Whether your organization survives or thrives in a post-COVID-19 world may come down to how well your people can work together.

Executives look to talent development professionals to ensure that their hard-won talent can apply their skills and passion in concert with others. Achieve this goal consistently, and high performance and outstanding business results will follow. On the other hand, when talent is stymied or suppressed, organizations are immediately at risk of not only poor performance but the loss of their best people.

Overwhelmingly, the root cause of talent ineffectiveness is a complex mix of relational issues. Unaddressed, those issues brew into a culture of poor communication, interpersonal conflict, exclusive behavior, low engagement and high turnover. Addressing these stubbornly human issues requires an intelligence about people and how they work with others — applied daily and over time. I call it relationship intelligence, and it’s what powers the most effective leaders and teams.

Some people seem to have a natural relationship intelligence; however, people who lack it — especially when it’s a manager, senior leader or a brilliant technical expert — have a disproportionately negative effect on their team. This negativity can, in some cases, affect the entire organization. However, if the majority of people can learn to use relationship insights and apply them to make interactions more effective, they’ll have a similarly disproportionate positive effect on collaboration, communication and conflict management. They’ll even begin to coach one another on how to relate better, driving a culture with a distinct competitive advantage: Talented people love working there.

Relationship-rich cultures where diversity and inclusion, trust, and respect thrive fulfill the highest mandate of talent development and powerfully position their work as the essential bridge between people and performance. Building this bridge means embedding four essential practices into the daily flow of work:

1. Master Multiple Communication Styles

The 21st-century workforce is more diverse than at any time in human history. Couple that diversity with the rise of remote work, and conditions are ripe for miscommunication, mistrust and misdirection.

People want and need to receive communication in ways the resonate to them. The only way to create this type of communication is for leaders to take the time to get to know each person on the team and what makes him or her feel valued and understood.

2. Reduce Conflict and Foster Inclusion

Interpersonal conflict in the workplace is costly and can become a major impediment to team performance. The correct response, however, is not to discourage vigorous debate or the consideration of alternative views. Instead, leaders must give everyone a voice and encourage healthy opposition. It’s the only path to creativity and innovation.

3. Illuminate and Eliminate Unconscious Bias

Everyone has biases; it’s part of being human. However, some biases do great harm to people and performance. Embracing and leveraging differences of all types is not only the right thing to do socially; it’s also necessary to achieve any level of competitive advantage.

4. Build Trusted Networks Across the Organization and Beyond

The problems we face as humans, and the solutions we offer to address them, are often complex. Look no further than the development and distribution of the vaccines against the novel coronavirus as prime examples. No one person has all the answers. Instead, subject matter experts from a variety of fields and functions must work together in concert with others — often from around the world — to achieve results. The reality, however, is that people resist calls for collaboration unless there is trust, so we have to equip people with trust-building tools they can deploy in every interaction.

Organizations that leverage these four practices, supported by the accurate insights and behavior coaching, provided in the right moment, can empower people to become more fearless, innovative and productive. These relationally intelligent practices also cultivate ways for people to value, appreciate and honor one another — a skill that’s much needed as enterprises work to regain traction following a difficult year. There is no better time to ensure your employees stay healthy by inoculating them with relationship intelligence.

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