EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IN HOTELS — AND BEYOND. Hospitality Thought leader Erich Steinbock Knows: The World needs Emotional Intelligence
Who Are you?
Officially retired since 2014 but don’t believe it. Five decades career in hospitality. Worked my way up to general manager and other leadership positions. Including casinos in Las Vegas and vice-president F&B Ritz Carlton. At the end of my career vice president Rosewood Hotels, and leading their Carlyle hotel, New York. Then Rosewood asked me to go to Arabia for them. I answered absolutely not. When I heard my honorarium I changed it into ‘what a challenge’. Vice president over seven of their regional hotels there.
I love teaching and have more time for it now. I do so both at hotel schools and business schools, including sometimes Harvard Business School. At SHMS, Lausanne I teach since 2013: operational management and leadership, concept development and emotional intelligence. My heart reaches out to the latest subject. Emotional Intelligence makes professionals more effective, while adding to the well-being of all involved. I visit and consult hotels on these matters. Also I teach at hotel.school, the new innovative online Swiss hotel school where you interviewed Jeroen Greven. I am a guy with a huge amount of practical knowledge but I am also a thorough academic with a PhD. That fortunate combination, I guess, is why so many schools continue to invite me.
What do you teach at hotel.school?
Innovative concept design, substantially based on the iconic book ‘The Myth of Excellence. Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best in Everything’ by Fred Crawford and Ryan Matthews, two Harvard professors. There are five leading dimensions which determine your success as a hotel: place, product, accessibility, service and experience. If you try to be the best in all five, you will certainly lose. Though of course, you always have to be competitive. The companies that understand on what dimension they want to excel as number one and go for it, have the best changes to succeed. You can apply this on hotels and casinos, restaurants and bars, Airbnb locations and airport lounges. We use a tool with a kaleidoscope of instrumental concept details — service style, use of material, window coverings, types of chairs and tables, back ground music, outdoor signage, menu design, signature items and many more. Then we find out what concept details work best to make you excel on the dimension of your preferred selection. It works — from steak houses over seafood to brasseries and way beyond. Recently we discovered that the ‘Instagrammability’ of a place is a new and solid concept detail leading to success.
Talking about Instagrammability. Recently we did a Cool Hospitalities Hunt with international students from EUHT Hotel school, Barcelona. They hunted a plethora of Cool Instagrammable places on four continents. It is a trend on the rise, fully matching with the lifestyles of Millennials and Generation Z.
But what about Emotional Intelligence?
The success of anybody in hospitality depends first and foremost on their emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to read one’s emotions and act accordingly in order to achieve one’s goals. It is both about reading your own emotions and reading other people’s emotions. It’s equally about self-awareness and self-management and about social awareness and social skills. These are the four pillars of Daniel Goleman epic book about the subject: “Emotional Intelligence. Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Sometimes a difference is made between emotional intelligence and social intelligence. Emotional intelligence is than more ‘inward looking’: intra. Social intelligence is then more ‘outward looking’: inter.
Can you teach students, or other professionals, to become more emotionally intelligent? Can you train it?
Tricky question. There are good tools to measure emotional intelligence. I often work with the ‘Six Seconds’ tool. With this tool you assess which emotional competencies are weak and which are strong in a person. There are eight hierarchical competences identified. 1. Are you able to identify feelings and emotions? 2. Are you able to describe and communicate them? 3. Are you able to recognize patterns in your feelings and emotions? 4. Can you apply consequential thinking to them? That is: Can you recognize that your feelings and emotions are linked to certain actions? 5. Can you recognize good and bad regarding these actions? There are no good and bad emotions or feelings, but when you translate them into actions, the ability to discern good and bad is a sign of emotional intelligence. 6. Can you navigate your emotions: use them to your benefit? 7. Do you recognize intrinsic and external motivations? Do you do things because you really like them (intrinsic) or because of external rewards, like money or prestige (external)? 7. Are you able to exercise optimism? Are you a ‘there is always a way out if this mess’-person? Or are you a ‘we have the live with it’-person. 8. Are you able to feel empathy and, highest level: compassion.
These kinds of assessments are helpful for everyone. Knowing how you relate to them is good but not the same as integrating them more solidly in your behavior and lifestyle. In that respect knowing is of less help. Exercising them is way more important.
