The Power of Emotional Intelligence & How You Can Learn It With Sandra Thompson

AskNicely Team

In February 2022, hundreds of leaders from service businesses across the world gathered together online to take part in the Global Frontline Experience Summit, an event we are delighted to sponsor and host again after its hugely successful first run in 2020. It was a phenomenal event with a contagious heaping of inspiration, excitement and possibility for anyone working in the customer experience and frontline service space. 

If you missed the summit, brought to you by our Frontline Magic Community don't worry! All of the‍ sessions are available right here, and are just as powerful the second time around.

Intelligence without emotion is like pancakes without syrup. While they might give you some energy, they’re dry, unenjoyable and most definitely missing some sweetness. You could be the most intelligent manager in the world, but if you don’t have the emotional wit to go alongside it, you’ll find it extremely difficult to build trusting, meaningful relationships with both your employees and your customers. 

Here to teach us all about emotional intelligence is Sandra Thompson: she is the first Goleman Emotional Intelligence coach in the UK, TedX speaker, and educator on all things customer experience. Starting out as a customer experience consultant, Sandra has worked her way up with a strong belief that customer experiences and life-long learning are better designed, delivered and improved with the support of neuroscience, behavioral science and psychology. 

Blooming Customer Service 

First, it’s storytime with Sandra. Sandra opens her presentation by telling the story of a man who forgot to buy flowers for his wife. It’s the story of an employee at a flower shop that went above and beyond to provide the best customer experience and in doing so, saved a panicked man from a future upset wife. 

The man, let’s call him Steve, rang up the flower shop in a panic because he'd forgotten his wedding anniversary… again. Now, what can be done in this situation? Is Steve doomed, or is there a saving grace?

Luckily, the florist had a bunch of good ideas. Despite having closed for the day, the florist says calmly “No problem sir. We can certainly sort out something for you”. With this reassurance coming from the florist, Steve starts to regain his breath. 

The florist was unable to arrange the flowers from their shop that evening - delivery drivers had gone home and new stock wouldn’t arrive until the following day. Instead of saying no, the florist took the following steps:  

  1. She explains that it wasn't the first time something like this happened= shows empathy.

  2. I could get in touch with another florist that is around the corner”=  shows a solution.

  3. I could call your wife and say there’s been a misunderstanding” convincing Steve’s partner it was the shop's fault and not her husbands = Not an ideal situation (but still a solution). 

Sandra explains how the client expressed his gratitude: “I'm really grateful that you would do that for me. You don't know me, I haven't been a customer before, but this is really quite extraordinary”. 

The florist went above and beyond to solve Steve’s issue. However, Steve was blown away when the employee offered offered him a long term solution to his forgetfulness, saying “if you like the flowers that I sent let's get all those dates in the diary, lets sort of the weddings, perhaps the anniversaries, the birthdays, and let's take that from you”. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Sandra would call exceptional customer service and showing “emotional intelligence”. The employee not only empathized with the client, but she went out of her way to solve the root of his problem. 

What Exactly is Emotional Intelligence? 

To understand how emotional intelligence is present in the workplace and why it's so important, Sandra explains the concept itself first. So what exactly is emotional intelligence? 

“It’s about how I recognize and understand the emotion in myself in order to recognize and understand the emotion in others”. 

Being emotionally intelligent means having the capacity to 1. Understand and 2. Manage your emotions. 


How are you supposed to know how others feel, if you don’t know how you feel? 

Self-awareness is about knowing what you like and knowing what you need. It's understanding your strengths and weaknesses and accepting and working with them. But sometimes, feelings are complicated, even if they are your own, which is why it’s important for people to understand themselves before they even attempt to understand others. 

Improving your self-awareness can reduce stress, improve your relationships, and of course help you gain a better understanding of yourself. Sandra mentions a Harvard Business Review study where you see the 12 competencies of emotional intelligence, in which self-awareness is number one

“Self-awareness is very much about checking in with how you are feeling, making sense of the emotions you're feeling”. 

