How Emotional Intelligence Applies in the Tech & Software Industry with Wayne Renbjor

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In this ground-breaking series, Nichole Kelly, industry thought leader, Strategy Director at WebMechanix has taken to the market to ask some important questions of marketing and tech leaders. Specifically, she wants to know what role does emotional intelligence play in marketing leadership and does it have any correlation to marketing ROI performance?

To find out she put together a plan to reach out to 19,000 marketing executives on LinkedIn and asked them to participate in a short survey on emotional intelligence. The response has been far beyond expectations, and senior leaders throughout the industry are lining up to share their stories of emotional intelligence.

In this interview, Nichole speaks with Wayne Renbjor, Director of Software Engineering at Tamman Technologies. He shares his perspective on using emotional intelligence in the tech industry.

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about WebMechanix’s Emotional Intelligence Benchmark Study or would like to share your perspective, please reach out to Nichole Kelly here.

Now, let’s hear from Wayne…


‘- Hi everyone and thanks for joining today. I am joined by Wayne Renbjor. I totally botched it again Wayne. You’re gonna have to say your name for the audience because. Will you say it for me?

– Its Renbjor.

– Renbjor. So we’re joined to day with Wayne Renbjor, who is here to talk to us about emotional intelligence. He’s gonna give us some of his background. The fun thing about having Wayne on the show is Wayne and I have known each other for quite some time. He actually reached out to me probably five years ago when I was on an interview on Entrepreneur on Fire and he said, hey I really love your story. I’m excited about what you’re doing. Tell me how I can support. He was the producer for the Conscious Marketing Podcast and we’ve done some projects together. So it’s really fun to get an opportunity to speak to you Wayne. Thank you so much for joining us. Let’s talk emotional intelligence. So, first if you don’t mind, why don’t you just kind of give the audience a overview of who you are, what you do and some context around that and then we’ll dive in.

– Sure so, more directly today in relevant to what I’m doing is, I’m currently the Director for Software Engineering for a small agency in Philadelphia called Tamman Technologies. Basically, it’s just a normal web and slash marketing agency. You know nothing super special with that one but our unique kind of identifier is we really have a primary focus on accessibility in almost everything we do. So our tagline is that we build the inclusive web. And we really believe in just making sure everything is accessible for everyone. There’s no reason to keep information from people, regardless of what it is. So, you know, other than that I mean, clearly, you’ve known me for a while but I kind of touch everything, like from barbecue, computer programming, you know working with forging, like actual metal and iron working kind of things. Car repair etc. all of the above. So, I’m involved in a lot of stuff all the time.

– Yeah I think one of my favorite like little known secrets about you is that you were a barbecue judge, a barbecue competition judge and ran a very successful barbecue podcast.

– Yeah both at the same time. So podcasting news in there, so.

– Yeah.

– A lot of things in that belt.

– Excellent. So let’s get started with just kind of, start at the basics. So tell me a little bit about what emotional intelligence means to you.

– So really I think emotional intelligence in general, I think it just kind of falls into the line of empathy and really having an awareness and an understanding of not only of what your words and actions are doing but how people are responding to that. And especially in a marketing and or leadership position where you have people that are reporting to you and that trust you to give them good guidance and you need to understand how to kind of navigate that situation whether or not there’s interpersonal conflicts or if they’re just stressed out. How you can kind of help with that and then on the marketing side of the house how to make sure that you’re connecting with the right target audience and not just from a sales perspective just to kind of close a deal. But more making sure that you’re in alignment with who your target is so that way, you’re providing the best service to them and they also have a great relationship with you and that’s trusting and fun. Honestly.

– Yeah excellent, I love that. So, I love how you kind of opened the conversation so we can take it in two different directions. So you talk about it from a leadership capacity. You talk about it from a marketing capacity. So let’s start with the leadership angle, in terms of how do you deploy emotional intelligence at the work place and what kind of shifts have you seen over the last, you know, five, ten years in terms of how employees display emotions at the work place.

