🎜 Knowing me, knowing you. 🎜

Why EQ is at the heart of great relationship-building.

ABBA classic or ABBA cheese depending on your musical taste, but these four words sum up the skill of relationship-building.  A skill that is increasingly being viewed as a critical capability for leaders of the future. It encompasses the ability to network and relationship-build with a broad range of stakeholders, partners, customers, both inside and outside an organisation. It’s about achieving goals through shared vision, influence and understanding rather than authority. It means navigating through challenging conversations in a way that is open and engenders trust, often across different cultures and, as a result of the pandemic, in an increasingly virtual world.

Let’s go back to 1985 and the famous encounter between Reagan and Gorbachev; the stakes couldn’t have been higher (nuclear disarmament versus nuclear escalation), the main characters were leaders of fundamentally different regimes with apparently nothing in common, and a history of predecessors with unsuccessful relationships. What could possibly go well?? Yet, against all the odds, this first meeting set the stage for a much-needed breakthrough in American-Soviet relations which has generally been attributed to the personal connection that the two managed to establish.

Whilst most of us won’t be engaged in meetings where the stakes are quite so high… good professional relationships and effective stakeholder meetings deliver very real benefits to organisations. The better our relationships, the more transparency and trust there is, the easier it is to navigate those tough conversations and create outcomes that add value for both parties.

There are plenty of techniques and best practices out there for managing “high stakes relationships and meetings” – but the starting point is knowing how to quickly and effectively build rapport and sow the seeds of trust. What we’re talking about here is Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Whilst it’s not a new concept for business, it’s enjoying something of a resurgence right now, due to two critical factors: the need to balance technology and humanity, and the increase in remote working.

There’s been a recognition that even as we beef up AI, automate and digitalise, we need to balance this with improved human effectiveness, especially in our dealings with others. Things may change, but for now at least, we human beings have the edge over technology when it comes to gauging and reading emotions and using this to manage situations and people around us.

This can be deceptively difficult and the global nature of business adds cultural nuances that it’s wise to be aware of. Reagan was a great believer in the power of developing face-to-face relationships, which today is something of a luxury as the pandemic has facilitated a switch to more virtual meetings – putting our EQ skills further to the test.

All good reasons for organisations to be looking to increase their EQ. Cap Gemini research indicated that 61% of execs saw EQ as becoming a must-have skill over the next 5 years – that was in 2018, so we’re well on the way. EQ can be viewed as the foundation for a successful relationship. The relationship continuum (below) identifies different types of organisational relationships.  

Great EQ underpins success in building all types of relationship, even the most transactional, but a strategic relationship will quite simply flounder without it, so it’s worth considering the building blocks.

It all starts with the first meeting…

Wise relationship-builders think of this first step as “earning the right” to start the relationship. They know that time, effort and skill invested here will pay off.

Back to Reagan and Gorbachev. Clearly they had “earned the right” to continue, and in fact, their first meeting laid the groundwork for continued cooperation and negotiation. The success of this first meeting could be attributed to understanding and anticipating how each might view the other, what they could do to influence that positively and to engender trust where none had been.

Reagan’s first impression of Gorbachev was of someone who had “warmth in his face and style, not the coldness bordering on hatred I’d seen in most other senior Soviet leaders I’d met until then.” What’s interesting here is that these apparently simple behaviours were enough to start a shift in mindset from “enemy” to “potential partner”. Think about this next time you prepare to meet a key stakeholder, or kick-off a project meeting. People who are good at “earning the right” tend to use their EQ well to do so, critically by understanding and managing themselves, as well as reading others effectively to get the best out of them. Notably they have two key characteristics:  

1. They are highly aware that we are never not communicating and they manage the messages they are sending

Psychologist Joseph Luft (of Johari Window fame) carried out a fascinating experiment to demonstrate just this in 1962. He asked two strangers to sit in a room together, facing each other for 20 minutes and instructed them not to speak or communicate to each other. Afterwards he interviewed them to see how it went. Simple task? Absolutely not!

