How Relationship Intelligence Helps Leaders Excel and Communicate Better with Michael Piperno

How to Communicate Well

Communication is the key to developing any relationship. It is not only about your choice of the words you use to convey information, but also how you tailor the communication for each audience. To be effective you need to tell the story in a way that resonates, so they both listen and understand what you’re trying to say. Whether it’s through body language, tone of voice, or the words you choose, effective communication is crucial for building relationships and getting your message across.
Michael Piperno is a leadership communication expert as well as the founder of the Comvia Group. His company specializes in helping professionals become better presenters and build interpersonal relationships. Craft your message so that “you’re telling that story in a way that will resonate with the audience… and you have to make sure you’re not flying too high for them. You have to close that gap.” (Piperno, 00:08:33) This approach doesn’t work just for large events and team meetings but also small day-to-day micro communications. You must always think about the human at the other end with whom you’re trying to communicate. But as important as it is to stand in the audience’s shoes, it’s important to be your authentic self or people will see right through you.

Has Remote Work Changed Communication?

Piperno has noticed significant communication challenges since the beginning of the pandemic, especially larger corporate teams. When not acknowledged and addressed, changes become challenges: “more disconnects, more frustration, more friction within teams” (Piperno, 00:09:33). One reason this happens frequently is that workers are stripped of the non-verbal communication (body language) that happens in in-person settings. These non-verbal cues could make up as much as 50-75% of communication. That’s why Piperno emphasizes the importance for teams to turn on the camera during video calls, especially when handling sensitive and crucial conversations. Claiming “a lot of times the intent that you have when you’re crafting that communication doesn’t come through without the benefit of having the tone of voice and the facial expression that comes with it.” (Piperno, 00:10:19) Co-Host Jason Cochran confirmed that since remote work started at the beginning of the pandemic, he has been using more “emotive intent” behind the words he has communicated. One way to do this is to use emojis to add some facial expression to the words.

What is Relationship Intelligence?

Relationship intelligence is “insights into each other so that we can improve communication and then improve relationships and the businesses bottom line.” (Piperno, 00:14:45)

Piperno believes relationship intelligence is a missed opportunity for managers and businesses. It leverages an opportunity to better understand your co-workers and their personalities. He suggests, “We probably all experience conflict a little bit differently like when I’m feeling conflicted I get quiet… but you may be someone who looks after the welfare of the team first.” (Piperno, 00:13:42) How can a team better deal with conflict when team members don’t know how each individual might react? This is where relationship intelligence plays a vital role. It starts with Piperno using an assessment called the Strength Deployment Inventory. (You might be more familiar with a similar assessment called DISC.) But Piperno is quick to admit that the assessment isn’t the solution. It’s just a tool to ultimately get team members talking to one another.

How Do You Communicate to a Large Audience?

But what happens when you’re speaking to a large group of people? How can you present so that each person feels like you’re speaking to them directly? Piperno agrees that it is challenging but not impossible. Start by identifying the key stakeholders in the room. “If you’re in a room to convince certain folks, then they’re really your audience and those are the folks you want to tailor that communication with.” (Piperno, 00:17:10) If you connect with them, others will follow. In some cases though you do run into very broad audiences where you have to present very broad content for all. In these situations you do run the risk of not resonating with certain audience members as much. Reiterating that the bottom line is we have to give ourselves some room for error because not every situation is perfect.

Communication when Dealing With Conflict

Conflict is “when opposition turns personal, says Piperno. (00:20:14). But he emphasizes the importance of not confusing conflict with healthy opposition, like giving feedback and debating between team members. Unfortunately too many of us misinterpret the feedback and subsequently, avoid even healthy opposition. The burden for healthy conflict doesn’t fall only on the individuals. It is essential for leaders to create a psychologically safe work zone for health conflict to occur. The challenge for most people is learning how to “really take that step back and think about how someone may be processing this a little bit differently and give them the space to do that.” (Piperno, 00:23:00)

The Power of Observation

While many people want to know what to say, the better approach is to first observe and try to understand and appreciate each individual’s strengths and needs. For example, today we have five generations working together side by side. Piperno suggests the problem isn’t conflict between generations but a lack of relationship intelligence. The tendency is to focus on the differences when attention should be directed to helping young workers understand the company culture. Likewise, it’s not practical or reasonable to force these new hires to just conform without question. Instead it presents an opportunity to open up a conversation and engage in healthy conflict.

Culture Fit and Diversity

A strong robust culture is critically important to a company’s success. But hiring for culture fit can be a bit tricky. If you only hire people who fit a certain mold, you’ll only hire all like minded individuals. When everyone thinks like a hammer, all problems look like nails. Hiring people with different backgrounds and diversity of thinking, innovative approaches and solutions emerge. This is where relationship intelligence shines throught. It plays a pivotal role in embracing diversity and creating an inclusive culture. With more differences, higher levels of relationship intelligence are required: “You can use the power of relationship intelligence and training people about communication to your advantage.” (Piperno, 00:32:56) Investing time in communication building can create higher performing and more diverse teams. Where to start? At the top. Piperno assesses leadership first, then team members, in order to best understand how well a company functions and communicates.

Two Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make

Piperno offered the two biggest mistakes he sees leaders make. The first is that they don’t realize that silence sends a very deafening and strong message. Instead of communicating when things are tough, they are silent. What that does is allow everybody else on the team to create their own story. That’s very dangerous and something to avoid. The second mistake is how they conduct one on one meetings, which are critically important, especially in the hybrid workplace. These meetings are often scheduled as status meetings for projects. That’s not the purpose of a one-on-one. It should be a check in. It should be coaching. It should be two-way coaching when the manager coaches the team member but also gets feedback on him or herself, giving feedback for the team member and getting feedback as a leader.