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June 8, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

The Power of Relational Intelligence

June 8, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

The Power of Relational Intelligence


Sarah welcomes back Founder & Managing Director, Bandelli & Associates and author, Dr. Adam Bandelli, to discuss his new book "Relational Intelligence: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships."

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about a theme called relational intelligence. I'm welcoming back to the podcast today, Dr. Adam Bandelli, who joined us on episode 141. At that point, we were talking about Adam's last book and he just released a new book, Relational Intelligence: the Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life Changing Relationships. So, we're going to talk a bit about that concept today and how it applies to you all in our audience. So Adam, welcome back to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Adam Bandelli: How are you, Sarah?

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Thanks for being back with me.

Adam Bandelli: No, it's my pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. So, what is relational intelligence? Let's start there.

Adam Bandelli: Yeah, it's a great place to start. So, relational intelligence is the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long lasting relationships. So, it's really about using five key skills that will enable you to strengthen the skills that you have with your people and teams, and really build great partnerships with your customers or your clients or the people that you work with.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now the book, how did you come up with the idea for the book?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah, that's a fascinating question. So, I started my research back in my undergrad years since the mid-nineties. When Daniel Goleman came out with this book, Emotional Intelligence, Why it Matters More Than IQ. And it really started me on a journey at looking at different leadership skills and behaviors that make up for strong impact that companies have on their clients and their customers. And so, did my doctoral work really at looking at what are different aspects beyond emotional intelligence that contribute to how leaders build relationships with others. Found out in my research, that there were five key skills that connect to this and that these skills are behaviors that can be practiced and learned over time. And then I really spent the next 15 years of my career, focused on practicing and refining those skills, both with colleagues and with our clients, which ultimately, culminated in writing in the book last year.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, the research that you did to support this idea or concept of relational intelligence, what did that research look like? Obviously, part of it is, your own experience and how you've used the concept yourself at your firm and with your clients. And again, for those that didn't catch the first episode, tell them a little bit about what your firm does and how you work with clients, so that they have an idea of how this would apply.

Adam Bandelli: Yeah, absolutely. So, our work is a leadership advisory boutique, and we focus really on three areas. One, is around senior executive selection. So, we help companies identify leaders for top roles and we'll do our leadership interviews and some psychometric tools to determine if they'll be a good fit for the culture. So, we do a third of our work there. Another third of our work is around leadership development. So, we do a lot around individual coaching, team coaching, high potential development. And then the third part of our firm, we focus on executive education and training. And so, we actually just built out our flagship program, which is called the Relational Intelligence Experience, which is a two-day immersive offsite where we bring leaders together. C-suite senior teams, and we focus on those five skills. They learn about the skills, they get to practice them real time. And then we give them tools to take it back into their organizations.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And so, going back to my first question, I'm notorious for asking two questions at once and it's such a bad habit, but going back to the first question that I had, what was the research that you did that sort of initiated this concept that you then on your own have proven out over time?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. So, this is my doctoral dissertation back in 2006, where I initially researched, "What are the types of leadership behaviors that impact how people build relationships?" So, really how senior leaders build relationships with your people. And so, the five skills that we drew from the research, both in the academic circles and then practitioners, are establishing rapport, understanding others, embracing individual differences, developing trust, and cultivating influence. And of those five skills, we built an assessment to see what they actually measure and assess.

And then we went out and we found that those skills actually predict four real important things in organizations. One, is employee engagement. Two, is job satisfaction, so how happy are people at their job and doing their work. Three, is how committed they are to their organizations. And then four, most importantly, how can employers retain their talent? And so, we found that having good relational intelligence, or leaders who practice those five skills are able to drive those four outcomes for their business. So, that was the initial research around my dissertation. And then as I mentioned, I've put this into practice now with our clients over the last 15 or 20 years.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, going back to the point you made about emotional intelligence, talk about how this is different, because I'm sure there are folks that would hear some of what you're saying and think, "Well, isn't that emotional intelligence?" Talk a little bit about what the differences are there.

