Executive leadership is slowly moving towards gender parity. More women than ever before hold executive leadership roles in companies; however, women still comprise the minority of executive leaders across the board, making up around 29%. This minority position presents women executives with challenges that are similar and dissimilar to those faced by their male counterparts. To navigate these challenges, an effective leadership communication strategy is one of the best tools in your toolkit. Key to an effective leadership communication strategy is emotional intelligence. It has long been considered a core strength of women executive leaders over their male counterparts. In this article, we’ll review how emotional intelligence shows up in the workplace, why it can give your organization the edge, and the skills you can start implementing right now to improve your communication strategy.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

More than just self-awareness and self-control, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand your own and others’ emotions and how they drive behavior. Then, using the knowledge to motivate those around you. Because of the strong interpersonal nature of organizations, a well-developed sense of emotional intelligence is a vital trait for every successful executive.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important for Women in Executive Leadership?

It’s well established that senior leadership sets the tone throughout the organization. The way you act and your relationship with others can build or break your organization’s morale. Furthermore, culture fit and manager relationships are some of the most important criteria for gaining and retaining quality talent in your organization. All these facets of your organization’s structure and stability are highly influenced by the EQ of you and your management team. 

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Richard Branson

By its very nature, emotional intelligence broadly determines how well you naturally build constructive relationships, inspire those around you to be their best, and your ability to navigate and resolve conflicts when they arise. Improving your emotional intelligence is fundamental to improving your personal communication and strengthens the efficacy of your communication strategy as a senior leader.

EQ comes down to much more than simply knowing the right words to say. The 7-38-55 rule of communication states that only 7% of our communication is the words we say, while 93% is how we say it and the body language we use. Even worse is when the words spoken do not match the body language and how we say them. This dissonance in communication can damage trust in your leadership because your communication can feel ungenuine or like lies, even if that’s not the case.

Foundation of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, an American Psychologist who popularized the idea of EQ, defined a total of 5 Key Elements that make up EQ:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

Understanding and implementing these core elements of emotional intelligence, you can create an empathic communication style and holistic method of communication that considers all parties’ perspectives and feelings and creates more effective communication. When teams feel understood, you’re on your way to building a stellar, motivated, and passionate team.

“I often communicate on a passionate, emotional level—which can be a detriment, particularly for a woman in a predominantly male leadership group, as ours was for many years… When I’m making my arguments, I have to really prepare and try to be—and this is very difficult for me—factual and dispassionate.”

Colleen Barrett, President/COO of Southwest Airlines

Executive Leadership Communication: Managing the Two Types of Relationships

As a business leader, there are two types of relationships you must manage. The first is your relationship with yourself, and the second is the interpersonal, social relationships that make up your organization. It’s a heavy load to carry, but you can thrive with the right emotional intelligence strategy and implementation. 

Your Awareness and Management of Yourself 

Being in tune with your emotional response to situations will help you better handle those situations and problems as they arise. This perceptiveness is perhaps the most important because your relationship with yourself influences all your other relationships. To improve this relationship, use the five key elements to review your relationship.

  • Stay aware of how you are acting and reacting
  • Regulate your expression in both body and spoken language
  • Seek to understand your motivations
  • Show yourself empathy
  • Refine your social skills

Your Awareness and Management of Social Relationships Around You 

Excelling in this area is what can set you apart as an executive leader with a high EQ. You’re responsible for managing your interpersonal relationships with team members, ensuring team members stay motivated, and that they feel comfortable turning to you for direction. Beyond managing the individual relationship between you and team members, you also need to manage relationships between team members themselves. Crafting an effective communications strategy using your emotional intelligence to understand and facilitate better relationships within your organization can improve your organization’s morale and become a hallmark of its culture.

What Empathy Skills Do Women in Executive Leadership Use?

There are very few executive leaders who you would probably consider a 10/10 in all aspects of emotional intelligence. Still, you can see the vital importance of influencing success or failure from within an organization. Here are five empathy skills you can refine to improve your emotional intelligence and executive communication strategy.