– So definitely over the past couple of years, it’s increased drastically. So, me being born, literally in 1980, you know the oldest millennial that you can find. I came up through the 80s and 90s growing up and so you saw when it was still very difficult for women to be in a workplace, for men to show emotion, you know, fathers had to be stoic and not caring. That has shifted from, you know, the emotional revolutions that were having in the 90s and early 2000s to now even though it’s fought still by older people as “being a snowflake” or something along those lines which is unfortunate but it’s people now being willing to open up and not being scared, like, hey I am a human and I am emotional and this is what I’m going through. I mean it’s learning how to deal with that and even my own personal growth. I grew up in Texas in the 90s. So there have been attitudes and positions and thoughts in my head that are very counter to where I am as a person today and it’s growth and you know I’ve had people that have worked for me recently that have opened up where I can see how they’re reacting to a situation whether it be around their personal sexual orientation or just their gender and how they’re being treated where I know just how things were being raised you know back in the 10, 15, 20 years ago. I would have reacted to that horribly, compared to having to grow as my own person and saying, no, I have to respond to this appropriately and I have to understand that I should also be this kind of vulnerable and work with them and figure out how to help the situation regardless of any past beliefs or anything that I’ve had and try to grow as my own person, period, with that.

– Yeah I think that that’s probably an area I’ve seen tons of growth in for myself as well as other leaders, is one, just becoming more aware of your own emotions and how you are in the office. I know I’ve always, well, I’m not gonna say I’ve always. I actually was a very unemotional person up until about five years ago. And so I went from this like stoic, even a being a women in business, feeling like I couldn’t express emotion and I couldn’t display emotion in the board room and it was very much like, you know, emotions are not for the office. And in order to be successful and respected, it was very much an environment of where you had to kind of, remain calm, cool and collected at all times and take your emotions and process them at home. One of the things that I’ve been excited about is, we are very much, I’m seeing, in an environment where emotions are more acceptable at work and it is okay to talk about the things that are affecting you. And I think that as leaders, it’s really helpful as a leader to know what’s going on with your team and what their going through emotionally, so that you can help them ultimately integrate that and be more successful at work. I think, you know as you were talking about back in the 90s and 2000s, I also was working at that time. Interestingly enough, I also grew up in Texas. Maybe that’s our barbecue connection right there. So, in looking at that in the 90s, of like, wow, like, at that time, you really couldn’t have these conversations to the level you can today. One, because belief systems and just rules and structure on what was acceptable. There were HR considerations to take into place that are completely different today, in terms of openness and willingness to address off-work conversations in the work environment. What’s like an example that you have where you’ve had to have that level of conversation with someone where maybe something was happening outside the office that may have been affecting their performance or something like that where you’ve been able to kind of like navigate and help them be more successful both at home and at work?

– Well I think in general, I can say back to a situation that happened, I want to say about nine months ago. So, it was gender related, unfortunately. It was a very typical man versus woman. I feel like my opinion isn’t being heard. I feel like I’m being belittled, etc. Hearing perspective and then having to kind of manage both sides of that. So, had to take in one side of the story, listen to all that information and the key to that is don’t try to fix what you’re hearing and so that’s a very difficult thing, is any kind of conversation And I think that this is me as a problem solver but as well as in general. What I’ve noticed is when you start to take in someone venting and letting out their emotions and being vulnerable, it’s not always, can I fix this problem right now. Sometimes it’s literally just listening and not doing a thing. Taking no action. Just letting that happen for a little bit. But then also, once you’re, you know, had that conversation, all right awesome. What do you want me to do this? Do you want me to take action because I can see that there’s a situation where we can have a further conversation up the line with human resources, etc., etc.? Do you want me to directly talk to the individual and their management team? Do you want me to just listen and be here for you? How do you want to approach this? And so it’s kind of like working with the situation and being open to that. And then, you know realizing like, sometimes you do have to just stop and listen and not do anything. That’s super important. At the end of the day, that situation did eventually resolve itself. And so not in a capacity where anyone was terminated or anything like that. It was more of a, I just need to vent about this. Let’s see if we can approach it differently on how conversations happen etc. And then the company in general, did start to look at how our policies were on how our conversations were being held. Paying attention to how you’re treating other people, etc., and so we did have some, some of those kind of training aspects of like making sure that you are paying attention to what’s going on, your conversation, your, you know, ableist language and other things like that can impact people. And so, you’re trying to be more aware of things that were common place before, you know, even if you don’t intentionally mean anything behind them, the lack of thought can still be hurtful. And so you know trying to understand that even something that you think is meaningless can have a big impact. And so it’s to pay attention to that.

