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When Words Are Not Enough: A Communications Institute with EI Smarts

Thursday, October 24, 2019

by Chris Murchison, Workplace Connection and Community Consultant

There is a saying in leadership development: the skills that got you to this point will not get you to the next level. While true for any professional vertical, it is particularly true for communications professionals.

Bridging from junior to senior-level roles requires greater attention to vision, strategy and the skillful execution of story. But communications strategy is only half the story. The other half comes in the form of emotional intelligence. Crossing the bridge from here to there is not easy!

The aim of NCG’s Communications Institute was to build such a bridge through the creation of a cohort learning program, one that designed a human experience through the art of interpersonal relations and the science of communications. The learning agenda for NCG’s Communications Institute required just that – art and science, heart and head, soft and hard skills. We wanted this learning experience to incorporate both.

Communications work demands many hard skills to implement successful strategy. However, as you climb the professional ladder it is often the “soft” skills that determine the success or failure of leadership. Marshall Goldsmith, an academic and author, says it well: “all other things being equal, your people skills (or lack of them) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when all other things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in how high you go.”

We designed the Communications Institute as an opportunity to learn about and experience these soft skills through the lens of emotional intelligence. We wove equity and inclusion throughout the Institute’s curriculum, practicing skills of noticing, attuning, welcoming, and embracing which also fostered an experience of belonging in the group.

Our emotional intelligence content focused on two core elements:

  1. Managing Yourself in the Workplace
    • Building greater self-awareness of personal and social strengths
    • Managing blocks to self-awareness
    • Amplifying self-expression
    • Understanding of the influence of race and social equity in personal competence
  2. Managing Relationships in the Workplace
    • Recognizing triggers in interpersonal relationships, listening and inquiry, managing assumptions, influencing others, and managing difficult conversations
    • Understanding of the influence of race and social equity in social awareness and relationship management

This agenda was grounded in research but the real magic happened when the group opened up their vulnerabilities with themselves and each other. This was particularly true as we explored the many ways that race and social equity influence how we show up in the world as individuals and as leaders.

Together we learned that emotional intelligence is an essential core practice of justice work. The nuances and complexity of equity and inclusion make it perfect territory for self-reflection and skill-building. Exploring emotional triggers and conflict styles allowed us to increase our self-awareness and capacity to lead and to engage others in upping their commitment to equity.

Photo of participants in the Communications Cohort

The vulnerability asked of cohort participants was an edge for many and required courage. In particular, discussions of race and equity within our diverse group opened up additional exposure for participants of color. This is not unfamiliar for people of color and motivates us as faculty to create an even more equity-centered learning experience for all participants.

We ended our six-month experiment on a high note. If enthusiasm is any measure, the skills that got them through the Institute will serve them well in getting to the next level of their careers.  

Intrigued? Consider joining us or recommending a colleague to join our second cohort in 2020.