8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders
Practice emotional intelligence by incorporating these simple, powerful phrases into your leadership vocabulary
By Carla Rudder, February 18, 2019
Emotional intelligence is a must-have soft skill for leaders, and it’s not hard to spot the ones who possess it. People are drawn to high-EQ leaders. It’s apparent in the ways they interact with colleagues. You can even hear it in the words they use every day.
“Emotionally intelligent people want to know that their boss is emotionally intelligent, as well,” says Jonathan Feldman, CIO of the city of Asheville, NC. “That usually translates into wanting to see some self-awareness. Phrases like ‘I was wrong,’ ‘Oh, you’re right,’ and ‘I fell short on that one by not doing XYZ’ help employees know that.”
Here are eight more phrases you can start to incorporate into your leadership vocabulary today to connect with and relate to your team in more meaningful ways. It’s not just lip service, either. Emotional intelligence is one of those skills that improves with regular practice.
These simple yet powerful phrases are a great place to start.
“Tell me more.”
Emotionally intelligent leaders typically possess another valuable soft skill: communication know-how. They also understand that it can be challenging for others, and they’d never make assumptions based on a colleague’s words. “Tell me more about that,” or “What did you mean when you said/did that?” is a judgment-free way to get clarity, says Dr. Neeta Bhushan, emotional health educator and author of “Emotional GRIT.” When leaders use these words, they are operating from a place of curiosity and compassion instead of judgment, she says.
“The phrase ‘can you say more about that’ demonstrates a desire to better understand what the other person is saying or trying to get at, but is non-evaluative,” adds Drew Bird, founder at The EQ Development Group.
“How do you like to be communicated to?”
High-EQ leaders also don’t make assumptions about how others like to receive communication from them. For instance, some people might appreciate face-to-face conversations while others prefer a simple text message. Emotionally intelligent leaders want to know about those preferences so they can adapt their communication style for each individual on their team.
“Emotionally intelligent leaders know how to communicate with empathy. And they recognize that in order to do so, they have to get to know the other person and to ask how they like to receive their information,” notes Colin D. Ellis, author of “The Conscious Project Leader.” “As humans, we all like to receive communication in different ways, and high-EQ leaders will always ask.”
“I appreciate you.”
Giving feedback is one area where emotionally intelligent leaders shine. Sanjay Malhotra, CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, says his go-to phrase is, “Looks good.”
"I know it sounds simple,” he says. “My team works day in and out to create products and work they're proud of. Sometimes things can get hectic with multiple projects and priorities, so I try to make sure everyone knows they're acknowledged and doing a good job even for a quick second. It's something so small, but I know my team appreciates hearing their hard work is worth it."
It’s not just for the team, though. Leaders who use this phrase build stronger relationships and deeper trust with their colleagues, which is a good thing for everyone involved. “Showing gratitude and acceptance is a surefire way to have positive engagement and employee satisfaction,” says Bhushan.
While it's nice to hear “good job," putting some context around it makes it even more meaningful, says Bird. “Helping people to understand why you are grateful makes it more meaningful than simply saying thanks,” he says. Bird suggests the phrase: “I really appreciate you doing that because [add the actual impact of their actions].”
“What are your thoughts?”
Feedback is a two-way street for high-EQ leaders, says Ellis. “Emotionally intelligent leaders are inclusive by nature and never stop looking for opportunities to bring the thoughts and views of others into a discussion,” he says. “They recognize that they are not the smartest people in the room and look for ways to elevate others.”
“I have a different perspective.”
High-EQ leaders don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Instead, they use disagreements as opportunities to start a dialogue and find common ground.
“The phrase ‘I have a different perspective’ is a more emotionally intelligent way to say ‘I don’t agree,’” says Bird. “Having a different perspective simply means you have an alternative view of this opportunity or challenge.”
When those alternative views lead to conflict, Bird suggests the phrase: “It makes me [insert emotion/feeling] when you ...” This language demonstrates that the leader has given thought to what is happening, and enables the other person to hear the impact of their actions, says Bird.
“Are you OK?”
For most people, creativity ebbs and flows. Some days we’re firing on all cylinders, some days we need a few extra cups of coffee just to get through the workday. Emotionally intelligent leaders know this and give their employees the benefit of the doubt. They also check in to make sure employees are OK.
“There are times that people are not able to be the best, most productive versions of themselves. In times such as these, the response of emotionally intelligent leaders is not to berate them for missing a deadline or allowing the quality of work to slip. It's to ask them, in an empathetic way, whether they are OK,” says Ellis. “The wellbeing of other people is uppermost in their minds, and this is just one way that they show it.”
“I hear you.”
Empathy, as Ellis notes, is a hallmark of emotional intelligence. Bhushan agrees. “Showcasing empathy is the number-one way to show emotional intelligence, to demonstrate that you hear the other person and that you don’t have any hidden agenda driving your actions,” she says.
Phrases like “I hear you” and “I understand” are useful in bringing the language of empathy into your vocabulary, she says.
Emotionally intelligent leaders aren’t afraid to admit when they are wrong. “Apologizing, in an honest way, demonstrates a high level of emotional intelligence as it shows a modesty and humility that followers really appreciate,” says Bird.
That humility is key, notes Ellis: “Humility is a key behavioral trait of emotionally intelligent leaders. They have the self-awareness to know when they've said something or acted in a way that upset or undermined another human, and are determined to correct it as soon as possible,” he says.
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