Dale serves as fitness director of a personal training department near Toronto, and also maintains a loyal base of personal training clients. In addition, he has recently launched his own online personal training and fitness coaching business, CANDOlife. You can e-mail sign up for a free newsletter on his Web site or e-mail him at dale@candolife.com.

By Dale Andrew

As a fitness professional, I am always amazed at the different people that I get to meet each day. Many have attained a high level of success in their chosen careers, and I try to learn as much as possible from them whenever I can. When one of my training clients attributed his business success to something called “EI,” my ears perked up. Perhaps, my high level of interest stemmed from the source: This client also happens to be a successful business owner with franchises in more than 50 different locations. I don’t know about you, but I certainly felt that I could learn a thing or two from a person like that, so I made an effort to learn more about emotional intelligence (EI).

In the past, emotions were often assumed to be an obstacle to good decision-making, and thought to impair focus. However, over the past three decades, a growing body of research is proving otherwise. More recently, EI has been acknowledged as a key predictor of educational and corporate success. I was surprised to learn that many organizations, including the U.S. Air Force, PepsiCo, American Express, L’Oreal, 3M, MetLife, and Motorola, are now adopting EI practices into organizational development and human resources. It seems reasonable to assert that the benefits associated with increasing EI are also available to those working in the fitness industry.

What is EI? Despite some differences of opinion, most scholars and consultants share a common belief that there is a testable intelligence based on emotion. Scholars Peter Salovey and John “Jack” Mayer described EI as an ability, capacity, or skill to perceive or sense emotions, use emotions to assist thought, understand emotions, and manage the emotions of one’s self, others, and of groups.

Why Is EI important? The most successful people are not necessarily those with the highest IQs, but rather those with highly developed interpersonal and social skills. Whatever kind of organization you run, a primary measure of success will be the way your customers perceive you. Your organization’s ability to attract and retain customers is intimately tied to the kind of relationships that you create together. EI is at the core of these relationships. Step into your customer’s sneakers for a moment; how likely would you be to remain loyal to a company that seems uncaring, disinterested, unresponsive, or distant?

Are you still not sure if EI has any real-world applications for your fitness business? Well, perhaps the most important area of your business in which EI comes into play is sales—whether for a membership or a personal training package. As fitness sales expert Jim Labadie has noted on several occasions, “People buy for emotional reasons, not logical ones.” If you do not have the ability to perceive and investigate the emotional cues of your prospects or nurture and empathize with them, it is very unlikely that they will become paying clients. It is equally important for the person selling a service to manage his or her own emotions throughout the sales process. Just think about how you respond to an objection from a prospective client, or a complaint from an existing customer: Do you get defensive or upset? Does your energy level drop?

Seven simple ways to raise EI. For most of us, our EI remains dormant, untapped, or under-developed. As soon as you and your fitness business begin to invest more energy and attention to the way emotions are being used, you will experience rapid improvements in communication, trust, and accountability. While you may want to hire an EI consultant, you can begin improving your EI today by committing to these seven actions:

1. Practice optimism. Optimism is a learnable EI competency that is associated with increased motivation, higher achievement, plus significantly better physical and mental health. Where others see problems and obstacles, you will reframe it as an opportunity.

2. Practice self-awareness. The failure to develop self-awareness not only weakens your own motivation, but can also corrode your ability to inspire others.

3. Talk back to yourself. We all have the ability to choose thoughts that empower us and support our happiness and success. Whenever you feel an emotion, you should do everything that you can to seek to understand it. Why is it there? What does it mean? Is it helpful?

4. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Until you truly appreciate what you have, you will not get any more and you do not need more.

5. Increase your feeling word vocabulary. You must learn to recognize and express your emotions. For example, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” – you may say, “I’m alright.” Certainly, that’s an acceptable answer, but watch what happens when you begin you answer with the words “I feel.” While the first response walls off emotion, the latter brings it to the forefront.

6. Listen with your heart. When listening to others, validate their questions, be very nurturing and empathetic, and make an effort to connect with them on an emotional level.

7. Smile more. When you smile, your energy level goes up. Remember, energy is infectious, and as yours goes up, so will that of everyone around you.