We all give off messages as we move around in this world. Far more than anything we actually say, we “speak” with our body language – giving off messages with our posture, facial expressions and eye contact (or lack of it). We also send out messages with the environment we create around us, such as the tidiness (or otherwise) of our desk or office, the background on our computer or the photo on our desk. Oh and then we get to clothes – your dress sense speaks volumes – and yes it does for men too!
OK I hear you say – so what? Does it matter? Well the answer is that when you get into a leadership situation it sometimes does matter, and observing these messages coming from others also helps you understand where they are coming from.
Think for a moment of a great business leader. You will probably visualise the penthouse office with the wonderful views and the leader themselves well-groomed and dressed in a smart suit with an almost clear desk – not too tidy, they’ve got lots going on, but ordered and under control. And then you speak to them – do they give you eye contact? That probably depends on what you are saying – if it is useful to them then you will get eye contact, if they consider it boring you may not.
So just turn this back on yourself for a moment. What do you aspire to be? A business leader? Well for starters have a look at your desk see if it matches up to your aspirations, and your clothes – notice whether they do too. Then check out who you give eye contact to and who you choose to spend time with – thinking also about who you brush aside and whether it is appropriate to do that.
Notice your behaviour in meetings – when others are speaking do you give off appropriate signals? To give you a clue, anger and impatience will tend to upset others and distract from the purpose of the meeting. If you want to get things done quickly they are better avoided. Nervous behaviours often slip out in meetings too. You can undermine your point if you play nervously with jewellery or chew pens etc. Then check your voice when you speak – does it have enough gravitas to be listened to, or does it undermine you by being over or under-confident?
Awareness of all these things in yourself usually increases your awareness of the messages others are unconsciously giving off. Remembering that good leaders are only good leaders if they have a good team, so you can use that increased awareness to spot problems other people are having and take steps to help them.
We all give off these messages – you can’t switch them off but you can gain a little more control of them, and use your knowledge to learn more about yourself and those around you.
We cover more about behavioural messages in our Leadership Skills Development course.