Emotional intelligence: 6 powerful phrases of future CIOs

Rising IT leaders know that words matter in relationships. Make these emotionally intelligent phrases part of your leadership vocabulary.
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soft skills: relationship-building

The events of the last year and a half have proven how essential emotional intelligence is for CIOs leading their technology organizations through challenging times. “The requirements to lead through complexity and ambiguity, while using more influence rather than formal roles of position and authority, continue to grow,” says Noelle Akins, leadership coach and founder of Akins & AssociatesHigh-EQ leadership is no longer an option; it’s mandatory for success.

Emotional intelligence is evidenced in the way individuals behave and – just as importantly – the way they speak. “Quite simply, words matter,” says Patrick Malone, director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs and author of "Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work." “The way we communicate is the most impactful tool for building trust and bonds with our colleagues.”

Earlier this year, we shared some simple yet effective phrases that CIOs and IT leaders use to practice and demonstrate their emotional intelligence. “A key aspect of emotional intelligence is relationship management,” says Dr. Sunni Lampasso, consulting psychologist, executive coach, and founder of Shaping Success. “The ability to communicate clearly and openly helps to establish credibility and build trust.”

[ See our related article: 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

6 phrases emotionally intelligent leaders use

But being EQ fluent isn’t just for those at the top of the org chart. “Emotional Intelligence matters for all employees, especially for leaders and for those hoping to move into a leadership position,” Lampasso says. “Developing emotional intelligence helps leaders create strong connections with their team and make sound decisions during stressful situations.”

Up-and-coming IT professionals demonstrate their emotionally intelligent leadership potential with their responses and thoughtful word choices. “The way we speak has a profound impact on our career paths. By choosing our words in a way that showcases our EQ, team members and mid-level employees can show that they are ready to take on more of a leadership role within their organizations,” says Janele Lynn, owner of the Lynn Leadership Group, who helps leaders build trusting relationships through EI. “More importantly, they’ll be able to build stronger relationships with those on their teams and in their workplaces, affording them more organizational leverage and support. This can help position them well when it comes time to advance in the organization.”

Following are six phrases ascending IT stars use to build trust, foster stronger relationships, show they care for others, and encourage productivity and engagement in those around them.

1. "What do you need?" or "How can I help?"

“Emotionally intelligent leaders show they care by listening to the challenges of their team members and helping them to identify potential solutions,” Lampasso says. “For example, if a team member is struggling with learning a new system, a leader might say, ‘It sounds like you’re having a hard time learning the new system. What can I do to support you? What do you need to be successful?’” These kinds of phrases “let team members know that you see them, care about their needs, and you are there to support them,” says Akins. “This strengthens the connectedness of your team and the resilience of individuals and the team as a whole.”

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

2. "Is there anything else I should know that would help me understand your position/thoughts?"

When emotionally intelligent individuals speak, they seek not simply to be understood, but to understand. That means to ask questions. “Not leading questions or questions meant to provoke or disprove a point,” Lynn explains, “but questions designed to truly understand another’s point of view.”

Asking others to tell you about their point of view or position on a topic can serve two powerful purposes: resolving conflict and building trust. Articulating that you understood the other person’s point of view is a key part of this. “Phrases that acknowledge and indicate that you listened to someone’s point of view will help build relationships based on mutual understanding and respect,” Lynn says.

Here are some examples: “Thanks for giving me your perspective on this.” “I think I understand your point of view.” "Here’s what I took away… " “Your point of view is important to me. Thank you.” “How can we balance or mitigate your point of view with (insert opposing views.)”

3. "What can I do better?"

Emotionally intelligent individuals encourage and ask for feedback frequently. Just as importantly, they listen fully, ask clarifying questions, and thank the person for their willingness to provide feedback.

They might ask for feedback about a specific situation or behavior, noting, “I really value your opinion and would like you to be honest with me.” They can be more prescriptive and ask team members to give them an example of something they did that the other person found helpful during an interaction and another example of something they could do better. They make sure to thank the other person and take the information into consideration.

[ Improve your communication and other soft skills: How to build soft skills: 10 must-read books. ]

4. "Let's think through this together."

Similar to asking another person to help you understand their point of view on something, this phrase invites insight and sharing from the other party. And just like asking how you can best support a teammate, this phrase builds trust, connection, and improved communication. “[These phrases] also create a sense of ‘we’ and not ‘me’,” Malone says.

5. "Here's what I do know (and here's what I don't)."

In uncertain times, emotionally intelligent individuals are comfortable sharing the knowns and acknowledging the unknowns. “When asked for details that you do not have, start by sharing that you may not know the specifics of how or when something may occur,” says Akins. “But then follow that up by sharing what you do know about the situation or change that is coming.” If you can zoom out and give others a high-level view of the big picture or vision along with a general timeline of anticipated changes or requirements, that is helpful. “As you acknowledge the ambiguity around some situations, team members will appreciate your transparency as you continue to reinforce a view of the mid-term destination or long-term goal,” Akins says.

6. Nothing at all

Sometimes the most emotionally intelligent thing to say is nothing at all.

Individuals who are higher on the EQ spectrum ask themselves three important questions before sharing a thought: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said now? “One of the most powerful approaches for IT managers to use is to take a step back [and] pause,” says Malone.

Being thoughtful, self-aware, inquisitive, and empathetic in speech benefits not only the rising IT professionals but those around them. “Communicating in a clear and even-keeled manner all as an up-and-coming professional demonstrates that you can manage your emotions and increases your ability to effectively work with others,” Lampasso says. “[Those] who demonstrate relationship management skills increase performance and engagement of their teams.”

High-EQ communications allow individuals to increase shared understanding with others. “Growing in emotional intelligence helps you understand how you are being received as you communicate,” says Akins, “and it improves your ability to connect with your coworkers to motivate and leverage emotional energy, turning it into shared action.”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.

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