Emotional Intelligence for Musicians and Arts Leaders Part IV: 3 Communication Skills to Help Build Quality Relationships

In the course of your work as a musician or arts leader, you inevitably encounter conflict, challenges and other “slippery” situations.  How do you handle yourself and your relationships with all of the people with whom you deal?  Here is where the fourth emotional intelligence skill comes into play:  relationship management.

Relationship management is the ability to create successful bonds with others so that you can effectively communicate, handle challenging situations, diffuse conflict and influence others to follow you.  Relationship management builds upon the other 3 skills of emotional intelligence.

It requires:

  • an awareness of your own emotions so that you know what you are feeling in the moment regarding an interaction with someone els
  • the ability to manage those emotions in order to stay in the moment and figure out the best response; and
  • an awareness of the needs and emotions of those with whom you deal

so that you can frame the appropriate response to the situation at hand and build successful relationships.

As is the case with the other 3 skills, you can learn how to manage relationships.  

If you have been implementing the strategies for self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness, you should be in a good position to manage your relationships successfully.

And, successful relationship management is at the heart of great leadership since other people look to their leaders for inspiration and guidance in tough times and they will be more likely to follow the leader under a challenge when the relationship are solid.

At the heart of successful relationships is good communication:  knowing what to say and how to say it appropriately.  So let’s start with 3 strategies that can improve your communication with others and build that EQ muscle to help you power through those challenging situations.



1. Acknowledgement and Clarification

Let’s say that you are discussing an upcoming musical performance and the two of you are not on the same page about the repertoire choices. Your artistic collaborator has just offered up a new idea:  she will be in charge of the selection. You disagree since the group operates on a consensus basis.   And you sense that a conflict may arise from this discussion.  What can you do?

Using your listening skills that you have been practicing as part of your social awareness strategies, you can use the skill of acknowledgement—where you paraphrase what you have just heard—so that your collaborator knows that you are paying attention and then use the skill of clarification—where you clarify any confusion that may arise from what she has said.  

Here is how acknowledgement and clarification would play out in this scenario:

“You think our best option is for you to select the repertoire, rather than having the entire ensemble vote on the program.   Did I get that right?”

Perhaps she did not mean it quite like this.  In her mind, she simply wanted to be the person that finalized the selection, once the other members of the ensemble put forth their ideas.  In that instance, she might respond:

“Not exactly.  I still want the input but someone needs to make a final decision and I would like to be that person.”

By paraphrasing her words and making sure that you understand exactly what she is saying, you show the other person that you are listening to her making it crystal clear that you understand what she is saying.  This simple skill can go a long way to making a connection and maintaining rapport in a delicate situation.  

2. Validate the other person’s position

Validation takes this rapport a step further.  This is where you recognize the worthiness or legitimacy of a person’s point of view and letting her know that she has right to feel that way:

It is not a judgment on whether you agree or whether someone is right or wrong; rather, it shows that you understand that person’s situation.  

“It makes sense that you would propose that idea since you do not seem to be happy with the current programs.”

“No wonder you would like to select the repertoire since we have had a lot of trouble making programming decisions and you seem upset with the process.”

Notice that you are not agreeing with the person and you are certainly not apologizing!  Rather, you are acknowledging the person’s feelings and recognizing that she has a valid point of view from where she sits.

Validation goes a long way to diffusing conflict because if you show the other person that you value her viewpoint without necessarily agreeing with her.  In that case, it makes it much more likely that she will listen to you.  A good way to continue the conversation is as follows:

“Your idea is interesting. Here’s something else to consider.”

Acknowledgement and validation are integral to successful relationship management since you show the other person that you are listening, you acknowledge the person’s feelings and you make them heard.  It shows that you care.  What a great way to create a social bond with someone else and develop rapport and trust, which are at the heart of emotional intelligence!

3. Adapt Your Communication Style

Another important aspect of relationship management deals with the appropriate use of communication styles.  Without oversimplifying the human condition, there are four basic communication styles:

Driver:  the person who likes to take control and be in charge
Analytic:  the person who focuses on details and data
Amiable:  the person who cares about the relationships
Expressive:  the person who bubbles over with ideas and loves to have fun

We all have a default way of communicating and the trick is to understand all four of the styles and use them when appropriate.

The goal of using communication styles is to figure out the best way to influence your colleagues so that you can get the buy-in for your ideas and make people feel good about the process and the decision.  After all, that is what relationship management is all about!

For example, suppose you and your artistic collaborators are planning your next season and you are not sure about one of the funding sources.  The expressive person is likely to throw out a lot of ideas.  The analytical person tends to reflect on the best option based on data and facts and is not likely to be very talkative until he has weighed all of the facts.  The driver wants a solution and does not want to get bogged down in a discussion of process and details.  And the amiable person cares about how the team is feeling about the situation.

  • If you are the expressive type, see how you can focus on 1 or 2 ideas that will help to bring the matter to a solution. 
  • If you are the driver, allow your colleagues to brainstorm and use those driver skills to help shape a good outcome.
  • If you are the analytic one, be mindful that your concern with accuracy may hamper the exchange of ideas and hurt the feelings of your colleagues.
  • And if you are the amiable member of the group, open up to sharing your ideas, rather than focusing solely on how the team is feeling.

For more suggestions on how to adapt your communication style, click here.

A good team leverages all of the strengths of its members.  But if you can adapt your style so that others will hear you, that will go a long way to contributing to a well-run team, as well as a successful outcome.

Above all, use these styles to grow and understand others, while remaining true to yourself.  It is not about becoming a chameleon!  Rather, it is using empathy and emotional intelligence so that you can best understand how to deliver information in such a way that the person you are speaking with will best understand you.  Now that is leadership! And it shows why musicians should incorporate leadership skills in order to achieve better results personally and professionally

Next time, more strategies to help you make an effective connection with others!