Ask for feedback: Self awareness is a huge marker for emotional intelligence and in order to become more self aware, asking for feedback is important. That’s why I ask for feedback from my spouse, colleagues, and friends. In business, it’s not uncommon for managers to do annual 360-degree feedback and reviews of employees, but what I’ve learned is that it’s just as important, if not more important, for managers to ask employees for a 360-degree review of themselves. This way, we can better assess where we stand as a leader.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hanieh Sigari.
Hanieh is an entrepreneur, biochemist, and anti-aging industry disruptor. Her holistic skincare brand, Qyral, is the culmination of a lifelong mission to improve lives and increase longevity. No stranger to entrepreneurship, Hanieh has the experience of driving 600% YoY growth with her healthcare startup and taking an e-commerce startup from zero to over 20M dollars in revenue over five years. Combining her business acumen, bioscience knowledge, and passion for empowerment, Qyral delivers far more than skincare. In addition to individualized, science-based products, the brand offers an opportunity for entrepreneurship. Following in the footsteps of her mother, whose efforts lifted hundreds of wartime widows out of poverty, Hanieh sees Qyral as a pathway for women to change their skin, their incomes, and their lives for the better.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about what or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve been fortunate to have grown up around very strong, resilient women who taught me that nothing is impossible or out of reach. My grandmother might have been illiterate, with only a second grade education and ten children to feed, but she was able to start multiple businesses and make a name for herself as a female construction developer in Tehran. Same goes for my mom. As a social worker, she was able to change and impact the lives of hundreds of women devastated by war and revolution. Without any prior experience, she founded a business to provide employment for the women, and won government contracts to bring in work for them to do, enabling them to learn a skill and find independence so they could start over.
How could I not be inspired? I’ve learned that yes, you can be a strong powerful woman, mom, and wife, and have a thriving career, make your dreams a reality, and change the world one step at a time. It’s all possible and within reach.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t know that I can pick just one person, because I’m the byproduct of the many mentors and teachers who have entered my life and have changed its course and direction. Firstly my parents, who gave up everything they knew to give my brother and I a better life, away from the conflict of the Iran-Iraq War. It’s thanks to them I live in America, and have had so many more opportunities open to me as a result.
Then there’s my husband and business partner, Darius, who is my biggest supporter. He encourages me to pursue my dreams and is always in my corner offering advice and support. I don’t think I could have achieved so much without his commitment, love, and understanding.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Shortly after founding my first company, I gave a presentation to a group of executives at a very large hospital in a bid to win a lucrative contract, and I was so nervous! Securing the deal would have been a huge boost to my business, so I decided to win the execs over by providing lunch, and asked my younger brother (16) to help set up all the food. That was my mistake.
After setting everything up, I told him to wait outside the conference room until the meeting was over to clean the leftovers away. Following my presentation we took a quick tour of the facility but my brother, seeing the room clear out, decided they must have declined the food and he packed it all back up in the car. When we returned from the tour, ready to enjoy our lunch, we found the conference room empty and the tables bare!
We were all dumbfounded, and they even called housekeeping and dietary to see if someone had moved the food, but of course nobody knew anything about it. Instead of finishing with lunch and follow-up discussion, the meeting wrapped and I returned to the car to find my brother and the entire feast waiting for me.
I don’t know if the mishap played a part in why I didn’t win that contract, but I certainly learned a lesson that day — always communicate your instructions clearly and effectively!
Later on, when my business was more established, that client did offer me a deal, so all was not lost. Lesson two from that experience is you might not always get everything you want when you want it, but persistence and patience do pay off.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Although I’m flattered, I believe success is relative and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the impact I would like to have. One thing I have learned is that there is no such thing as failure. You either pivot, give up, or learn important lessons you can build on. The second piece of advice I’d give is to stick with it no matter what. We live in an instant gratification world where everyone expects immediate results — from swipes on dating apps to plastic surgery, or the millions of products we can order and have show up at our door in 1–2 days. Never before in history have we had so many options, and the paradox of choice can be overwhelming. However, good things take time, patience, persistence, conviction, and deliberate focus. I can’t think of a single person I admire who hasn’t spent a lot of time and effort on their craft. Give yourself 5 years on average. Malcolm Gladwell calls it the “10,000-hour rule”, but it’s just really the time it takes for ambitions to come to fruition. In the short term, especially when you’re in your 20s, this may feel like a lifetime, but over the course of a lifetime it’s just a few short years. Stick with it and success will surely ensue.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I think any up-and-coming entrepreneur should read that book. He states that we’re all artists in our own way, and procrastinate to bring our craft to life — what he refers to as “resistance.” This resistance comes in many forms, such as addiction, distractions, and anything that prevents us from creating our masterpiece. The sooner we can recognize and overcome resistance, the sooner we can align with our true selves. It’s a nice reminder of what every artist struggles with. I’m currently also reading Stephen Hawking’s last and final book for the second time, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. It reminds me how small we are in the bigger realm of things, to always question everything, and that it’s not always about the questions we answer, but rather the questions we continue to ask, that are the most important.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Susan Kare, who designed the original MacBook interface, once said: “You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you really care about. Then, if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful.”