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. So really, as I mentioned, relational intelligence, we define that as the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long lasting relationships. Emotional intelligence is really defined as the ability to understand your emotions, the emotions of others, and how to manage emotions effectively. So, the two concepts are really completely different. Now with EQ, the research that we've done, EQ can be used for the ability to connect with people, but it could also be used for self-serving and manipulative purposes.

So, we've all seen the type of leaders who are either narcissistic or machiavellian, who know how to use emotions to trigger other things in people, to get them to do what they want them to do or use folks as a means to an end. With relational intelligence, you cannot fake it, because it focuses on the long term sustainability of relationships with the outcome of developing the people around you. So, that's kind of the big difference between the two. Within our framework, the second skill, understanding others, you do need to understand your emotions to learn about people and be able to understand people. So, EQ has its place within relational intelligence, but the two constructs are completely different.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Another question I was thinking, as you were sort of explaining the concept is not necessarily how they compare, but I guess your take on the relationship or not, between relational intelligence and servant leadership.

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. That's a great question. So, servant leaders, I think, really focus on three things. They have a specific mindset that's around developing people. They have a focus on growing others capabilities, the method through which they do that is relational intelligence. So, servant leaders are intentional about how they build relationships with people. They're very skilled at initially connecting and establishing rapport with others. They're very good at being curious and inquisitive and learning about the people that they work with. They value and embrace diversity. That's a very important part of relational intelligence. Can you build inclusive cultures where people feel like their opinions and perspectives matter? And then developing trust. This is the most important skill in relational intelligence. Can you make yourself vulnerable and put yourself in a place where you can learn about others and grow with them? And then ultimately, and this is what ties it back to servant leadership. The last skill of relational intelligence is cultivating influence, Sarah. And that skill in and of itself is about unleashing the full capabilities of the potential of your people. And that's what servant leaders do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So, can you give us an example of a leader that you think has great relational intelligence?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. That's a great question. So, I've worked with a leader now for two years in the technology industry and this leader, before we started using the concept of relational intelligence, a lot of folks will use, "Well, he or she is a great people person, or they're a master networker. They know how to connect with people." And so, this leader is someone who started his career as an individual contributor and really made relationships the focus of how he built out his business. Was a consistent performer year over year, but it was because the connections that he built with his customers. As he started to move into management, he started to take on different roles, responsibilities over people.

And so, he was very intentional about establishing rapport with his direct reports and really investing the time and being intentional about understanding and learning about those people. He's built a team over the years that is very inclusive. So, diversity is not just something he talks about, it's something that he practices, and it really shows up into this concept of diversity of thought. Is he bringing different people into the organization that have different points of view and are comfortable sharing it? And then as I mentioned, he's been phenomenal at developing trust. He has people that worked with him for 15, 20 years over his career. So, he takes care of his people. He operates as a servant leader and he makes development a priority for all the folks around him.

So, a number of people on his teams have been promoted over the years. They've taken on roles of increased scale, scope and responsibility. And so really, it was amazing when we started our coaching work together, he didn't know that he had this skill called relational intelligence. And so, as we talked through and unpacked it for him, it's something that I think he came to understand that he could put a language around it. And now, we're going to be doing an offsite in a couple months with his team. He wants to share with his team what these skills are and how they can bring it out in their leadership. And so, this is not only something that he does, but it's something that he wants to instill in his people as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, on the flip side of that example, when you see someone who you feel is not good at relational intelligence, is that typically because of a lack of skill or a lack of effort? To me it seems like a big part of this, is intent. Emotional intelligence can exist, but not be put to good work.