– Yeah, it’s really interesting because it comes on both sides, right. The person receiving the information has some kind of trigger themselves that’s being hit on, that maybe they don’t necessarily know how to process. And then two, you as a leader have your own systems and triggers that can be fired in that process as well. I think what I love most about what you said, is that sometimes your job as a leader is just to listen. Sometimes someone just needs the ability to vent and I think that many of us as problem solvers, myself included, it can be challenging sometimes to just sit there and hold space for someone and not have a need to inject yourself in whatever is happening, be able to objectively look at what’s happening, offer that person feedback. If it’s appropriate and then decide if there’s action that needs to be taken because let’s be honest, interpersonal conflict sometimes is something that has to be handled between those two employees and you can simply provide kind of swim lanes and frameworks for that. But ultimately, we each are responsible for our own emotional responses. Yeah, for sure. And that was, you know, like I said. With that specific thing that had happened there. It was just listening to it and being, like hey, this isn’t actually causing an immediate violation so it’s not like, oh I have to stop this conversation. Someone has to be terminated. But it is something where it’s like, okay do you guys want to go hash this out? Do you want a mediator there? Is this venting? Where are we going with this, etc., and then just kind of going from there. But you’re right. My immediate response just from how I was raised was literally, to take care of. Like I’m a shelter kind of scanerio. And it’s not meant to belittle like a woman’s position but it’s like, I automatically feel like I have to do that just by how I was raised. And so I was like, no, no, no. I can’t do this. Let me just take this in. How can I empower you and not just take that away from you and try to go fix the problem. Let me let you decide and kind of go from there. And then let me support you in however that decision comes by.

– So now let’s shift gears a little bit from talking about leadership into talking about marketing context a little bit. As we look a marketing, I think. There’s two pieces of this conversation that are relevant. One, as a marketer, what I found in my own research and just my own processes is that, there’s this thing called creative flow state and Wayne and I have been hackers of flow state for quite some time. So I know we can have this conversation about how do you get to the zone. And when you get to the zone, what the impact of that is. So, one of the things I found on my own process of being a flow state hacker and a BIO hacker was, I was able to successfully hack into flow state, meaning that I could come into work and I could hit that zone where, you know, I could do it repeatedely. I could do it predictably. But what was happening on the other side of that, it that the neurological chemicals that my brain produces the feel good chemicals, if you will, are released during that process of flow state and so on the back end of that, I would go into work and I was hacking flow state and I’d come in and be like, man I’m on fire but then the next day, I’d be in a slump and I wasn’t connecting the two of that my creative flow state was actually contributing to that slump on the other end. And as I started to do more research into like Steven Cutler’s research and some others. I found out that creative flow state actually can cause depression and that because you’re releasing all of these neurochemicals, on the other side of it if you’re not aware of that, you can have some big depression. And I think that in our industry, in particular I’ve seen a huge rise in the amount of marketers who are being own about how they’re feeling with anxiety and depression and what’s happening. So I was curious of your perspective and in terms of from a marketing and creative process and being able to kind of integrate these emotions. Do you have any tips for managing emotions in the work place?

– I’m still not the best at that. I’ll just openly admit, you know, still struggling with trying to figure out, just with my own interpersonal struggle, when I’m comfortable or trying to be comfortable with having those kind of conversations with people. And saying like hey this is emotionally weighing on me or I need to take a break from this and walk away for a little bit. So, I could be a little bit better about that myself. But I think it’s really kind of touching back to what I was just saying, in a sense of taking that action and despite your potential fear or any kind of bias that had been given to you unhealthily as you’re growing up just knowing talking about it is important. This is actually, almost a little micro-segue with this. We did work with a client called The You Rock Foundation. The gentleman that founded that his name is Joseph Penola. He did it as a way to express grief. So, he’d lost his father at age 16. This is in the 90s, so like 95, 96, etc. And he had no idea, one, that there were grief councelors and then two, how to communicate the emotions that he was feeling because he didn’t have the vocabulary. There weren’t words there for he was feeling. He ended up making a emotional connection with Nine Inch Nails, Downward Spiral album. And he was like, this music, these lyric, these songs, etc., this is what I feel right now. He survived two suicide attempts.

