Making an emotional connection: how to communicate with impact

Written by
Peter Lowe

22 Sep 2017

22 Sep 2017 • by Peter Lowe

There are so many synergies between the pitch and the boardroom. In high performance environments, having an emotional impact is critical - but only when it is authentic and consistent and it doesn’t bow to the demands of pressure.

Only recently Alex Ferguson praised Arsene Wenger’s resilience and unwavering response amidst demands to step down, pointing out the validity of a long-term approach and the importance of staying strong and true to yourself. Whether you agree with the decision or not, it’s clear that Wenger ‘lived’ his values and didn’t feel the need to justify his position. In fact, any attempt to do so would have undermined his impact as a leader.

As a values-driven person, I believe it’s essential your words and deeds are aligned and you never compromise when it comes to what you stand for. If you fall, at least you fall by your own beliefs and not the beliefs of others.

Having personal gravitas

People in emotional control can lose their temper while still remaining within a consistent spectrum of behaviour. An expression of passion is acceptable if it doesn’t devalue or undermine others, though it’s a fine line to walk and not many do it with integrity. The key is not to be contrived in any way that you project yourself.

For me, body language is a big factor and one that makes up a significant proportion of all communication. We can say so much without uttering a single word.

In the training room players knew what I was thinking as I made it clear in the way I communicated. It didn’t mean balling and shouting - quite the contrary, I could make a huge impact by using silence appropriately, it’s very often all in what is not said.

Influencing the influencers

I also like to ensure I leave others with responsibility by asking the right questions and probing into their self-awareness. I built a bank of phrases that had resonance with the players, so rather than shouting about giving the ball away at half time team talks, players would actively come forward with lines I’d helped to develop like “take care of the ball”, a simple but powerful reminder to be focused and alert.

Ultimately it’s the role of a leader to create other leaders. The All Blacks talked about having a captain and 15 leaders and that’s the philosophy behind winning teams who all take responsibility and step up to the plate.

It’s also about understanding relationship dynamics and ‘knowing your changing room’ - the same applies in the workplace. Be savvy about peer influence and emotional attachments within the team and you have a much greater insight into how best to communicate and influence change.

A healthy approach to failure

All great learning environments encourage people to innovate and take calculated risks. It’s highly probable that both individual members of the team, and by virtue of the fact, the team itself, will fail from time to time. Establishing a leadership style which motivates and inspires people is essential. That also means empowering people to recognise that failure is ok and is even a great platform for learning if lessons are drawn from it and promptly acted upon. 

Resolving issues

Where there are big personalities there will invariably be clashes. Dealing with highly charged emotive issues requires care and consideration. As a leader you need to set your intentions from the outset so you have a clear vision of the outcome you desire. If you take a decision to intervene in a problem with either a group or individual, you need to have evaluated whether your relationship is strong enough to withstand it. If not, then it’s often worth considering how other influencers among the team can defuse a situation to act as a mediator and take the emotional sting out of the issue. Another key consideration when you’re intervening is to consider whether your actions leave the person or the group with responsibility so you don’t veer into ‘controlling’ territory that disempowers or devalues colleagues.

The power of listening

When discussing communication, we often fail to pay sufficient attention to the importance of listening. A great leader is an adept listener - observing and digesting both the spoken and nonverbal communication among the team.

Key listening tips include:

  1. Listening with full attention to the content of a conversation, without any distractions
  2. Noticing the pace of speech and the way something is articulated
  3. Seeing the visual communication that is evident in body language
  4. Going beneath the semantics to get a feel for the values that are being conveyed in the conversation
  5. Interpreting the emotional expression of how that person is feeling through his or her communication

In essence, communication is the metaphorical glue that holds teams together. Whether we like it or not, we bring our whole selves to work so, as a leader, navigating the complex dynamics of emotional intelligence is fundamental.