We recently finished a research on the Future of Work. There is a huge divide looming on Planet Work. Those who have computers on their side, work with them, get empowered by them or write software for them have a nice chance to blossom. Those who compete against computers, can be taken over by them will lose. Having said that, those jobs that thrive on unique human qualities like emotional intelligence and empathy — empathy workers, we call them — have a bright future too, as computers and robots will not take their jobs over anytime soon.
That’s where hotel schools come in. Ideally speaking they ‘produce’ empathy workers. Empathy is an essential part of being hospitable. There are three different steps in empathy. First, you have to be get out of your own shoes and into other people’s shoes. When an expertized manager wants to help a new intern and start with the sentence ‘when I was your age’, that manager is still in his own shoes, not in the shoes of the other. 2. Second, you should understand how people feel, actually feel. That means seriously leaving your own shoes — and applying emotional intelligence. 3. The third and highest step of empathy is compassion: understanding how people feel and then help them finding solutions that work for them in their shoes, not per se for you in yours. You can reach it all, when you first listen, listen carefully. Listening can be one of the most powerful forms of compassion.
Is our collective capacity for empathy in decline now than we are so firmly surrounded by technologies?
We don’t look at people as much as former generations did. We look at their websites and profiles. When I teach I used to use power points, like almost all of us. Once upon a time, the computer broke down and I had to perform without my slides. Actually, it improved the class’ engagement. The students watched me, not my slides and the result was: more communication. Of course, this doesn’t mean that power points are worthless, but I hardly use them anymore in class. We often underestimate how deep & subtle technology can reduce the human touch. With Artificial Intelligence on the rise I this will happen even more. We will talk even less to each other; our cell phone will take over even more. This has deep consequences for hotel managers — mainly uncharted yet. Their jobs are centered around the human touch.
Of course, technology can be an efficiency blessing as well. At the airport I prefer a kiosk check-in above the huma touch experience for sure. An empathic hotel staff member must develop the emotional intelligence to assess whether a guest is in for a human touch moment or wants to be left alone with technology-only support.
Hotels are front-runners when it comes to customer journey touch points research. How to integrate the dimension of emotional intelligence in it?
Emotional intelligence should play its role in many of a hotel’s touch points, of course. It’s what hospitality is all about. This also means that hotel’s touch points can never be taken for granted or fully standardized. They must be allowed liveliness. They grow with new impulses. I, for instance, am impressed by Marriot’s research on the exhale moment when people have entered the hotel. It’s the moment when all stress & pressure leaves you because you realize that everything is all right and functioning: everything is in place, the wifi functions smoothly, there is an ironing machine in the cupboard — important exhale ingredient for many a business person. Hotels must aim to give their guests the exhale moment as soon as possible — meticulously and systematically. Of course, the exhale moment ingredients are different for a business person, a family with young kids or an exhausted forty something.
Technologies of course can smoothen the exhale moment, which is good. But also at these ‘high tech’ moments you often can add value with human emotional intelligence. Suppose you see a guest struggling with his cell phone and the wifi. Of course, staff can fix it for the guest. But you can also gently teach them to do it himself. That empowers and therefore is, generally speaking, the more intelligent approach.
How should hotel school adapt to this new century, wrapped in technologies
There is a kind of divide emanating from hotel education planet. There are the schools that really educate for jobs in hotels. Working on student’s emotional intelligent hospitality DNA is at their educational heart. At the same time, a growing amount of other hotel schools are evolving direction business school. Many students of Cornell, the biggest one in the USA, don’t find their jobs in hotels anymore, but in general business, even in ict. So the first question a hotel school must ask: What kind of school do I want to be and what kind of students do I attract and recruit? There can be an unexplored mismatch there. When you attract students with high quality empathy DNA and a desire for working in hotels, then you curriculum must adapt to them. When you recruit students with a more general business DNA they will not warm up to the idea to involve themselves thoroughly in hotel operations on the ground, simply wishing to become general manager asap, or leaving the hotel industry entirely. These students and schools need another curriculum to flourish.
If you want to be in contact with thought leader Erich Steinbock , please email [email protected]