Adam Bandelli: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: Whereas relational intelligence to me seems like the intent, the decision to build these skills and put them to work for the greater good if you will. So, I'm wondering people that are not good at this, how much of it is them struggling with the skills themselves, versus not having the intent that it would take to want to do well at this?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. It's a great question, Sarah. So, there is a skill versus a will thing. I can give you two perfect examples. I have a leader I've been coaching for the last year who lacked the skills. He had the interest in wanting to build relationships with his colleagues and his peers, but he didn't know how to establish rapport. He didn't know how to show up and be curious and understand people. And so, in our coaching engagement, we really focused on how to help him to identify ways and behaviors and things that he could do and practice immediately. So take this second skill of relational intelligence, understanding others. It's comprised of having good EQ. So, could he understand and have the self-awareness to process his own emotions, the emotions of others? It focuses on being a good, active listener. So, could he actually sit there and let people speak and give them a time to share their points of view?

It focuses on being curious and inquisitive and showing empathy. So, putting himself in other people's shoes and asking questions versus just telling people what he thinks they need to know. And so, again, with him, it was more just giving him the skills and the toolkit. He had a desire to strengthen the relationships with the people around him. I'll give you another example of a leader, I worked with two years ago. This was more of a will thing, where he felt that he was, "the smartest person in the room," quote, unquote. He was brought into the organization to help shift an analytic strategy for the company. And when he came in, he had sharp elbows. He would go into meetings with his colleagues and peers and tell them what he wanted to do and what his agenda was. He didn't ask questions. He didn't take time to establish rapport.

And so, I was brought in to start working with him when some of his managers and folks above him said that they were getting feedback, that he wasn't partnering well with his colleagues. And so, when we sat down and started talking through the skills of relational intelligence and embracing differences of other people and developing trust, he felt like he didn't have any issues or problems. That it was his peers who had the issues and he didn't want to make the changes and stuff. So unfortunately, he ended up getting fired from the company, but it really shows you this skill versus will thing. If someone's not willing to practice and put these things into place, it could lead to detrimental relationships with your colleagues [inaudible 00:12:33].

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. That being said, though... so leave him aside, the gentleman that got fired, and if we go back to the first two examples, so you said there was this person you worked with that was naturally quite good at this and just didn't have the terminology around it. And then there was this other person who had some deficiencies, but had the will to want to improve. So, would you say there are people for whom this comes more naturally than others?

Adam Bandelli: Absolutely. Yeah. So, you look at certain things, certain factors. I think a desire to develop the people around you. So, natural servant leaders, I think, more than authoritative or top down leaders, they're going to be more skilled at using, developing, and honing relational intelligence without a doubt.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So, we talked about the five... you mentioned the five skills. Is there one that you feel is most critical and/or is there one that you see people struggle with most often?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think the one that is most critical of the entire framework, is developing trust. And we define that as the ability to be vulnerable and take a risk to be exposed to the actions or behaviors of others. Most important skill, because it really comprises different pieces. First, to develop trust of other people, Sarah, you have to now understand, and we call it in the book, the mirror test. You have to understand your own wiring. What makes you tick? Before you can go out there and start building relationships. Then, it focuses on this idea of the bank account of trust. Are you continually making deposits to grow a relationship with someone else? A withdrawal will definitely damage a relationship. A large major withdrawal will destroy a relationship and end it very quickly.

So, there's that piece. But then there're the parts that make up trust things like how competent is someone, how committed are they? How consistent? What is their character? So, those factors all come into play. That's the most important skill I think to learn. The most powerful once it's put in place, is cultivating influence. And so, this is the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others. It's the most powerful one, because this is how servant leadership is shown. This is what takes place when leaders put people in culture first, before driving results. And what we have found is this leads to higher levels of employee engagement, retention of talent, and job satisfaction. So again, those are the two skills. You have to be able to develop trust, to really use relational intelligence. And if you do it in the right way, the outcome will be that you'll develop and grow the people around you.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, is there one that tends to be the trickiest for folks or does it just depend on the individual?

