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How to Leverage Emotional Intelligence to Improve Your Empathy Provide encouragement and give credit where credit is due.

By Tom Popomaronis Edited by Heather Wilkerson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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We've all heard the Golden Rule. Treat others how you would like to be treated. But with all the chaos, violence, and hate spreading in today's world, it's easy to become hardened and forget that rule.

As an entrepreneur, it's important to understand and manage your own feelings in order to empathize with your co-workers, employees, and customers. Ninety-six percent of employees consider it important for employers to demonstrate empathy. However, an overwhelming 92 percent believe this trait is overlooked.

Do you realize your own strengths and weaknesses in the workplace? How do your emotions come across to others? Do you typically respond well to constructive criticism? How do you, in turn, deliver it? Empathy is one of those neglected soft skills, but it can have a big impact on how successful a business is run.

Related: The Future of Leadership is Empathy — And Companies Are Better for It

Put yourself in other people's shoes

A particularly upbeat and confident employee can experience something in their personal life that drastically alters their usually cheerful visage. Being quick to judge someone in a moment like this is perhaps one of the hardest things to combat as a human being.

That's when you should remember that decades-old saying your mother often reiterated to you as a child: Put yourself in their shoes. Sure, it would be much easier to berate them into explaining what's wrong. But showing a little empathy can go a long way.

Don't think of this as a business strategy. Think of this as a way to get to know your customers or employees. If there's one thing that's constant in the life of an entrepreneur, its that they are always surrounded by people.

Take the opportunity to get to know the people you're surrounding yourself with. Seeing things from their perspective will better help you understand their values and beliefs. Whether it's customers or employees, it's important they know their opinions and interests matter too.

Know your own tendencies to understand those of others

This is where emotional intelligence (EI) comes into the picture.

EI is the ability to understand and handle emotions in yourself and others. The necessary key to building EI is self-awareness. Studies show that people who have higher self-awareness are better leaders.

This means you can detect what you're feeling and why you're feeling it, to put it simply. It also means being realistic in recognizing the areas you're good at, plus areas that could use improvement. In turn, this helps you pick up on other people's emotional tendencies and empathize with them.

But it's important to remember that EI isn't about keeping your emotions bottled up — that will only result in a negative explosive reaction. It's about learning to identify and mentally process your emotions, while also being able to direct them in an appropriate manner.

During a recent phone conversation, Dr. Russell Surasky, New York's only triple board-certified neurologist, specializing in psychiatry and addiction medicine, commented, "It's important to be personally and genuinely invested in the success of your colleagues. Having true empathy for friends and co-workers goes a long way when motivating and engaging them. Emotional intelligence and true compassion forge the strongest and most loyal connections. Regardless of entrepreneurial niche, asking purposeful questions and actively listening to responses is the best way to demonstrate this intention."

It's also important to be on the alert for any outward signals, such as body language. Depending on the situation, this can tell you more about a person than they are willing to express out loud.

Related: Why More "Emotional Intelligence' Means More Money for Entrepreneurs

Emotional intelligence and empathy go hand in hand

Learning to stay cool, calm, and collected in a crisis isn't the easiest thing to ask of a person. It takes someone who has learned to master their emotions, not let their emotions master them. However, this can be confused with coming off as emotionless. You don't want to be known as the stoic, arrogant superior who reacts impassively to any and every situation.

To be an effective leader, it's important to use your EI to integrate empathy in how you deal with people. Relating to them on a personal level gives them a sense of belonging. Make them feel like they have a role to play. This doesn't mean using flattery and adulation. It simply means providing encouragement and giving credit where credit is due.

Why empathy in the workplace (really) matters

Studies have shown that job performance is effected positively when empathy is shown in the workplace. Leaders being able to relate to their customers or employees on a personal level is a crucial element in business. This leads to more effective communication, and as a result, a more successful business.

Working on developing your EI can be a huge help in showing empathy towards others. Knowing how to utilize your emotions so they can benefit your team does require some work.

There are a number of things in the workplace that can weigh you down: stress, deadlines, distractions, even personal matters. But mastering this soft yet powerful skill will have a big payoff in the end — both for you and your business.

Tom Popomaronis

Executive Vice President of Innovation at Massive Alliance

Tom Popomaronis is executive vice president of innovation at Massive Alliance, a global agency that provides executive-reputation management and leadership-branding services.

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