Emotional Intelligence in PR: Critical for Business Conduct

Historical Wounds

After the traumatic events of the past two weeks, several corporates are asking: how did we get here? The economic maelström brought out the beasts in them for sure! Crises of this nature find most organisations, and indeed their leaders, lacking emotional intelligence.

Apart from the shocking price increases some shops were closing down, lamely claiming to have done so for stock taking (mid-month!) or renovations. Never mind the devastating emotional impact on faithful customers.

As shoppers dealt with the shock and tried to cope with the situation, it became clear that when the chips are down, business loses all compassion.

It brought back bitter memories of 2008 when corporates turned vampires, and preyed on consumers’ desperation to get basics that were fast disappearing from the shelves. I wrote an article at the time, saying that consumers had the gift of having long memories- and they would use it.


The Challenge

Predictably, when the situation normalised, some big brands struggled to regain their foothold on the market. Some even considered rebranding. Now it seems the lessons of that dark period are lost on today’s businesses.

Corporates sacrifice the reputation and image that they have painstakingly built over the years. Consumers get thrown under the bus, as the well-worn cliché goes.

The explanation is simple: the people running corporates lack emotional intelligence.


PR is People-Oriented

Now why should I be best qualified to make such a damning statement? For one, I am in public relations, a profession that by its very title means that we work with the people in mind. We are in a people-oriented field and our concern is about what people think, feel and say about brands they interact with.

PR practitioners put themselves in people’s shoes and then proffer people-driven solutions for clients who seek their service. They thrive on being the conscience of the organisation. Even when the bottom line is under threat.

The value of a reputation lies in the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something. It’s the overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general.

Organizations, particularly in a crisis, have found that principles of honesty, integrity, openness, trust, respect, and empathy make for healthy relationships and result in sound, long-term relationships.

We tap into these to nurture sound relationships between an organization and its various publics. Public relations, simply put, is about human relations and relationships. People are emotional beings- a quality that eludes most animals. So in PR, we deal with these emotions.


Emotional Intelligence Defined

Daniel Goleman, the man who fashioned and popularised the term ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ says that it\’s all about relationships.

“It\’s also about the ability to understand how someone else thinks about things and to put things in a way that makes sense of how they see the world,” Goleman says. Emotional Intelligence sets the moral compass of a person, a leader and an organisation.


Emotional Intelligence in PR

Public relations is about organisations and people being pro-active in nurturing and maintaining positive relationships with others. It is the solid basis of good business practice. PR is also about managing perceptions, with the knowledge that these are born out of emotions.

It is such emotions that were at play when businesses threw caution to the wind, behaving without compassion. They were brazen, in-your-face and bordered on committing high treason.

One social media pundit even said that if the government landed on these businesses hard for unethical practice, they would have brought it upon themselves. Businesses are wary of being labelled economic saboteurs.

Emotional Intelligence is about reading the mood of your publics, government included. Business ethical practice is about openness, sincerity, and honesty. Customers want trustworthiness, and a service provider that has genuine regard for them and that truly listens and won over more.

The other aspect is about being proactive in doing the right thing. Retail giants Pick N Pay and OK supermarkets, did so and have earned the respect of their customers.

The retailers that shut their doors in the faces of their customers will sing the blues. No amount of fire-fighting will change the negative perceptions about how they left people high and dry for selfish reasons.

The emotionally intelligent businesses act with honesty, integrity, openness, trust, respect, and empathy. Those that are not act with contempt.


Effective Public Relations

There are eight principles of effective public relations that are directly related to competencies in emotional intelligence identified by Robert L Heath and W Timothy Coombs. They are to:

  • be community oriented
  • seek to put the best available information into play
  • carefully analyse the information that is in play, and invite analysis of the information
  • express evaluations, listen to others’ evaluations, and invite evaluations—genuine dialogue
  • seek outcomes that feature “win-win” alternatives
  • be open, candid, and honest
  • listen, give regard, and respond in ways that prove commitment not merely to defend a position but also to foster dialogue that can lead all interested parties to achieve a mutually satisfying, and beneficial outcome.
  • seek to establish mutually beneficial relationships


Understandably, the businesses might not have had the time nor the patience to consider any of these. If only they consulted PR professionals whose job is to counsel management on crisis communications and management.

Lenox Mhlanga is Lead Consultant with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants, and a thought leader in public relations. Contact him at lenox@magnacarta.co.zw

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