Kristen Bell: In business, 'I don't have an MBA,' so I make up for it with 'emotional intelligence'

Kristen Bell Amazon Prime Video film "The People We Hate at the Wedding" on the set of THE TALK, airing Wednesday, November 16th on the CBS Television Network.
Cbs Photo Archive | Cbs | Getty Images

For most of her career, Kristen Bell had more experience in front of cameras than in boardrooms.

That's quickly changing: The star of "Frozen" and NBC's "The Good Place" co-founded snacks company This Saves Lives in 2013, and launched baby care company Hello Bello with her husband, Dax Shepard, six years later.

At those companies, Bell initially felt "out to sea" when her colleagues discussed "ROI and endcaps," Bell recently told Real Simple. So instead of trying to keep pace with business jargon, she leaned into her own strengths to facilitate better communication among employees.

"I don't have an MBA," Bell, 42, said. "I've worked with people who are amazing in front of a computer, but not as good with people. But there's a place for that — for those of us who value the people over the process."

Both companies were founded to generate products and opportunities for others, rather than cash: This Saves Lives gives snack bars to children for every box sold, and Hello Bello presents itself as an affordable option in an expensive industry.

But without prior experience or a degree from a fancy business school, Bell had a lot of learning to do — so she started asking a lot of questions. It became her secret weapon in the workplace, she said: It informed her decisions, led by example and showed others it's OK to not know everything.

"I've done a pretty decent job of surrounding myself with smart people and I'm going to take full advantage of that," she said. "There's the worry about looking foolish, but I'd disagree with that fear. I think you seem smarter when you ask questions, because your goal is to get information."

It's a proven tactic: High emotional intelligence and critical thinking abilities are particularly important in the modern workplace, according to a 2018 report from global accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Meta, for example, wouldn't have become a multi-billion dollar behemoth without ex-COO Sheryl Sandberg's combination of business and relationship skills, founder Mark Zuckerberg told the "Tim Ferriss Show" podcast in March 2022.

"Sheryl always says that the amount of progress that we make is directly proportional to the number of hard conversations that we're willing to have," Zuckerberg said. "So trying to build that into the cultural operation system — which is, 'we're just going to really reward and focus on being direct with each other' — I think is a really important thing."

So when Bell experiences imposter syndrome at either of her two businesses, she leans into her emotional intelligence and communication skills to overcome those doubts.

"It's only recently I realized I might be qualified for any of this," Bell said. "When I feel wonky about my day, I tell my husband, 'I like doing this, but I don't really know what I'm doing.' And he goes, 'All you need to do is get the project to the finish line.' When I think about it like that, I realize I might actually be good at it."

Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are divisions of NBCUniversal.

Get CNBC's free Warren Buffett Guide to Investing, which distills the billionaire's No. 1 best piece of advice for regular investors, do's and don'ts, and three key investing principles into a clear and simple guidebook.

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Do you need a college degree to be happy?
Does college make you happy?