students who have trouble managing their emotions during sales conversations, I recommend using practices like affirmations, mantras and meditation to get in the right mindset. During the conversation, check in with yourself occasionally and ask who you’re paying attention to, yourself or the other person. If you apply these simple practices regularly, pretty soon you’ll approach every sales conversation with excitement and a sense of possibility.
Mirroring your customer
Once your ego is in check, you need to meet your customer where they are emotionally. Mismatched vibes are uncomfortable. Just imagine, if you were a woman on a mission ready to get the job done and the salesperson was the definition of zen. Would you think she was the right person to help you?
You want your customer to feel you’re on the same wavelength. So, mirror their emotional state and energy level at the start of the sales conversation. This will make them more open to following as you guide them toward the emotional state you want them to be in.
That’s not to say if someone comes to you frustrated, you mirror that and spend the entire conversation feeding each other’s annoyance. Instead, show that you get their frustration, then lead them toward relief by explaining how you can solve their irritating problem.
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Paying attention, every day
I hope you’ve realized that if you pay close attention to this crucial skill set, you can strengthen it just by going about your daily life. No need to set aside time to practice, meditate or reflect.
Just keep doing what you do—working, studying, shopping, playing, socializing, caring for others—but with a more conscious awareness of the emotions in and around you. Who’s feeling what? How can you tell? How can you make them feel better and strengthen their connection with you?
Cultivating your emotional intelligence is good for all your relationships, but pay special attention to how it affects business interactions. As a customer, when have you felt thrilled about a purchase? Underwhelmed? Now, whenever you buy something, notice those feelings and try to identify where they come from.
This deliberate practice and heightened awareness will strengthen your emotional intelligence, and soon you’ll feel like you can almost read your customers’ minds. You’ll empathize, mirror them and create lasting connections that will serve you, your brand and, most importantly, your customers, for the life of your business.
Adapted from Karrie Brady’s book, “Don’t Settle for a Seat.”
Originally published Nov. 1, 2021.