You owe it to the world to design your masterpiece. Do work that is meaningful, impactful, close to your heart, and the audience will come. For too long I hopscotched around trying to do things I thought would bring success, but I ultimately knew what I wanted. I had to shut the world off and paint my own masterpiece.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My current project, Qyral, is a culmination of all my experiences brought together in one brand. A personalized skincare and supplement regimen, It incorporates my love for the science of aging, with a relentless passion to empower others through entrepreneurship and education.
My intention is to provide consumers and skincare fans with the information they need to make informed decisions about the products they use, and to support would-be entrepreneurs to start their own business without the usual impediments that hold people back. Having founded several companies myself, I know the investment it takes in time and money, and what a big risk it can be. Yet owning a business is incredibly rewarding, and statistics show that more and more Americans dream of escaping a 9–5 lifestyle in favor of controlling their own destiny. I designed Qyral to make that opportunity possible for as many people as wanted to take it, just like my mom found an opportunity for war widows when I was a child.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I think anyone who has put themselves in any leadership role — be it a teacher, parent, business owner etc. — recognizes the importance of emotional intelligence. As a manager and founder, I’ve had to tune and continuously fine-tune my emotional intelligence. Understanding the needs and motivations of others makes me a better businessperson, able to successfully hire the best employees, give and receive critical feedback without harming working relationships, work effectively under pressure, and manage challenging relationships with employees, clients, and colleagues. Emotional intelligence also helps me be super resourceful, especially when resources are scarce at the conception and launch of a startup. I’m constantly evaluating myself and trying to become better through deepening my understanding of others and the working relationship I build.
EI doesn’t just help me succeed in the boardroom either. As a parent to a toddler, I use EI to tune into my son’s needs, especially when he can’t fully articulate what his needs are. What does he really want to communicate when he’s throwing a tantrum? And how can I motivate him to take that scary first step or encourage him to get back up when he falls? Most importantly, EI has helped me recognize my own strengths and weaknesses. It has helped me become more honest and vulnerable with myself in order to grow.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
The textbook definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. This is done through three core skills: identifying emotions, applying them productively, and managing them effectively. The more in-tune with your own emotions you are, the easier it is to regulate your behavior and make your emotional responses work for you, instead of against you. In the business world this is particularly important, especially for women. Too often we’re dismissed as too emotional, so learning when and how to tap into emotional responses can be a powerful tool for getting ahead.
The second stage of EI is applying what you know about recognizing and controlling your own emotions to understanding the emotional responses of others. Looking beyond a difficult negotiation or uncooperative client to the emotions driving their behavior can help you get to the real heart of the problem. We evolved as pack animals, and it’s instinctive for us to want to cooperate. EI allows us to tap into those innate drivers and develop better working relationships.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Emotional intelligence requires the use of our intuitive senses, which are far more developed than our cognitive thinking brains. First we have to see ourselves in other people, then we have to use empathy to envision ourselves in their shoes and understand their emotional processes and drivers. We do this by picking up on dozens of clues, from tone and posture to the way someone signs off an email. Often, we won’t consciously realize how or why we can read someone else’s emotional response, it’s pure instinct.
Intelligence, in the more usual sense, is based on applying learned skills, such as logic, language, math, and spatial thinking, to new pieces of information. It takes conscious effort to do this work, because these skills aren’t innate in the same way that reading emotions are. From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to quickly and correctly read the emotions of others could often mean the difference between life and death in a way that knowing 2+2 =4 never will.
A quick evolutionary lesson: The development of autonomous creatures began with a brainstem that regulates basic functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and reflexes. This is sometimes referred to as the “first brain.” Out of our first brains came the limbic system, the “emotional brain,” which is responsible for remembering and learning from past experiences. Our awareness and emotions stem from this part of the brain. From there, humans developed the rational brain, or thin cortex. The cortex enables higher order thinking such as planning, decision making, and problem solving. These regions come together through millions of connections, allowing the emotional and thinking brains to work together to draw conclusions and initiate actions.
