emotional intelligence in trucking

Emotional Intelligence: A Key to Success in the Trucking Industry

Be it finding well-paid loads, dealing with traffic and parking, or doing your best to avoid double-brokered freight, the job of a trucking business owner can be very stressful. There are so many factors that lie far outside your control.

So how can you learn to manage the inevitable mix of emotions that come with running a trucking business? The answer is emotional intelligence. 

To learn more about this, we interviewed Jeff Kinsley, an Executive Coach and Consultant at Six Seconds, the world’s premier emotional intelligence network. His years of experience, combining logistics and leadership development, was just what we needed to understand this topic. 

What is emotional intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to combine thinking and feeling to make the best possible decisions. 

While they can be related, it’s important not to confuse emotional intelligence with emotional well-being.

“Even though you’re highly emotionally intelligent, you can have such exerting pressures that you just struggle with your emotional well-being,” Kinsley said. 

Think of it this way: emotional well-being is a temporary state. Much like physical health, you may feel very well emotionally one day and very unwell the next. 

Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is a skill set that includes things like empathy and consequential thinking. When describing emotional intelligence, Kinsley talked about the ability to “pull off of autopilot” and pause to think about the situation using a long-term perspective.

Of course, this is easier said than done in the day-to-day operations of a trucking business.

Why is building emotional intelligence so challenging in trucking? 

One reason the trucking industry is so emotionally charged is the volatile nature of freight market cycles. As we’ve experienced in recent years, linehaul rates and fuel prices can swing wildly over just a few months. 

2021 was a boon for the trucking industry and many companies grew to levels that we now know were unsustainable. 

In an event we hosted about calculating cost per mile, one business owner admitted to financing trucks at astronomically high interest rates during this period. “We just had to get trucks. Nothing else mattered,” he said. 

Of course, in hindsight, he regrets that decision. When the 2023 freight recession hit, he very nearly lost his business and had to start driving again as an owner-operator to keep the company afloat.

The feast-or-famine mentality of many people in trucking doesn’t leave much room for careful decision-making.

“Emotional intelligence has to kick in just as much when it’s good as when it’s bad,” explained Jeff Kinsley of Six Seconds, “If you can take that pause and think, ‘Where should I be?’ from a holistic approach, you’re still going to lean into good times, but you’re going to have more to fall back on in your tough times.”

Adding to the mix, most trucking businesses are small operations running one or two trucks. The owners often are drivers themselves and the sole breadwinner in their families. 

Add to that the stress of today’s traffic patterns, shortage of truck parking, and rise in fraud and theft, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on someone. 

How can trucking business owners improve their emotional intelligence?

The good news is, as mentioned earlier, emotional intelligence is a set of skills you can hone over time with practice. 

Kinsley likened building emotionally intelligent habits to going to the gym. 

“If you go and work out that first day and you expect to have muscles and strength that first day, you’re going to quit,” he said, “But if you decide, ‘I’m going to do this every day or every other day or three times a week,’ by the end of the year, you should see drastic differences.”

Here are some tips Kinsley shared for building emotional intelligence:

Understand thyself.

  • What drains your energy? 
  • What recharges your battery? 
  • What time of day are you at your best?

If you can answer these questions about yourself and act on that knowledge, you will be in a much better place to make emotionally intelligent decisions.

If negotiating with brokers is something that drains your energy, then you know your limit. You need consistent breaks to recharge.

“If you see any problems that you think are coming up, deal with that in the part of the day when you have the most energy, not at the end of the load when you’re tired,” advised Kinsley. “Because when you’re tired, your mental capabilities shrink down.”

Putting off a conflict to the end of the day when you’re exhausted is just about the worst thing you can do. With no fuel in the tank, so to speak, you won’t have the energy to regulate your response to a disagreement.

Regulate your emotional response in negotiations.

A broker offering a low rate per mile can sometimes feel like a personal attack. You can see this in the way carriers talk about brokers on social media.

The reality is that there are market forces at play that determine whether rates go up or down. Brokers are looking out for the financial well-being of their business, just as you’re looking out for your own.

When you get a low-ball offer, instead of reacting immediately with frustration or anger, take a pause. Think, “How can I respond so I benefit from this interaction in the long run?” 

In framing it this way, you’ll probably realize that flying off the handle wouldn’t do any good. Instead, by responding calmly with a thoughtful counteroffer or politely ending the conversation and asking them to keep you in mind for the future, you’ve avoided a confrontation and maybe even set yourself up for future opportunities

Come from a place of curiosity.

When conflicts come up with your customers, drivers, or other people interacting with your business, start by questioning your perspective.

“The first question I always ask myself is, ‘Could I be wrong?’” said Kinsley, emphasizing the importance of listening and seeking to understand.

It’s easy to play the blame game when it comes to missing paperwork, mistakes in payments, and misunderstandings about timing, equipment, or compliance. However, if you can start by listening and considering the possibility that you might be wrong, you’ll avoid putting the other person on the defensive and solve the problem a lot faster.

Kinsley put it like this: “An emotionally intelligent person is always looking, not to place the blame, but to find the solution very quickly.” 

Focus on relationships

Today’s trucking market is highly transactional. If you’re working on the spot market, you’re probably interacting with different customers and delivering loads to different locations daily. That’s a tough environment for making friends. 

But a simple, “How’s your day going?” can start an interaction on the right foot. Even the smallest displays of empathy build on each other.

Beginning a Journey

This might be the first you’ve considered how your emotions relate to your trucking business. If that’s the case, I highly recommend visiting Six Seconds’ website and using the tools they’ve created to help people understand emotions and use emotional intelligence techniques.

Becoming more emotionally intelligent won’t just help you in your work. It’s the key to successful relationships in every part of your life.