Adam Bandelli: It depends on the individual, but I think the idea of diversity, embracing individual differences, this is the third skill of relational intelligence. A lot of people view diversity in different ways. So, I can think of the analogy... we do this with our clients. The idea of diversity is like being invited to the party, where equity is more about you're being allowed to dance at the party. Where inclusion is you're being able to help plan the party. And so, how leaders view inclusion, whether it's looking at different diversity types, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, whether it's that piece or whether it's, "How do we bring people to the table and make it feel like it's inclusive?" And this idea of diversity of thought that that's in place. So, this is probably the one skill in the framework that can be the most tricky, depending on how people define diversity and inclusion.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. You've alluded to this a little bit, but I want to dig into it a bit more, which is the impacts relational intelligence could have on some of the challenges we're facing with the great resignation. So, can we talk about how it could help when we think about the impact it has on employee engagement, employee satisfaction, retention, and why that is?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. So, I just wrote an article for Chief Executive Magazine about a month ago, which focuses on this specific topic. So, why are people leaving organizations? They're leaving for pay, title, promotion, and the options that are available right now, but they're also leaving because of the relationships or lack thereof that they have with their leaders. I can think of a perfect example of two of our clients right now. They're losing people consistently because folks aren't being developed. You look at Gen Z and Millennials, their needs and their kind of desires are very different from Gen X and Baby Boomers.

And so, because people are not intentionally building those partnerships with their direct reports, giving them opportunities to scale and to grow and to take on new responsibilities, you're seeing a lot of folks leave the businesses that they're in. That's part of the big contributing factor. So, relational intelligence is a solution to the great resignation in the sense that if people, these leaders who'll come from different generations, if they're intentional about building relationships and intentionality and authenticity, Sarah, is really the under threading that goes through all relational intelligence. Can you show up for your people in a genuine and authentic way? And by doing that, invest in who they are, invest in developing them, and then ultimately help them to drive those things we talked about, like engagement or retention of talent.

Sarah Nicastro: I think authenticity is a really important point, because people smell bullshit a mile away. I mean, that's just true.

Adam Bandelli: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: It's just like you mentioned the point about diversity, equity, and inclusion. You would be hard pressed, I think, to find a leader today that would go on record saying, "Who cares?" Because they know they can't do that, so it's at least something that from a PR perspective, everyone needs to seem-

Adam Bandelli: Check the box.

Sarah Nicastro: Interested in. Yes.

Adam Bandelli: Check the box, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: But whether or not they really care about inclusion-

Adam Bandelli: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: Is like you said, back to the through lines of intent and authenticity. Is it an issue they actually authentically care about? Which means that they either care so much about others that altruistically, they care, period. Or they really truly understand the value to the business they're running of actual inclusion. And not just as a surface level exercise, but in reality. But I think authenticity to me is sometimes it can be scarce. I feel like I'm someone that reads people really well. And so, I kind of have like a natural filter for people who are just spewing words versus people that actually believe what they're saying. And so, to some degree, then this is something you can't fake, right?

Adam Bandelli: No. Yeah, like I mentioned at the start, this is part of the difference between emotional intelligence and relational intelligence. You can't fake relational intelligence, because it focuses on this bucket around authenticity. So, if you're not authentic in how you show up for your people and you don't... again, going back to developing trust. If you don't show a degree of vulnerability... I'm working with a leader right now, who's phenomenal at doing this. She will share stories from her history and from her background and from her experiences, to really connect with her people. She has someone stepping into a new sales opportunity. "Well, here's a time where I failed in a sales opportunity. Here's a time where I succeeded and here's what I learned from it." So again, she's authentically showing up and being vulnerable for her people, and she's enabling them to have the trust and say, "Okay, I can make mistakes or I can learn from them. And if she's coming and giving this into the relationship, I'm going to give my best for her."

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, I'm going to go off on a little bit of a sidebar, and hopefully it's okay to say this, but Adam asked me to take an assessment of relational intelligence, which we haven't talked about yet. So, I have no idea how I did, but what I want to bring up here is the example you just shared, because I do think, this is where some of these concepts get a little bit tricky and nuanced. Because some of the questions in the assessment were asking like, "Here's the scenario, how would you react?" And so, the example you just shared about sharing a personal story, that can be powerful. It can also be off putting, because I think before you do that, you need to have mastered the art of active listening and building trust, because otherwise your personal anecdote reads as nothing more than ego.