– Wow.

– [Wayne] And so he created this organization where he works with people like Jonathan Davis of Korn and other large people that are in rock, to get their messages out around how they are also being vulnerable and how they’ve struggled with suicide and grief and other things along these lines. And so it was something that we really connected with because it was the same kind of thing we see where people don’t know how to actually have the verbal vocabulary to express this. And sometimes, there’s still a lot of fear about saying, hey I feel sad. Hey I feel suicidal like a want to hurt myself, And then giving them a platform where they can either start to express emotions or even find the emotions to express and then have an avenue to something like grief counseling or you know something along those lines. And so, you know, it’s the same kind of thing. It’s being able to understand that people are willing to listen and people are there to help. And then it’s getting past your own fear and taking the action to just have the conversation. Yeah for sure. And I think that, you know, as you mentioned it’s so true that so many times we have emotions and we don’t know what the emotion actually is. I know for myself, when I really started to tap into identifying emotions, which is the first stage of emotional intelligence is awareness, right? Being able to like, identify what your own emotions are. And to identify them accurately. There’s a big spectrum, you know, like you have depression, despair, grief, you know, all at one end of the spectrum and you probably have joy, bliss, elation kind of at the other end of the spectrum. But the shades in between are very gray, if you will in terms of, what’s the difference between despair and sadness and how do you know. Many times it comes into a conversation of intensity and how intense that emotion actually is. And so, what I’ve noticed many times is that we speak about emotions. You hear words like fear a lot and many times we start to dig into fear. You actually discover that that fear is the surface level emotion that the person can identity. But there can be as many as five or six emotions beneath that that are culminating into fear and being called fear. But those five or six underlying emotions aren’t being necessarily identified. And so if you’re trying to process your emotions and you’re processing them at the umbrella, if you will, versus looking at what’s beneath that umbrella, it can be very confusing for people, in terms of, one, identification and two, integration. If you don’t really understand what you’re feeling, it’s very difficult sometimes to be able integrate and process that.

– Yeah for sure. And then even the flip side of that, I mean with what’s going on with us politically and culturally right now in the United States, there’s a lot of racial hate and tension that’s still coming back up today and what’s driving that and a lot of times when you see it’s like, well hate more than likely is usually backed by something like fear which is also backed by just lack of information, lack of knowledge, you know, de-humanization, just not being aware of someone’s situation. You see it a lot where, it’s like, if someone feels a certain way to somebody just because of the volume of a chemical in their skin you know, why do you feel this way, it’s like, whoa, those people are different. Why are they different? I’m not sure. It’s like okay well, they like to eat the same food you do. Some of them go to the same bars you do and drink the same alcohol. They like the same books. They listen to the same music. Oh okay, well we’re kind of the same person. Right, so why do you hate them? Oh, I have no idea, right.

– Yeah

– [Wayne] And so this mix of lack of understanding and then, emotional layers. You know, fear of driving hate which is driving something else. Right.

– Yeah it’s very interesting and you’re right, like just the emotional climate right now, especially, you know, we talked about on the last interview too, kind of coming into election year. There’s a lot of emotions that are coming up even now and I expect that to continue through 2020 and so that integration of what people are feeling on the outside of work and then they bring that into work so if there’s this like emotional spectrum like this right now of like people all kind of all over the place and then that’s coming into the work, it can create conflict sometimes that we don’t expect so I think that as leaders, it’s really important for us to really get clear about our own emotional intelligence and start opening these dialogues with our team members because the next 18 months are very likely to have some big emotional outlays for everyone regardless of what your stance is. I always say, I don’t talk politics. I talk emotions. and regardless of what your stance is, it’s very clear that there are some polarizing emotions happening on all sides of the fence. And one of the keys of emotional intelligence is empathy. And empathy is the ability to kind of sit in someone else’s shoes and to understand the emotional perspective of that other person and so as marketers, empathy is one of our super powers. It’s something we do often for our target customers and sometimes forget to for ourselves and forget to do for our team. So I wanted to kind of shift a little bit and start talking about the customer journey in marketing and how can we use empathy and emotional intelligence in that journey in order to connect at a more deeper level with our customers.

