Put Your Game Face On
How often have you been sitting in a meeting and silently disagreed with an idea, yet everyone seemed to know what you were thinking? Most likely, your body language gave you away. A very powerful medium of communication, body cues such as a slight frown or poor eye contact can tell people worlds about what we think or feel. As a leader, you’ve got to be aware of the power behind these messages and zero in on what your body cues might be disclosing to others. You might be surprised to discover the degree to which they’re impacting your ability to relate to others, build relationships, and lead effectively. Build awareness around this behavior and take steps to address anything that might be undermining your true intentions, building communication barriers, or reflecting other emotions, such as fear, that could sabotage your ability to lead.
Many people aren’t fully aware of what their non-verbal habits are, how they regularly affect others, and the extent to which they do make an impact. But in business, it’s really important to understand how non-verbal communication is just as, if not more, impactful as verbal communication. One of the most widely cited studies on the importance of verbal versus nonverbal messages shows that up to 55% of communication effectiveness is visual in the form of facial expressions and body language in general. Body language doesn’t lie and can make or break what and how well you communicate to others.
Highly effective leaders manage their nonverbal communication with great skill. They mask their feelings and emotions when appropriate. “Masking” your feelings isn’t about being fake toward others, lying, or being otherwise dishonest. It’s about choosing and maintaining the display of other verbal cues that say, “I’m in control” and “I’m open to what you have to say even though I may or may not agree.” It’s about learning to keep your game face on.
Learn to check your body language when communicating with others, particularly when you’re in important situations. Here are some situations in which it could be helpful to monitor your behavior and take corrective action if necessary:
Check “moody blues” at the door. There are many people who don’t love Mondays. But being that you’re in a leadership role, you definitely want to avoid having that classic “Monday morning blues” look on your face when it’s your turn to arrive at the office. Why? People will notice, perceive you as moody, and, because feelings and emotions are contagious, take on that negative, moody behavior as well. Pay attention to the person in the mirror, and you will have a positive impact on your direct reports, peers, and boss. Make this a daily activity until it becomes a habit.
Correct nonverbal disengagement in meetings. Participants tend to think that they’re not being observed if they’re just sitting there quietly. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Because nonverbal signs of disengagement are so common in meetings, our senior consultants coach our clients on paying attention to body language—both their own and that of others. They learn how to gain awareness about who is engaged and who isn’t, too. For instance, say the sales manager isn’t making much eye contact during the meetings discussion around goals. If she is “checked out” in this way, this may indicate she is not committed to hitting her goals.
Watch emotions amid personal crisis. If you’re in business long enough, you’re going to run into situations where you’ve got to plug away at work even though you’re dealing with an emotionally charged personal issue. While it’s not necessary to shut off your emotions, you need to do your best to manage them. This starts with being conscientious about what emotions you want to display. Just keeping it together, not wearing your heart on your sleeve for everyone to see, can help. Some people are better at this than others, but this is something you can work through practice and discipline yourself to improve over time.
What types of nonverbal cues tend to be the most offensive or distracting in meetings?