There’s no shortage of bad managers in the world. Most of them aren’t inherently evil people—they’re simply poor communicators. Being an effective leader and earning the respect of your colleagues comes down to honing your communication and emotional intelligence (EQ) skills more than any other attribute. No matter what your industry or your job title is, if you manage people, these five communication & EQ techniques are essential to your success.
1. Be Mindful of the Energy You’re Putting Off
Everyone puts off energy, but most of us are oblivious to how that energy affects the people around us. If you don’t believe me, think about how easy it is to tell when a perfect stranger is annoyed, angry, excited, or anxious just by looking at them. Now think about how incredibly obvious it is when someone you know or love is feeling off, even if you don’t know why. It’s not what someone says that clues us in, but how they say it—or more often, what was unsaid.
When it comes down to it, humans are incredibly emotional creatures. Our emotions influence our facial expressions, our body language, our tone, our attitude, our perceptions, and our decision-making abilities. On top of that, emotions tend to have a residual effect. They may be triggered by one incident or experience and then be carried into an entirely unrelated situation. Emotions can also be highly contagious. If you let your emotions pervade your communication style, then you’ll trigger an emotional response in your counterpart and make it difficult for them to process what you’re saying. If you make someone feel like their autonomy may be in jeopardy, they’ve been undermined, attacked, or devalued, you put them in a situation where it makes more sense for them to hit the brakes giving them a sense of satisfaction and control) than to perform at 100 percent.
Understanding the energy you’re giving off demands heightened self-awareness and emotional self-regulation, two fundamental elements of emotional intelligence. If you can recognize how your behavior, tone, and state of mind are influencing your subordinates and colleagues, then you can adjust your communication style to better align with your goals.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to State the Obvious
Good communication is direct and honest. In the workplace, those two qualities are instrumental in building rapport, earning trust, and influencing behavior. If you find yourself fumbling for ways to start a conversation with a coworker, don’t be afraid to state the obvious. For example, if everyone’s working overtime leading up to the holiday break, saying something as simple as, “It sucks to have to work so hard before the holidays,” can both relieve social tension and build camaraderie.
As a leader, there will be situations when you must bring something to a subordinate that you know will make their day more difficult. It may be that you need them to work overtime or that you need something completed much earlier than expected. When we have negative news to share, most of us skirt the point. We say things like, “Hey, I was kind of hoping to talk about a few things, if you could maybe stop by my office later...” when what we really mean is: I’ve got something for you that is going to make your weekend suck. Although we do so with the best of intentions, building up to the point actually creates anxiety and breeds resentment. There’s no reason to put people through that uncomfortable, in-between state. If you deliver your news up front. they’re still going to be upset, but being direct will earn you greater respect in the long run.
3. Set Expectations Up Front
In order to prime a group of individuals to work successfully as a team, you need to set clear expectations before that collaboration begins. The same principle is true if you’re negotiating a million-dollar business partnership or simply asking a few staff members to tackle a special assignment.
Every project has its challenges. Although you can’t foresee every possible roadblock, you can count on the fact that they will exist—and you can plan ahead. Contrary to popular belief, it’s healthy to say, “We are going to run into problems.” When you have the guts to talk about those problems up front, it makes it easier to address them when they actually happen. As you communicate a plan, ask calibrated questions that force your audience to move beyond the present moment and preemptively problem solve with you.
- What happens when x goes wrong?
- What will our plan look like?
- What will everyone’s roles be in implementing that plan?
In addition to setting clear expectations and goals for implementation, addressing potential challenges up front also gives you a certain amount of control over the shape those conversations take, even if you’re not present for them down the road.
4. Express Recognition
It’s human nature to repeat behaviors that you receive recognition for. In fact, studies have shown that employees who receive recognition for their work are happier in their jobs and more productive by significant margins.
When it comes to doling out that recognition and making employees feel valued, managers hold the greatest responsibility. In a study of 7,272 U.S. employees from different industries, 50 percent of respondents revealed that they left a job to get away from their manager. With regards to employee engagement, the same study showed that managers were responsible for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores.
Recognition is one of the most powerful ways to boost morale, improve engagement, drive productivity, and reduce employee turnover. To reap those benefits, make a point of going out of your way to acknowledge the work that your employees do for you. That doesn’t mean throwing a party every time someone does their job well. In fact, recognition doesn’t need to be public in order to be effective. The most simple and straightforward way to express recognition is by offering verbal acknowledgement. Stop by someone’s desk to say, “I know you put a lot of time and effort into that, and it paid off in a big way.”
The most powerful type of verbal recognition is often accompanied by empathy. In other words, you verbally acknowledge your counterpart’s perspective in addition to expressing your appreciation. For instance, when you’re talking to a boss, you may say, “I know we can make you want to pull your hair out sometimes, I’m just grateful for all your patience throughout this process.” This statement both provides recognition and builds rapport. By verbally acknowledging underlying dynamics, you’ll create stronger working relationships.
5. Remember Your Manners
Whether you’re communicating up or down the corporate ladder, basic manners are indispensable. Simply saying “please” and “thank you” demonstrates respect and helps ensure that your requests come off in the spirit you intended. That’s especially true if you’re communicating with text (via email or instant messaging), where it’s easy for intention to get lost in translation. It’s difficult to see “please” written out on a screen and interpret negatively.
If you find yourself communicating over a messaging platform like Slack or Zoom, using a smiley face or a thumbs-up emoji can also help lend context to your words (as long as you don’t get carried away). As a general rule, keep your text communication concise and opt for a video or in-person conversation for more in-depth or sensitive subjects. If you’re addressing an issue, always opt for a verbal conversation in a private space.
To learn more tips on how to become a more effective communicator in the workplace, check out our latest e-book below.