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One small nonverbal signal can change the dynamics of an entire business interaction
A female executive was having problems dealing with her male colleagues. "They like me, but they never take me seriously," she complained. "It's as if they think I'm flirting with them. Which I definitely am not!"
After watching her interact with various men on the senior management team, I saw the problem. She was trying to discuss work-related issues while using a "social gaze."
Here's what I mean . . .
For leadership training to be effective, it is important to: set the stage by making sure all participants understand the ultimate purpose of learning the skills.
Participants who come to business leadership training often ask, "Isn't this just that thing where you repeat what the other person is saying to you? That's what my boss does when she is trying to manipulate me. It drives me crazy. Does she think I'm stupid?" Like any skill, leadership skills like active listening, constructive confrontation (I-messages), and conflict resolution skills can be learned and used effectively or misused. The misuse can be either intentional or unintentional.
Deliberate misuse leads to a climate of distrust and fear, hardly the sort of workplace most leaders would view as desirable. In such a place, little real work gets done, petty conflict is everywhere, game-playing is rampant, and grievances are commonplace. These are the kinds of organizations where highly adversarial labor-management relations prevent the company from thriving. Any tool can be used badly. A knife can be used to injure, a car to haul stolen goods, a word to humiliate. That doesn't mean that the tool is no good. It is, rather, an indictment of the person abusing the tool.
Don't over react to single events even if they are very dramatic
Often during business leadership training workshops, I will conduct a "dollar auction." I hold up a brand new dollar bill and tell participants that I will "sell" the dollar bill to the highest bidder regardless of the bid. If the high bid is 1¢, then that bidder gets the dollar bill for 1¢. The rules are: the high bidder must actually pay the amount bid and the second highest bidder must also pay the amount bid although he or she will not receive the nice crisp dollar bill. The bidding predictably begins with one and two cent bids. Eventually someone will bid 50 cents and someone else will have to bid 51 cents. At that point, the group realizes that I am going to make a profit on the exercise.
"It wasn't what she said, it's the way she said it." The words we use are only a small part of our communication.
Most of the meaning of any message is communicated through the many nonverbal channels available to us. Since we cannot read minds or communicate telepathically (at least I can't), we must rely on our voice and our bodies. Most researchers agree that 70% or more of the meaning of any message is communicated through nonverbal channels like eye contact, facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, etc. Twenty percent or so is transmitted through the tone of voice: pitch, timbre, inflection, rate, pauses, volume, and so forth. That leaves 10% or less of any message that can be attributed to the words.
Active Listening Skills for Effective Leaders
Every leadership training workshop mentions listening. "Effective leaders are good listeners. You should listen more." And so forth. Most of us think that we are pretty good listeners, at least when we really need to be. In fact, many business organizational leaders try to do a good job of listening but in many cases sabotage their own efforts with bad habits that they have learned over a lifetime.
Here's a short true/false pop quiz:
- When an upset team member comes to me with a problem, humor is a good way to ease the tension.
- Most team members who come to me with problems just need a little reassurance.
- Team members come to me with problems only when they need a little advice.
- When a team member comes to me with a problem, the only way to find out what he or she needs is to ask questions.
- When a shares problems with me, I try to analyze what's wrong and give her/him some suggestions.