Being self-aware at work is understanding that your emotions have a high impact on how you respond in different situations. So think about what would have happened if the florist wasn’t self-aware: she wouldn't have been able to know (cognitively) how the man was feeling, because she wouldn't be able to empathize (emotionally) with his situation. 

She wouldn't have been driven to act (motivation) because she wouldn't have been able to think on her feet and come up with a viable solution, if anything she would have been panicking too! And it would have resulted in a very tragic ending to the story: one with a very upset wife. 

Self awareness? Check. What’s next? 

The Three Levels of Empathy 

Just like intelligence, empathy is also a specific mental ability. The empathy sandwich is made up of three layers: 

  1. Cognitive “I think I can work out how someone’s feeling”
  2. Emotional “I think I might feel how that person is feeling”
  3. Motivation “I’m sensing something here and I'm driven to act”

“Now the interesting thing about customer experience in totality is that when we get to that level of empathy, we can make a massive difference”. 

Emotional Intelligence as a Moneymaker?

Teaching emotional intelligence in the workplace creates a more meaningful experience for both employees and customers, which in itself is a reason to focus on it. The bonus? More money! 90% of employees that are top performers have high scores of emotional intelligence. Sandra explains how the grass can be greener for everyone who jumps on the emotional intelligence train. 

“People who practice the skill of emotional intelligence make more money”

Sandra points out some of the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace:

  • People make more money for themselves and their businesses 
  • People can charge higher rates 
  • People are promoted more often
  • People have less stress 

“Think about the last time you had an emotional connection with someone who you were dealing with when you were buying something..those people who emotionally connect with you are the ones who are able to solve problems faster”

The bottom line is that emotional intelligence makes workplaces more money, makes employees happier, and creates satisfied customers. It’s a win-win, win situation. 

Emotions Drive Behavior, Behavior Drives Emotion

Sandra makes us think about the last time we had a really bad boss… or a really good boss. What did they have in common? Their emotion created behavior in you, whether it was loving coming to work, or dreading it. The workplace is an emotional place, which is why it’s so crucial for employees to know how to handle and use their emotions to their advantage. 

Let’s get science-ey

Sandra shows us a model of the brain and points out the amygdala: the almond size part of the brain.

“The amazing thing about this is that it helps us survive… It can perceive threats and it can help us make decisions to save our lives”. 

The amygdala drives the part of your brain that helps regulate emotion and drives the so-called ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. Now, while the workplace isn’t exactly a matter of life or death like the jungle, the amygdala doesn’t know the difference between a predator and an angry customer, so it doesn't know how to react. So what happens when you get yelled at by your boss or receive an angry call from a customer? Your brain can freeze, fight back, protect itself, and before you know it you're yelling back at your boss or arguing with your coworkers. The amygdala can hijack your executive center and make people do things without thinking and ultimately decisions they can regret. On the brighter side, practicing emotional intelligence can help your amygdala stay cool.

So what now?

While emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that can be learnt, it is also a life choice. Closing her presentation, Sandra has proven that we don't have to all be mind readers or call a psychic to understand others and do our jobs better because this is where emotional intelligence comes in. 

Sandra ends her presentation with a little bit of optimism, saying “you can really concentrate on managing your emotions each day if you do simple things like breathe” and wishes us all the best with our brains. 

So hopefully by now, you understand what emotional intelligence is and why it's a must-have skill in the workplace.

To recap, let's look at some of the benefits of emotional intelligence:

  • You can make more money 
  • Improve your health- reduce stress 
  • Get promoted more often 
  • Created quality relationships with others 
  • Regulate your amygdala 
  • Take care of your brain!

Let's give a HUGE virtual round of applause to Sandra for her incredible presentation. So. Many. Good. Insights. 

Want to see more presentations from the Global Frontline Experience Summit? We’ll be releasing blogs every week diving into all the juicy insights from our incredible lineup of speakers. In the meantime, you can join the Frontline Magic Community to receive updates, frontline news and more

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

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