Listening and Reading People – Two Underappreciated Skills Crucial to ERM Success

When you examine books and online resources about ERM (including my blog), you will find plenty of information on methods for identifying risks, assessing risks, establishing an ERM governance structure, and more.

However, what often gets lost is the idea that there are other “soft” skills risk professionals must have in order for ERM to be a valuable tool for optimizing the performance of an organization.

My original thought was to combine all of these soft or non-technical skills in one article but decided to have separate articles after reflecting on their individual importance.

The first two skills, listening and reading people, may seem a little mundane, but in my experience, they are critical for ensuring ERM success in any organization.

Being able to interact, accurately interpret tone and body language, and respond accordingly is the foundation of productive ERM conversations.

As explained in this piece on the qualities of an effective ERM professional, building trust and respect with individual executives and business managers (often across competing siloes) can be a huge challenge. In order to do this, ERM professionals must be able to actively listen and read people effectively to ensure they fully understand their perspective.

If an ERM professional is unable to do this, they will alienate executives and other important figures and never have any meaningful involvement in the organization’s decisions.

Why are these skills so vital to ERM success?

Risk can be a heated topic. Intense. Sometimes controversial.

Executives and business unit managers can get defensive about their areas. It can be really easy for the conversation to veer off course without good interpersonal skills such as active listening and reading people.

To put it another way, conversations around corporate strategy and risk and opportunities to achieving objectives can get very passionate or emotional.

It’s completely normal (and acceptable) to have emotions. How you control them and understand the emotions of others will determine how productive ERM conversations are.

In a previous article on the importance of relationships in ERM, I mention the concept of emotional intelligence and provide an “official” definition, meaning one found in the original academic paper on this subject. Although the term “emotional intelligence” only goes back 20-25 years, the idea of how emotions can affect behavior goes back centuries.

For the purposes of this article though, there’s a simpler definition of emotional intelligence found in the book EQ Applied, which focuses on practical application of this nebulous topic of emotional intelligence. Author Justin Bariso defines emotional intelligence as:

…the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ for short, can be broken down into four general abilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. While each of these abilities is connected, the purpose of today’s article isn’t to discuss them all in detail. (Buy the book if you want to know about all four abilities!) Self-management and social awareness are two EQ abilities that warrant special attention in the risk world.

Self-management, or the ability to manage feelings and control emotions, is an important skill to have, so you can build the trust that’s needed for ERM to have a meaningful impact.

For example, if you’re in a meeting and one of the participants seems to be getting upset, the answer isn’t to get upset back at them. Instead, try lowering the volume of your voice and softening your tone a little bit.

Social awareness takes this a step further by considering the emotions of others. Commonly known as empathy, understanding others’ emotions and how those feelings affect behavior helps you understand how to best satisfy wants and needs. Understanding the feelings of others can help you avoid unnecessary conflict, which is a tremendous quality for drawing people to you. However, this can be a weakness too if it prevents you from speaking up or providing constructive criticism out of fear of offending someone.

As Bariso explains in his book, each of the four abilities of emotional intelligence is interconnected, but they are not necessarily dependent on each other…you may excel at one and be weak in another.

Being able to read and interpret tone, body language, and emotions, and determine how to best respond, is an invaluable skill not just for ERM professionals, but anyone. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence will become an increasingly important skill in the years ahead, especially as the world experiences unprecedented technological change.

Have you ever taken a step back to understand your emotions and how you handle them?

How do you think your emotions and reading of others helps or hurts the progress of ERM in your organization?

Please share your thoughts on the impact of non-technical or soft skills for ERM professionals to have a meaningful impact in their organizations. Feel free to leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

This article just scratches the surface of various soft skills required for ERM success. Look for next week’s article, where I will be talking about strategic thinking and how you can purposefully design an impactful strategic conversation with executives at your organization.

If you find that ERM is not having the expected impact in your organization, please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss your situation today.

Featured Image Courtesy of Romain V via Unsplash

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • So very true. Being a risk manager is ALL about communication and liaison with others. Let us face it … as a risk manager you are responsible for making someone else take action to effectively address something that may never happen, and which is outside your area of responsibility. This needs strong soft skills.

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