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How Emotional Intelligence Improved My Data Analysis Skills


As a business management graduate working for a digital marketing agency, I often ask myself “how is my degree offering me real value?” When most of my days are spent staring at a data-filled computer screen or discussing data with clients, it can be difficult to see where my education comes into play. Sure, the ability to understand a client’s business model and their competitive advantages and disadvantages helps me to communicate more confidently and effectively. But here is the cold, hard truth. When some of my clients’ companies generate over $100 million in annual revenue, do they really care what a graduate thinks about their business model? Not likely…

How then, can my management degree help me analyze mountains of data and generate meaningful reports when most of my learning consisted of conflict management and principles of emotional intelligence? Can my understanding and application of emotional intelligence make me a better data analyst?

data analyst skills

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically” (Google Dictionary). Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in brain and behavioral sciences, wrote on the topic of emotional intelligence in his 1995 best seller, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” In his book, Goleman outlines five emotional intelligence principles: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skills. So how did emotional intelligence help me improve in my role as a data analyst?

Improving My Data Reporting and Analysis:

By utilizing Empathy, I understand what data my client cares about most.

The first principle I apply to my data analysis is empathy. Empathy helps me to highlight the data points my clients care about most, even if they haven’t expressly told me as much. You see, sometimes a client has a limited understanding of marketing strategies; Some are small business owners who already have too much on their plate, and they’ve hired me to handle their data because they simply don’t have the time. Others know how to communicate with the most interested customers in their market, but aren’t confident in translating data into fresh opportunities. Knowing that some of my clients understand little about digital performance metrics could entice me to only share superficial information like sessions, new users, bounce rates, etc. While those are important metrics, reporting them alone might not provide valuable insights to my clients. For example, if a client’s number one business goal is to have the most seamless online shopping experience, I may report on average page load times, add-to-cart rates, abandon-cart rates, conversion paths, etc. Though some of this information might be new to them and require some additional explanation, ultimately, this will help them reach their business goals.

By utilizing Social Skills, I communicate “hard data” effectively to my clients.

Let’s be honest, some weeks or months worth of data are not going to look so good. As a data analyst who reports on his findings to clients, I’ve found myself in situations where I have to be the bearer of bad news. Being able to communicate, genuinely and sincerely, ownership of the data has helped me in many client meetings. This isn’t to say that we assume responsibility for everything — user behavior can be unpredictable and therefore, out of our control — nor does it mean that we deflect the bad and ascribe the good. A data analyst should be a good communicator, which means finding the balance between ownership and good-will efforts.

By utilizing Motivation, I’m always improving the reports I create for my clients.

As an advocate for continued improvement, I’m always looking for ways to report on new and insightful data to help my clients feel the value we’re offering. Telling an informative, useful story through my reports is at the heart of what I do. Reports should never be left to explain themselves, but my reports are always designed to stand on their own, just in case the client wants to review them alone or share with others. This is possible because my reports tell a story and explain the data.

data reporting and analysis

To improve my reporting, I try to put myself in the clients’ shoes. “If I were responsible for this company, would I find this report helpful/useful?” If the answer is no, then I work on the report until that changes. My relationship with my clients is perhaps the most helpful insight in this scenario, as our discussions often inform me of what is most important to them. Yet, in other cases, my clients might not understand their business goals or how to reach them. Either way, striving to offer the best product possible — in my case, my reports — will always be a win for me and my clients.

The Verdict

While data analysts may historically or presently be perceived as fulfillment drones, I believe that the best data analysts are those who understand and apply emotional intelligence principles in their daily work and that the best marketing agencies are those who hire these emotionally intelligent individuals. Whether you’re an extrovert feeling trapped behind blankets of data with no idea how to best use your interpersonal skills or you’re an introvert finding it difficult to confidently share your insights with clients/peers/superiors, study and apply the principles of emotional intelligence. It will make you a better data analyst. Fortunately, these principles are not innate and can be learned and applied. It only takes practice.