Most people found it highly stressful and uncomfortable – where to look, how to respond and so on. It led him to the conclusion that we are always communicating – even if we are sitting in silence. Our very silence is sending a message to the other person. A message which once it’s out there, we lose control of, in terms of how it’s received. In this sense, Luft saw communication as a co-creation activity, as meaning and interpretation rely on both parties.

We have all experienced that feeling of having our words (written or spoken) interpreted in a completely different way to that which we intended. Or someone interpreting our nonresponse to an email as a sign of something other than the fact that we were simply too busy.

Improving our self-awareness starts with understanding how we come over. This is more difficult than it sounds, and takes practice in self-observation, reflection and very uncomfortably for most of us – asking for feedback. However, the more we do this, the more we will understand how someone might interpret our words or behaviours, and thus the response we get from them – and the way in which we then respond to their response! We can then influence the cycle from vicious circle to virtuous circle.

Self-management helps us manage and control the messages we send and this in turn helps us build rapport. Back to Reagan and Gorbachev. Just look at how they are pacing each other in the picture above: the smiles, the posture (leaning back comfortably) and both with their legs crossed. You can’t help but wonder if the fire was deliberately lit to symbolise the feeling of warmth! It looks natural but will have been intentional.

2. They’re great at reading others and getting below the surface of the other person (social awareness)

Skilled relationship builders surface underlying needs, drivers and feelings, by looking for behavioural clues, by listening for feelings and by asking great questions.

When we try to see someone else’s point of view, it opens us up to the possibility that their beliefs and opinions might change our own, which is incredibly powerful in building relationships. It also helps us understand what behaviours of ours motivate or demotivate the other person; and what behaviours of ours engender trust versus undermine trust. All of which is critical in high stakes meetings.

Think about any of your business relationships where trust or rapport are low: why is this, and what could you change? To do this, you need to understand what’s important to the other person and how they like to be communicated with… which takes us straight back to EQ.

Embedding EQ into your organisation

Research shows that post-pandemic, organisations are investing in developing soft skills including EQ, but in the case of EQ are unclear about how best to do it so that it’s practical, develops skills and drives change. Otherwise, it remains somewhat theoretical.

Here’s where our very own Service Animals™ profiling tool can help. At SignalCX we developed Service Animals because we wanted a simply understood (but sophisticated in its reach and depth), highly practical tool that is just as useful for those managing high stakes relationships as it is for those managing everyday customer interactions.

As we’ve seen, the starting point for a successful relationship is the ability to build rapport quickly. To do this well requires an understanding of your natural style and how you might come over to the other person. As well as understanding them – their style, what is likely to be important to them – and what might really cause friction.

This is precisely what Service Animals will enable you to do. As well as giving you a lot of tips on how to get the best out of important relationships. Don’t just take our word for it! Customers as diverse as Network Rail, the NHS and IHG have seen huge improvements in professional relationships and communication. Of course, many of us already use our EQ in a highly intuitive way, but the more aware we are of what makes our communication and relationship building style effective (or ineffective), the more intentional we can be about putting it to work. I

n a nutshell then, Service Animals is all about “Knowing Me Knowing You.” As we started with ABBA, let’s finish with ABBA: “Knowing Me Knowing You… it’s the best I can do.” Take the first step to improve your EQ today.

For a PDF version of this article, just click here.

Service Animals™ is brought to you by SignalCX, a consultancy focusing on customer experience. For nearly 4 decades, we have worked with some of the world’s best brands to design and enable great customer experiences. The SignalCX customer experience journey will help you develop a culture that has the customer at its heart, with employees who are energised and excited and a growing body of customers who love the way that your organisation makes them feel. Apart from this lovely warm glow, you will achieve tangible, measurable and bottom-line driven results.

Service Animals has been developed and refined for the past 30 years, and has been used by almost a million people around the world. Its roots lie in the psychological theories of Carl Jung, but this model has been honed through years of work with psychologists, clients and our own team members. Service Animals is the only tool that focuses on how we all use our individual communication styles to form the service experience we deliver to customers and colleagues.

To find out more, just get in touch!