Our emotional brain and its responses have been shaped and preserved over millions of years of evolution. Humanity is hard-wired for emotional response! In fact, our facial expressions for basic emotions such as fear, sadness, disgust, anger, and pleasure are identical across cultures, indicating some inborn genetic mechanism common to the human race. Simply put, our emotional reactions are a great unifier across cultures, age groups, and experiences. Not everyone can understand quantum mechanics or compose a symphony, but we can all experience the same core emotions and recognize those emotions in others.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
The most important elements of good Emotional Intelligence are also good life skills — self awareness, self regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social grace. That makes high EI a desirable characteristic not just from a business perspective, but from a human one. Developing your emotional intelligence requires you to invest time in self improvement, getting in touch with your emotions, learning how to harness them to your benefit, and ultimately achieving more and doing greater things because of that ability. Rather than getting depressed about a bad work situation, for example, people with high EI will look for solutions. Instead of giving up when the going gets tough, emotional intelligence allows you to find new depths of motivation and determination that will help you succeed. As an entrepreneur, this is especially important in the early days when it seems you’re the only one who knows or cares what you’re trying to achieve with a new business.
Emotional intelligence is also fundamental to good people management. One of the most important roles I’ve carried in the last several years is hiring and leading teams. This requires identifying each individual’s intrinsic motivators. Money is an obvious answer, but beyond a certain threshold, people need more than just a paycheck to keep them happy and engaged. Encouragement, support, personal growth, and the feeling of being valued are the real motivators, and they have different triggers for each individual. When hiring, especially under tight deadlines, it’s important to tap into your EI to make better decisions. Once a candidate makes the resume cut for an interview, you sometimes only have 1–2hrs max to make a hiring decision. That’s where EI comes in — to help you recognize and identify the potential employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Candidates often rehearse their interviews and say all the right things, but their body language could communicate something completely different. In those quick interactions, you have to make an assessment that could cost time and money if you get it wrong, or in some cases even sabotage the health and prosperity of your company.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
I touched on how EI has helped in my professional career, but it also plays a huge role at home. It’s hard enough for most people to manage a relationship with their spouse, let alone a spouse who is also a business partner. This can become very complicated with blurred boundaries. Effective communication and strong emotional intelligence helps better separate the two worlds of personal and professional. Am I really upset about how my partner carried that client meeting, or am I still bitter about his reaction this morning when I asked him to wash the dishes and pick up the toys? Emotional intelligence has helped us navigate the complexities of being a husband-wife business partner duo by allowing me to not only assess my own behavior, but better communicate my needs, both personal and professional.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
EI has so many applications in a business setting! Not just in hiring and managing new employees, but in making better deals with clients, securing new opportunities, and even making tough decisions like letting go of key personnel. Everything we do is driven by emotions. Is that client really unhappy with your business’s proposal, or are they feeling insecure in their own position? Should you take a chance on the person who seems perfect for your company on paper, but feels “off” to you in the interview? When is the best time to follow up on a big lead without being too demanding, and how do you reach a decision-maker to pitch a new opportunity if their business manager is stonewalling you?
In business, we make emotional connections and decisions every day. From small gestures, like knowing which member of staff will respond best to public praise, and who would prefer a quick email telling them “Well done,” to understanding how to best engage with the person deciding if you get the contract that will keep you in business, being in tune with those emotional drivers, and knowing how to apply them to professional relationships, can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
As I mentioned above, I’m in a relationship with my business partner. EI helps us better navigate and balance the complexities of parenting and running the day-to-days of a business. Taking responsibility and ownership of our actions, and knowing when to trust our instincts and when to take emotions out of the equation. Emotional intelligence helps foster better friendships and family relationships, not just between us but in a wider sense, from maintaining a good relationship with my mother-in-law (who knows everything!) to communicating effectively with colleagues and coworkers. It has made both of us better partners, businesspeople, and parents.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
The foundational principle of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your emotions appropriately. This is also fundamental to good mental health. In the workplace, it can be too easy to allow anxiety to take over and make you irrational, or get too personally invested in a situation that’s just business. Just because a company is your baby, that you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into, doesn’t mean it is the best candidate to win that contract. Understanding the inevitable disappointments that come with getting a startup off the ground aren’t personal is an important step on the road to success. If you make it personal you burn bridges, lose important connections, and most importantly, don’t put in the work to truly improve and make your business better.
These skills also translate to everyday life. EI is what prevents small annoyances from becoming big arguments. Knowing why you’re feeling what you’re feeling helps you address those emotions at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
- Develop Greater Empathy: This one was huge for me; develop greater empathy and compassion for everyone, no matter who they are. When my son cuts his finger, I wince and can feel his pain intensely. That feeling of connectedness is something we’re all capable of doing, and not just in painful scenarios. A study found that participants saw the homeless as being mindless objects rather than as fully mindful people. In fact, the same parts of the brain light up when we see vomit and garbage as when we see homeless encampment. I often had to drive through Skid Row to get to my downtown LA office and I would look at the homeless in their soiled clothing and tents with great pity and an instinctive aversion. Ever since I’ve become conscious of my reaction, I’ve been able to reframe my thoughts towards compassion, kindness, and love, which helps me relate better to everyone. We all bleed the same after all, and we’re all made up of the same components.
