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Next Wave
Encouraging EI

Fostering emotional intelligence in coworkers will improve team success.
  • Carly Burnham
  • November 2019
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No matter your role, successful careers in insurance depend on relationships. Being able to assess the emotional intelligence of those you interact with will allow you to modify how you interact with them, and fostering emotional intelligence in your coworkers will improve the success of your team and serve as valuable professional development for those you influence.

How can you recognize emotional intelligence? The easiest characteristics to spot are empathy and social skills. To spot empathy, watch how your colleagues interact with you and others. Are they quick to escalate a conflict because they can't take another's perspective, or do they consider how others are feeling and use that knowledge to de-escalate or move towards a productive resolution? Social skills are generally easy to recognize. Individuals who are courteous and polite are readily noticeable. Is there a member of your team who can set anyone at ease or bring the team together to tackle a challenge? These are signs of strong social skills.

Self-awareness, self-management, and motivation are more difficult to assess since they are internal. If you are managing a team, consider having direct conversations with your reports about these three topics. If having a direct conversation is not practical, watch for hints in your colleagues' interactions. For example, if a colleague receives negative feedback and immediately deflects the criticism as invalid, there may be an issue with self-awareness or self-management. If, instead, they ask for clarification and look for opportunities to improve, you may be witnessing higher emotional intelligence.

Generally, individuals who get along with others but who are not blind to the challenges of working on a team have higher emotional intelligence. They will find creative solutions to overcome disagreements or personality conflicts, and they will regulate themselves as opposed to attempting to control others. However, they will not be passive; they will address conflict directly without being blunt or hurtful.

When you think of the best working relationships you've had, interactions with emotionally intelligent people likely come to the forefront of your mind. Here are three suggestions for encouraging this trait in fellow insurance professionals:

Be a role model. Use your understanding of emotional intelligence to model it for others. When you've had a tough day and failed at this, admit it (maybe just to yourself, maybe to trusted colleagues who witnessed your errors) and resolve to improve the next day.

Give positive feedback. If a colleague handles a challenging situation in a graceful manner, compliment or thank them. This can be even more impactful when you are part of the challenge. When I was underwriting, an agent sent me an account to review. Midway through, I realized there was a knockout factor that I should have noticed right away. I called the agent expecting him to be frustrated, but I owned my mistake. To my surprise, he took it in stride and thanked me for letting him know as soon as I realized my mistake. I thanked him for his grace, and to this day, I think highly of him.

Look for opportunities to educate. Share articles that tackle emotional intelligence with your team. Send them with a note that explains why you think the topic is important and how you think reading the article can help in day-to-day work. If your team does lunch-and-learns or something similar, volunteer to lead a session.

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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