– For sure, this is actually a subject that’s really close to us because we do some much with accessibility. So, you know, a lot of the things that you’ll either hear in the news now or not even hear in the news, depending upon what’s being discussed is a lot of accessibility lawsuits are starting to show up. And so what’s happening is famous people like Beyonce or Domino’s Pizza or the huge Dominos lawsuit that’s going on right now will have their websites that are built and look fancy and are super pretty and you know, all of the artsy fancy stuff but then you know, they are not considering whether or not a reader might have a cognitive problem, like high speed motion might make them sick or dizzy or not being able to see colors appropriately. Color blindness is the most common thing but there’s a bunch of different ways that you don’t necessarily perceive color and saturation appropriately or not appropriately but like other people or a majority of people do. And so appropriately, that’s one of those things that’s unfortunately, that’s leaking old bias.

– That’s your unconsious bias coming through right.

– [Wayne] Yeah comes through so yeah. So I apologize for that. And again, being aware of what your own conscious words might actually cause. But even going from going that. So color, how you perceive color and how you take in light and other pieces and then also people that can’t see at all. You know a whole section of people that are blind that use screen readers. And whether or not your site works with a screen reader. And then screen reader technology. Three different kinds that are available for Windows you know, two that are available for Mac, you know, the phone is different than the desktop, which is different from the laptop, that’s different from the tablet. It’s a big mess. So, you know, having empathy and just understanding the fact that, no not everybody is you, sitting in front of the website building it. There are people that might just need to use the keyboard because either they are having problems with something like arthritis or they might not even have a hand, right.

– Yeah.

– [Wayne] What about somebody, you know that, you know similar to like, a Stephen Hawking, where, you know, not able to use anything from your neck down and you have to use, like one of these blow, sip kind of interfaces or something like that. How would somebody like that navigate your website? And so, it’s thinking about who else would have access to this. Who would need access to this information. And how you can kind of build for that be a an actual web property or marketing sales funnel or the information that you’re trying to move through. It’s trying to sit in those people’s shoes and figure that out.

– So we also have some experience in the web accessibility space as well and one of the interesting things that I’ve found with a client that we’re working with is that many times the story of accessibility is very much a story about compliance and risk. That’s kind of the natural way to market accessibility. And it actually was one of the first things I looked at from an emotional intelligence perspective is how can we be more empathetic to the person on the other end of the machine and telling the story in a totally different way. If you look at accessibility from the perspective of a marketer, it’s not necessarily a conversation of volume. And many times when we make financial decisions we make decisions based on volume. How many people does this affect? And so when you think about something like accessibility, it might only affect a small percentage of your website visitors and quiet frankly you probably don’t even know how many. However, if you start to look at it on the individual level it’s like do you really want someone who’s blind and wants to have your content and not be able to see it the question generally is no. However, the understanding of how you fix that is a little more bit complicated, which I’m sure you know very well. However, I think that, most marketers in general are, they want to be empathetic to their customers and this is a blind spot for them, quite literally right, that they don’t understand that these audiences exist, there are legal requirements for you to have accessibility on your website but the actual thought process of including it in a website build and things like that, that’s fairly new and it’s coming into market right now, which I think is very interesting.

– So actually, just to quick point to that. There are not legal requirements for a web property and that’s actually what the fight with Domino’s is happening right now. So, from a web stand point. The ABA, in general, so the disability act, access ability and disability act, sorry does sight work related senses of like, curb cuts, sidewalks, access to buildings, physical, how doors work, other things like that. It doesn’t specifically outline digital properties, like web pages. So when someone’s building a website, we follow something called, we term it, the Wuhcag, but what it is, it’s the Web Accessibility and Content Guideline. So it’s a suggestion on this is how you should approach these type of situations but it’s not a hard and fast a law that you have to follow it. Which is actually kind of the situation that’s going on with Domino’s. So if people aren’t familiar with the Domino’s situation. So Domino’s Pizza has a online pizza builder. Basically, you can go the website, choose your cheeses, your toppings all the other fun stuff, etc. It is 100% inaccessible from a screen reader and keyboard standpoint.

