Why You Need To Build Relationship Intelligence

Not very long ago, I was brought into a team meeting as the facilitator and responsible for ensuring the successful achievement of meeting outcomes. I had agreement on the agenda and the meeting design with the group leader to support what she wanted to accomplish, I trusted that I was fully prepared for this assignment. No sooner had the meeting leader introduced me to the group, one of the meeting participants – a man well call Brad, said, “We don’t need a facilitator! What difference could she possibly make to our meeting?” I found myself immediately feeling defensive. The group leader turned expectantly towards me. I guess the ball was in my court!

I realized that my reaction and response in the next few minutes could set the tone for the rest of the day and affect my presence and effectiveness in the room. This moment called for relationship intelligence (RQ). What are the ingredients for RQ? Just like emotional intelligence or EQ, it calls for self-awareness to realize your own feelings, a consideration of the other’s feelings, as well as the impact your behavior can have on others. The ingredients are: 1) empathy for others, 2) skillful listening and an appreciation for candor, 3) respectful behavior, and 4) composure under duress.

1. Empathy for others means making an empathic connection and concern with others, and understanding their perspectives, feelings and needs.

After giving myself a moment to think, I responded to this outburst with a calmly delivered statement and question. “You sound to me like you must have had some difficult experiences with a facilitator. What specific concerns do you have about using a facilitator today?” This gave me a chance to better understand this person’s concerns and perspectives.

To activate your empathy, ask yourself: “What question will best reveal the perspectives, feelings and needs?”


2. Skillful listening and an appreciation for candor generate meaningful, empowering communication. These are all critical skills in listening to the answers. Brad answered my question with, “The last time we had a facilitator, she talked way too much and derailed our meeting. What a waste of time!” In response, I welcomed his candor by expressing appreciation for this information and validated his feelings by saying how frustrated he must have been. I asked him what “good facilitation” would have looked like to meet his expectations of effectiveness and efficiency. This gave me the platform to demonstrate my understanding of his perspective and help him feel empowered as a team member.

To activate your skillful listening and empowering communication, ask yourself: “Am I clear about what I am hearing about the underlying meaning and feelings? Can I verify this through paraphrasing? How can I let this person now I appreciate candor?”


3. Respectful behavior means valuing people and their contributions. Brad answered, “I never saw a facilitator who added value.” Again, in response, I didn’t react defensively. I smiled, nodded, and told him that I would be happy to describe my role and how my behavior would add value today, and that I will periodically request feedback from him and the group to course-correct if necessary. This defused any possible antagonism on Brad’s part and indicated my respect for his participation and added value.

To activate your respect, ask yourself: “How might I let others know that I value them and their contributions?”


4. Composure under duress means having emotional fluency – feeling deeply and thinking clearly. Each emotion from our subconscious sends valuable messages to our conscious mind about a need we are not feeling confident we can meet. When I felt defensive, this was a signal to inquire of Brad about the nature of his concern. I no longer felt defensive, but curious – and I could easily retain my composure.

To activate your composure, ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now and what is this telling me about what I need? How can I strategically and skillfully meet this need? Do I need some time to reflect before acting?”


The meeting was a success! Brad was won over pretty early by my willingness to listen to his complaint, and I checked in as the day unfolded to ensure his needs were being met. At the end of the day, he remarked that I was a very skilled facilitator and he was glad to have been part of the meeting.