Projection: Commonly known as “Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes,” having a strong ability to project to other perspectives will give you a more holistic understanding of the situation and all the people involved. Making a common practice of projection can help you understand the motivations of those around you and build empathy with them. 

Recognizing and Interpreting Body Language: Calling back to the 7-38-55 rule, Dr. Albert Mehrabian tells us that 38% of communication is done through voice and 55% through body language. These communication patterns demand a lot of attention in yourself and others. Honing your ability to pick up and interpret communication beyond the words being said will help to improve your ability to decipher incoming communication and better express yourself when communicating.

Understanding Perspective, Motivation, and Stakes: While using projection to put yourself in someone else’s shoes can be an effective way to understand someone’s motivation, it’s essential to know that you still hold your perspective, knowledge, and beliefs. To understand another’s internal drivers, you need to discover what’s important to them. In this specific context, what is it they believe, their motivation, and what stakes do they have on the table? Carefully considering these in context with the current situation can yield significant insight to improve your communication.

Using Empathy to Build Compassion: Compassion can be a powerful motivator and internal driver for many of your team members, and it’s primarily built through empathy. Ask questions, avoid assumptions, and avoid the common mistake of telling someone how they feel through your communication. Be open to receiving the other’s feelings so that you can understand their perspective. When they express their feelings: acknowledge them, respond to them, and collaborate to develop improvements or solutions to address the situation.

Conflict Resolution Skills: Conflict is one of the most common situations a leader must deal with, if not the most common. We’ve put together a list of 4 powerful strategies you can use to deal with conflict efficiently. Using your emotional intelligence to quickly and effectively resolve conflict can help strengthen your organization’s internal structure and keep it operating at a high-efficiency level.

9 Leadership Communication Skills and Strategies 

Below is a list of nine leadership communication skills that can help strengthen your relationship with yourself and others, practice your emotional intelligence, and help you develop an effective leadership communication strategy.

  1. Self-awareness or reflection and journaling. Spend time looking back on situations, reflecting on how you felt and the outcome. Writing these thoughts down can often help remove them from your mind space and help you review them more objectively.
  2. Slow down, use a“10-second pause.” Avoid the emotion reflex response. Instead, wait to make thoughtful decisions and take deliberate actions.
  3. Develop your values and personal code to keep yourself accountable. Keeping a well-defined personal code and understanding your personal values make it easy to make decisions and take action while keeping yourself accountable. Encourage your team and make it easy for them to provide feedback to help hold you accountable.
  4. Own your mistakes, make corrections, and move on. Being accountable is about owning your mistakes and making corrections to prevent those mistakes in the future. It’s just as important to release those mistakes and not let them remain a heavy millstone around your neck. You need to stay free to move forward take on new challenges.
  5. Let go of grudges. Avoid letting business become personal. Improving your emotional intelligence can help you often discover that the situation has nothing to do with you personally. Try not to let these situations live rent-free in your head and cloud your actions.
  6. Find an outlet. Crafting/making hobbies, artistic expression, and exercise routines are all well-regarded for serving to relieve stress, improve composure, and help you recenter.
  7. Stay motivated with goal setting. Keep your professional and personal goals current, focused, and yourself dedicated to pursuing them.
  8. Take time to hype yourself up. Building your own mood as an executive leader is essential for positively impacting the social atmosphere. Take a moment to refocus, shake out the negative energy, and make it your goal to raise the room’s energy through your contribution.
  9. Continually check the“temperature” of your organization. Observe and keep your finger on the pulse of your organization. Connect with your employees personally to understand their motivations, and use structured and unstructured checking to assess how they’re feeling. Ask about their current projects, work situation, and state of being. 

Looking for More? Check Out Our Business Coaching Services for Women

EWF International offers Executive Coaching, Corporate Programs, and Executive Peer Advisory Forums to help women take themselves and their organizations to the next level. If you’re ready for personalized help to take your leadership and career to the next level, check out our business coaching services for women today.