– Wow.

– [Wayne] So, they got sued and what they did, is they rebutted back and they’re actually fighting it trying to take it all they way back to the Supreme Court on the standing that the law doesn’t state that the website has to be accessible because somebody that is blind or can’t use the keyboard can just call the phone and get the pizza so there’s still a way for them to get the food. They don’t don’t have to go through the remediation of the web page and then so they, you know, from a certain perspective, you can look at that and be like, whoa hey why are you being jerks to people that aren’t accessible and really what the conversations happening around the legal team is that they’re actually trying to get stronger legal enforcement saying that no if you want us to follow this, make a law that says we have to follow it. And please do it right. You know think about it appropriately. Don’t just throw it out there because what’s been happening is with all of these lawsuits, some of them are legitimate, you know, the person that did sue Domino’s, wasn’t able to get their pizza through the web page. The person that did sue Beyonce’ was unable to get tickets for her show because the website didn’t link them to ticket master appropriately. So those are legitmate cases but now what’s happening is you’re getting the “ambulance chasers”, where lawyers are just suing you, period, with or without a just client saying oh your website’s not accessible, $5,000 please. And so they’re starting a whole litnay of useless legal cases and so Domino’s is trying to kind of fall on this sort of, let’s get an actual law in place so that we can eliminate the litany of poor legal implementations basically.

– Yeah. It comes into the conversation of like, where a company stands on their, I guess, their thought process around compliance and also their thought process around serving their customer base. So obviously Domino’s has these customers and feels that they’re serving them and then also clearly recognizes they could do a better job and they’re just questioning whether or not the law states that they have to. It’s very interesting when you start to get into the complexity of regulation as well as, just what’s the right thing to do, in terms of, you know, serving your customer in the best way possible. If you know you have these customers that want to be able to view your website and you have the ability to ensure that they can obviously we all want to do the right thing and we want to make sure that everybody who wants to see the website can. I’m curious to, just from a marketing perspective, looking at the entire customer journey. So the accessibility is one piece. What are some other ways that you have used emotional intelligence in the marketing process?

– Well so, still across the board, I think you apply it the same way, regardless of who the person you’re trying to be empathetic is. So whether or not you’re thinking about someone with the screen reader, where it’s like, you know, you look at how money is written, you know $, you know 500. A screen reader will say that. $500. It will not say five hundred dollars. And so it’s do I need to think about how that it said but then it’s also, in general, what is this message? Is this message just, hey buy, buy, buy, like an infomercial or you know, or are you actually trying to reach somebody at an emotional level and basically say like hey, this service that we’re offering you is mortgage related but it’s not just hey get a mortgage from us because we want your interest. It’s no we have some financial backing and we can help people that have hurt credit or we can try to help you repair from a bankruptcy or something along those lines. And you’re trying to find someone that kind of fits into those fields and then actually structuring not just your marketing materials but your service to actually implement what you’re saying so it’s not just hey we offer bankruptcy repair, it’s we literally do. We have people that have been bankrupt that have gone through seven years and have repaired their credit and this is how we did it and how can we help you actually accomplish this task. So it’s not just the message but, you know, it’s, I think the marketing term is, eat your own dog food. So you know, not only say the thing you want to do but do the thing that you are saying you will do.

– Yeah, that integrity and the marketing process is really key in terms of, one, just being authentic to who you are but two, not making promises that you’re not delivering on throughout the entire process. So, well thank you very much, I really appreciate you being on the show today and having lots of conversation around emotional intelligence but from a leadership perspective as well as from a marketing perspective. We also appreciate you responding to the survey and reaching out for an interview and wish you all the best of luck.

– Yeah absolutely, thank you so much Nicole. This has been a blast.

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly

Wayne Renbjor

Wayne Renbjor

Video Info:
Creative + UX
Data + Tech

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