Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


3 Simple Ways Managers Can Connect Emotionally With Their Associates

Mentally strong leaders show emotions, too.

Key points

  • Using eye contact communicates confidence and openness.
  • Being approachable is a necessity in leadership.
  • Owning your bias and doing something about it is a strength, not a weakness.
Source: Dmytro Tolokonov / Unsplash
Source: Dmytro Tolokonov / Unsplash

When an authority figure walks into their office in the morning, within a nanosecond of contact with their associates is critical. One or two things could happen depending on how their associates perceive their demeanor. Team members may feel uplifted if the manager is in good spirits or feel concerned if the manager appears stressed, which could affect their morale. The same principle applies to virtual meetings. Someone’s energy can be perceived even in virtual meetings. Sitting position, eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, and a whole host of other indicators can send out positive or negative energy in the space.

Communication is essential in every part of human interaction, whether verbal or nonverbal. Authority figures need to understand the importance of nonverbal cues when relating with another individual, especially in the world of social media and artificial intelligence. It is important to be aware of how we relate with others without being aloof or disconnected from the distractions of technology and social noise. Soft skills still remain a critical tool in human relationships. Also, how a manager shows up in the room can formally or informally empower or disempower individuals in the room.

A manager’s formal authority is already established because of their position as a manager. In other words, associates may automatically defer to a manager’s authority the moment they walk into the room. However, a manager’s verbal and nonverbal behavior determines how team members read and respond to the manager’s presence emotionally. By connecting at an emotional level, managers can engage associates with personal, and not just positional, authority. There are three practical ways leaders can increase their ability to connect authentically at an emotional level.

1. Using eye contact. Depending on what part of the world you live in, eye contact may have different meanings. Individuals in the Western world value eye contact as a sign of confidence and honesty. In this context, making eye contact can also indicate an individual’s emotional state. A decision-maker who walks into a room to address their audience has to be aware of their eye movement because it projects several micro messages, including a message of either being stressed or relaxed. Even in some parts of the world where only elders, parents, and authority figures are culturally allowed to make eye contact, while their subordinates look down in humility, eye contact still carries a gesture of command. So, it is important for decision-makers to put their emotional baggage in check before addressing their audience because it could convey a powerful message, whether negative or positive, in the room. Simply put, bring your humanity to work because it is a message of inclusiveness.

2. Being approachable. Nobody likes dealing with a difficult individual. It is not in human nature to invite avoidable stress into one’s life. Being approachable doesn’t mean that a person can be easily distracted or misdirected. Being approachable is a great trait for negotiation, conversation, or teaching. Being approachable is more important than intelligence because people would rather talk or do business with someone they feel comfortable with than with a difficult person. Because of this, team members’ work ethic can be affected by their manager’s demeanor or approachability. Managers can compose themselves before addressing their audience by meeting people where they are without having a hidden agenda. Build on interactions during the informal (meet and greet session) part of the meeting to set the stage. In other words, feel the room first before forming an opinion about the audience.

3. Keeping biases in check. Nobody is immune from being biased, irrespective of demographic characteristics. Having biases is a human phenomenon. The ability to challenge and effectively manage biases is a superpower that can set one manager apart from another. Displaying bias is simply based on your experience and exposure over time, especially from the places where you live, worship, play, and work. All people are susceptible to bias from the natural experiences of life, but being mindful of your biases determines how you approach people daily. Therefore, question your own biases so your ability to lead won’t be compromised by others’ emotional, political, relational, and social noise. Unfortunately, if biases are unchecked, they can be transferred into a different environment and cause you to verbalize or act out of your untested assumptions. As an authority figure, be prepared to entertain other possibilities as a new way of seeing an old challenge with a new lens. With this mindset, you will be able to work in a diverse workplace and respect others’ ways of conducting their daily affairs.

In summary, human emotion is powerful and has the capacity to either save us from trouble or put us into a compromising situation. The best way to manage emotion is to recognize its presence (not to run from it) and use it in humane ways to make the work environment safe, inclusive, and, most importantly, meaningful for everyone. Simply put, it is absolutely human for an authority figure to show emotion when necessary because it has the potential to connect with people that you don’t even know. Some ways to make yourself emotionally accessible are to recognize the importance of making eye contact, being approachable, and keeping your biases in check.


Acton. C. (2022). Diversity and Inclusion: Are You Aware of Your Biases,

Hotchkiss, M. (2017). Princeton University: Todorov explores the ‘Irresistible Influence of First Impressions,’

Knight, R. (2016). Business Communication: How to Make a Great First Impression,

Rowh, M. (2012). APA: First impressions count,

More from J. Ibeh Agbanyim Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today