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Emotional Intelligence for the Senior Living Professional Part 1: Awareness

September 06, 2018 by Sherpa

In anticipation of the 2018 Advanced Sales & Occupancy Summit, founded by late industry leader Tony Mullen, we at Sherpa wanted to tap into the thoughts of another industry leader, Juliana Wilhelm. Juliana is the Founder & President of the Capacity Leadership Center, an expert in training senior living leaders in emotional intelligence, or “EQ”, and will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Summit. For more information on Juliana and the Capacity Leadership Center, click here.

Emotional Intelligence for the Senior Living Professional
Part 1: Awareness

By Juliana Wilhelm

Let’s talk about a woman named Jennifer. Jennifer is 42 and married with two teenagers. Six months ago she and her family moved to Dallas for her husband’s new job, and Jennifer quickly found fulfilling work as a Leasing Counselor for a beautiful senior living community.

Today, Jennifer is meeting her prospect Mary for a home visit.

Mary is 82 and has lived in her home or over 30 years. It’s the home where her children were raised and where she made a life with her husband of nearly 60 years, before his passing last winter. Mary doesn’t want to leave her home but is also conscious of the increasing burden, both to herself and to her adult children, that comes with living alone.

As she sits on the porch with Mary, Jennifer asks about her concerns with moving, to which Mary responds, “Oh, you have a very nice facility, but I just don’t want to leave my home. It’s full of memories of my husband and children. I couldn’t bear to leave it.” Mary points across the yard. “You see that tree? My husband Fred planted that the day our youngest was born. I told him it would get too big for the front yard. But he didn’t listen, as you can see.”

Jennifer watches as a few leaves fall to the ground from the tree’s strong branches. And she smiles as Mary gently chuckles to herself, lost in the memory.

There are two responses that Jennifer could have to what Mary has just shared. If Jennifer lacks a certain awareness of her own emotional intelligence – or “EQ”, as in Emotional Quotient – she could respond to Mary with the typical response of answering her concerns with her community’s offerings. It may look something like this:

Jennifer begins to detail the great gardening program at her community and the many residents who enjoy it every day. She suggests Mary join the gardening club. Jennifer mentions the plethora of activities available to residents, and the many friendships that Mary would have with her fellow members. Mary’s adult children, and her grandchildren, could visit her anytime. The dining program is second to none. Mary wouldn’t have to lift a finger to clean her apartment. She could live a wonderfully pampered life.

Jennifer concludes her pitch with the financial viability of her community’s lifestyle, not even noticing that Mary has gone silent, distantly staring beyond her yard through misty-eyes. Mary thanks Jennifer for a pleasant visit, and Jennifer leaves confused as to why Mary wasn’t more enthusiastic about everything the senior living community had to offer.

Unfortunately, Jennifer’s emotionally unaware response to Mary’s very real concerns is the norm and not the exception. She had been trained in pitching her product but had never been trained in emotional intelligence – in becoming aware of her EQ.

Unlearning Our Automatic Responses

The good news that I have found as a trainer in EQ is that improving our own emotional intelligence can be as simple as “un-learning” the automatic product-driven responses that we’re conditioned to give and instead becoming more aware of our natural emotional responses. Why is EQ so important? First, our ability to guide our prospects toward making the decisions that are best for them is dramatically increased when a prospect feels heard and understood (see Boundaries for Leaders by psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud). Second, if you might be in tune with your emotions but unable to regulate them, you can create an unprofessional and unhelpful environment for your prospect.

For example, while Jennifer is listening to Mary talk about the idea of leaving her home, Jennifer would notice that she would naturally begin to feel and empathize with those emotions. Jennifer would remember that she also has had a recent change – moving to Dallas, an unfamiliar city, and having to start a new job and make new friends. She more than likely has some grief and sadness over the losses that are inherent within any move. If Jennifer doesn’t acknowledge, or is even unaware of this subconscious grief, she will be unable to truly empathize with Mary, who is a woman in need of empathy now more than ever.

But what if Jennifer was equipped with emotional intelligence skills and had EQ training? A second response to Mary’s concerns may have look something like this:

While listening to Mary’s shared memories, Jennifer begins to feel a certain sadness and her mind begins to wander to the backyard in her own family’s home and the swingset where her children played when they were little. Instead of feeling guilty for her own emotional aside, Mary validates her feelings and the emotional experience she is currently having. Like Mary, Jennifer too has left the home her children were raised in, and understands the pain that comes with change.

With emotional intelligence, Jennifer is able to tap into her feelings, validate them and join Mary in this emotion. Jennifer is now in a position to give an honest, empathetic response. “Mary,” she says, “it makes a lot of sense that you are having a hard time thinking of leaving your home. Tell me some stories about your children and their childhood here.” Jennifer just practiced emotional regulation, a big part of EQ.

After almost an hour of conversation, Jennifer leaves. She has no deposit from Mary for an apartment in her community. In fact, Jennifer never even brought up the apartment options once, nor did she list all of her facility’s exciting amenities. But she and Mary share a warm embrace and both women think fondly on their time together for the rest of the day.

The following week Mary’s daughter Heather calls to say that she’ll be dropping off a deposit soon. Mary has decided to move into Jennifer’s senior living community because, as Heather reports, “they have the nicest people there.”

What Exactly is EQ?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) was originally made popular in the business world by science journalist Daniel Goldman. All industries require a level of competence related to their specific field, and senior living is no different. Senior Living IQ might be labeled as knowledge of things such as state law regulations, nursing protocol, building safety, memory care needs, and of course your community’s wonderful amenities. But I would argue that EQ is just as necessary in our industry — possibly even more necessary then IQ.

EQ begins with self-awareness and the awareness of others, especially in how your words, actions and feelings can impact others. Here’s a graph that can be helpful to use when determining our own emotional awareness:

Adapted from Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998

Getting in Touch with Grief

An exercise I often utilize in my work with many senior living leaders at the Capacity Leadership Center is a Grief Walk. Grief is inherent in our industry and one of the best emotions to create empathy. Your sales teams must be able to empathize and validate a prospect’s grief and loss. In order to do that, they need to be aware of their own grief and loss. Exercises like Grief Walks – where sales teams spend time recalling their own grief in a systematic and incremental way, and then proactively discuss these losses with a trusted friend – can be key learning opportunities that help us metabolize the painful emotions we may feel. This is important for senior living professionals who wish to become emotional guides for their prospects’ journeys. Metabolizing our grief allows us to remain in connection to our emotions without becoming overly fueled by them. Jennifer was able to remain calm and share in Mary’s emotional response to moving without becoming the center of attention or making Mary feel awkward. Jennifer was aware of her grief and in tune with her emotions, which she had metabolized through her EQ training.

Understanding and learning EQ can be a rich and involved process, and we at the Capacity Leadership Center are passionate about this education. But you can get the best introduction to this idea by simply sharing a cup of coffee with the residents at your community. Note how much of the conversation will be laced with loss.

Imagine a community full of emotionally intelligent staff. The good news is that these skills can be taught, and events like Tony Mullen’s Advanced Sales & Occupancy Summit set the stage for an entire industry shaping a new culture for our elder adults. I am excited to speak there this November, and encourage anyone interested to register at www.mullensummit.com.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Emotional Intelligence for the Senior Living Professional: Burnout.


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