- View adversity as a fun challenge: Individuals with high emotional intelligence are better able to regulate their own emotions and handle adversity. In order to do that, reframe your thoughts and view adversity as a fun challenge. A study found that when an individual rides a roller coaster and sees that ride as a terrifying experience, he or she will release stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. That same individual, if they were to see the roller coaster ride as an exhilarating experience, would release chemicals responsible for happiness and elation. This goes to show how we approach situations and challenges affect our internal biology, and if we can reward our internal system with high levels of “happy” chemicals, we are more prone to repeat the behavior and experience. Not to mention, the experience will have less negative effects on our minds and bodies.
- Ask for feedback: Self awareness is a huge marker for emotional intelligence and in order to become more self aware, asking for feedback is important. That’s why I ask for feedback from my spouse, colleagues, and friends. In business, it’s not uncommon for managers to do annual 360-degree feedback and reviews of employees, but what I’ve learned is that it’s just as important, if not more important, for managers to ask employees for a 360-degree review of themselves. This way, we can better assess where we stand as a leader. The reason I like to ask close family and friends, especially my spouse, to do a 360-degree feedback of me is that when something goes amiss on the home front and I get feedback, it is typically uniform across all aspects of my life, including professional. From there, develop an action plan and do a reassessment of yourself in 6 months to see where you’ve improved.
- Start a Meditation Routine: Self awareness requires mindfulness and being present in the moment. Amongst the many great benefits of meditation is increased self awareness and mindfulness. Becoming more mindful and being in the moment will also help you become a better, more active listener. This means becoming more aware of your nonverbal cues, and validating that you have listened through appropriate responses. I know for me, meditation has been a total game changer. It quiets my monkey mind, and helps me better focus. It used to happen to me all the time where someone would speak, but my mind would be in 10 different places. However now when someone speaks I listen more intently, which in turn has significantly improved my relationships and has made me more empathetic.
- Keep a daily journal: Nothing helps you assess your progress and get to the root cause of issues like a daily journal, so long as we’re willing to be honest with ourselves. A journal is a fantastic tool for keeping track of emotional responses, and understanding our overall emotional state. Writing is also a great way of purging emotions — by the time you’ve written out all your frustrations, you’ll find most of them aren’t weighing as heavily anymore.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Absolutely! Although research shows EI to be innate, it has also shown this is a skill we can develop. Teachers can cultivate a safe environment early on where students feel safe to talk about their feelings and emotions. Lesson plans can be incorporated to help kids recognize and manage their emotions. How many children test poorly or struggle with schoolwork because their frustration gets the best of them? How many fail to pay attention in class because they can’t control their boredom? And how many schoolyard arguments could be resolved if kids learned to communicate more effectively? I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach kids to understand how their feelings impact their behavior, and how to recognize and value the feelings of others, too.
The Yale Center is already working on an EI curriculum for schools, which incorporates emotional intelligence into lessons across the board. RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, Regulating) is a blueprint for teachers to help kids express themselves in productive ways through EI-based learning strategies. Simple exercises, such as encouraging students to talk about their feelings, and teaching them how to really listen when others express their emotions, can be easily applied to the classroom and give kids a chance to develop their emotional intelligence.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I sincerely believe entrepreneurship is the greatest driver for social mobility and individual freedom available to almost everybody. We can’t all be born rich, or guarantee a great education, or live in a country that’s safe from war, disease, or famine. But through entrepreneurship, anyone can achieve greatness. I’d love to see a world where more people broke free of working for others and put all their passion into working for themselves and creating something new and wonderful that really inspires them. Entrepreneurs are hard workers but we’re also dreamers. Every business I’ve founded, I’ve done so with the ambition to create something greater than myself and to leave a lasting, positive impression on the world. That’s why I’ve built my latest company, Qyral, to incorporate entrepreneurship as part of its core business strategy. I want to give the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed to as many people as possible.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Hah! I love this question! My woman crush has to be Oprah Whinfrey. When I first immigrated to America at the age of 6, I would watch the Oprah show religiously at 5PM. She inspired me as a woman and the guest interviews she held opened up my world to the possibilities of success anyone could have in this country. I loved the intimacy and depth to her conversations. How she could move an entire audience to tears. Her philanthropy and most importantly her courage were also admirable. Oprah is and will always be my #WCW!
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.