Adam Bandelli: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: You know what I mean? So, that's where I struggled with using that as a response. Because as default, I don't know that someone necessarily wants to hear that, unless you've kind of built some foundational elements, but again, just taking it back to the example and the story. It gets a little bit tricky because yes, leaders who can be vulnerable and share things about themselves openly, I think that's a very powerful tool. But then you risk crossing the line of like me, me, me and, "Well, when I walked to school uphill, both ways and I lost this deal..." So, it's tricky. Obviously, that's where emotional intelligence comes in and you have to be able to kind of know your audience and all of those things…

Adam Bandelli: But there's a reason why the skills kind of go in a certain order. So, we're talking about trust and vulnerability. That's the fourth skill in relational intelligence. So authentic leaders, established rapport. They have an ability to create an initial positive connection with other people. The first couple times they're with folks, the eye contact, they make body language, how much they're leaning in, how finding common ground and similarities. Then we talked about understanding others. This is being intentional about putting in time to get to know someone on a deep level. If I'm taking time to get to know you, Sarah, I'm not going to pull examples and things that may offend you, that may be off putting. And then this idea about inclusion. I'm not just talking at you all the time. I want to hear your opinion. I want to hear your point of view. So, when I share an example from my experience, you know it's coming from a good place, and I've invested enough in the relationship where you understand, and I understand you, and we can have those kind of genuine moments.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's just funny because in my mind, I'm thinking of like, Joe, the authoritative leader, who's picking up your book thinking like, "Oh, I should try this out," and starts with, "Well, listen to my story." Again, it's goes back to intent. Are you sharing that story because you want to talk about yourself or are you sharing that story, because you see how contextually it could help you connect and help that person in some way? All right. So, we talked about the great resignation. The other thing I want to touch on Adam, is I had shared with you that for our audience specifically, a lot of them are in sort of a transition or an evolution with their customer base, where they're moving from more of a transactional business model to something that is more relationship based, more ongoing, more outcome focused. And so, how would relational intelligence be something that organizations can also leverage with customer relationships?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I wrote the article for Future of Field Service a couple weeks ago. It really focuses and dives into this, so I would encourage your audience to read it. But again, these skills are not just about applying and connecting with your colleagues. It's with people that you work with or your customers as well. So, are you taking time to learn about your customers and not just learn about what they want to buy from you, but actually learn about what matters to them? What's important to them? I think of this saying, "We don't do business with companies. We do business with people and business is always human." So again, are you really investing to know what your customers want? Are you taking time to understand their needs, understand where they're coming from?

That takes a good amount of EQ. It takes a good ability to be an active listener. It takes empathy. Do you value customers who come from different places? You have customers who are men, women, customers who are different ethnicities. Do you value that? And then do your customers know that you have their best intentions? I think that's a really difficult thing. If you go to more of a transactional model, your customers can see through that very quickly. And the work that we do at my firm, we have clients for over a decade because the clients that we work with, the people that we coach, know that we generally and authentically want to see them grow and become the best versions of themselves.

So yes, their companies or their organizations are paying for these engagements, but the people that I coach that I meet with and see every other week, they know that I'm there for them. And so again, what I would recommend or what I would say to your audience, who does that and is involved with customers is, again, it goes back to this piece around intentionality. Are you being intentional in developing relationships? And can you be strategic about them? You may try to get the quick sale today, but could you rub someone the wrong way and not get the business six months from now? Or are you really learning about what they need today, try to address that need, but also build the relationship for long term longevity as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so for leaders that want to get better at relational intelligence, what do they need to think about learning or practicing? Obviously we're going to tell them where to find the book, but besides that, what do they need to have in mind to focus on this?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. So, I think there's a couple of different things that we offer now at our firm, and people can do these on their own as well, but taking a relational intelligence test. So, you took the one for us a couple weeks ago. We're building out a whole practice now, where people can go online, take the assessment. It'll give you a kind of baseline understanding of where you are today. You can also get an executive coach or work with someone to kind of give you some self insights into how you connect with people and how you build relationships. So, I think that's kind of... get a baseline of where you are today. And then I think a lot of the other things you can do besides read a book, is go through some training on it.

So, we're developing, as I mentioned, our Relational Intelligence Experience, which is a two-day immersive program that people can go through to learn about the different skills, like developing trust, cultivating influence, but people can do that on their own too. There are a lot of different training programs you can take, that talk about things like developing trust or managing conflicts. So, I think it's really three things. It's understanding what the idea is, is being able to get a baseline of where you are today and where you might want to go, and that could be taking a test. It could be working with an executive coach or a life coach. And then the third piece, is really deepening your understanding by doing some training and development around it.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, what about organizations who want to conceptually communicate this idea to their teams and help with developing some of the five skills?

Adam Bandelli: Yeah. I think again, the big piece I would encourage outside of getting the book itself, is really they can visit our website and see some of the content we have to talk through it. We've written a number of articles about it from different angles. So, customers dealing with direct reports, dealing with mentoring, and you can find that all on our website But I think the awareness is a big piece. So, we're working with an organization right now, and they're trying to scale this down throughout the organization. And so, we're working at the top of the house to take their leaders through these behaviors, but then they're going back to their teams and they're practicing some of these skills. So, I would encourage your listeners who want to practice and learn this, to kind of get an understanding of them. They can pick up the book, they can go to our website, but then also start to model and practice these behaviors with their people.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's really interesting to me, this idea that even though the world we're living in, doing business in, continues to move at a more rapid pace. I think there's this philosophical almost not regression, because that's not the right word, but like we've become so transactional, that it's going out of vogue. I think individuals and businesses are recognizing that the loop we've been in that's just quarter by quarter, short term, deal by deal, higher by higher, it's not serving us. So, we need to take a longer term view. That doesn't mean sacrificing short term results. It doesn't mean not paying attention to today's business or whatever, but-

Adam Bandelli: You can do both.

Sarah Nicastro: This idea... and you have to. I don't think that we're going to get back at least in any short term, to that focus of just boom-boom-boom. I think that investing in relationships that we have with our people, with our customers, with those that we interact with, and thinking about that longer term nurturing of those relationships is super important.

Adam Bandelli: And what we've seen with the pandemic has really exacerbated this, is that people have not been able to have that human face to face connection. And so, we're coming out of time, where we're coming out of that finally, hopefully, and people haven't been connecting, they haven't had that. We're being much more transactional. We're doing things like this through Zoom. So, it can become very kind of quick and easy, get a sale, do this or that. It's a totally different experience being in the same room as people and being able to shake hands and eye contact and engage with each other. And so, we're at a time right now where things like relational intelligence are really important. People need to be intentional and they need to be authentic. They need to embrace inclusivity.

These are all really important things that they may have not been important four or five years ago. They definitely, probably weren't as much a decade ago, but as we go forward, if we want to engage and keep our workforce, whatever generation that is, but we have the newer, younger folks coming in, that's the way to do it. You talk about hybrid work models that most companies are doing now. At our firm, we firmly believe that people should go into the office two days a week at a minimum, just to have that face to face human connection with their colleagues. And then this is the idea where we look at kind of AI and automation and things that are changing. The idea of what a good leader looks like is changing. It's no longer just managing processes, it's managing and building and developing people.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, for sure. Awesome. Well thank you for coming and sharing. As Adam said, you can find information on the book and some of the content and tools that go with it at And that is B-A-N-D-E-L-L-I A-N-D So thank you for joining. Thanks for sharing this with us. And I hope to see you again soon.

Adam Bandelli: Sounds great. Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, take care. You can find more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at the future of FS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thanks for listening.