Do You Listen with Your Eyes?
I had just finished providing instructions to one of my team members. As was customary, she took notes and nodded. I concluded the conversation with my usual line, “Are you ready to get started?” Her enthusiastic “Yes” was belied by the furrow in her brow and her reluctance to leave and begin the task. In fact, she remained rooted to the spot.
“Hmmmm…is she telling me the truth?” I wondered.
So to ensure that I was clear, I re-engaged the dialog with her. She asked me questions. And with each response her expression cleared, her shoulders lowered, and her eye contact increased. In a few moments she was departing with a vehement nod of comprehension. I felt better about re-engaging with her to provide clarity.
But I was left pondering… “How many times has an employee walked away saying “Yes!”, but actually thinking… “Huh?”
Whether I’m coaching, training, or managing, one question that frequently surfaces at training sessions, staff meetings, and even in casual conversations is: “How do I get them to do what I’ve instructed once they walk away?” My immediate rejoinder has become: “Do they understand your expectations?”
Teachers ask this question about groups of children. Managers ask this about their staff. This is because—young or old—we have each experienced instances of misunderstanding, lack of comprehension, or information overload with the people we are teaching. We have all had a scratch-your-head moment at some point in our lives. Students, employees, colleagues- indeed all whom we encounter– deserve the courtesy of substantive and effective instruction followed by support and openness during the execution of assigned tasks.
But this is easier said than done!
So What To Do?
A good leader will reduce uncertainties by employing these age-old tactics:
- Encourage paraphrasing of instructions.
- Ask probing questions.
- Request status updates at pre-determined junctures.
(For additional depth, visit John Baldoni’s article: Learn to Ask Better Questions)
Listening to Body Language
But is it enough to listen to the language…. the words? According to Communication Coach, Carmine Gallo’s, 2007 article Body Language: A Key to Success in the Workplace, only 7% of communication is actual words. 7%! It almost begs the question, why pay attention to words at all? Of course we should hear the words, but we need to consider the entire package: the words, the tone, and – very importantly—the motions of the person delivering those words. This is their body language.
Writers on the topic of non-verbal communication frequently corroborate that body language conveys more than half of our communicated message. Savvy leaders are strong communicators who accept the necessity to hear the words AND listen with their eyes.
Your 20/20 Prescription
Knowing how to watch is the first step toward understanding body language.
We can learn a great deal here from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the deaf community. They know the importance of watching EVERYTHING. Gabriel Grayson, author of Talking with Your Hands Listening with Your Eyes, reminds us that the full meaning of a concept is conveyed through a combination of hand gestures, lip movement, facial expression, and body motion.
According to Robert Phipps, Body Language Expert, in normal conversational discourse, a facial expression will last between 0.5 and 5 seconds. If a person is attempting to conceal an emotion, the expression of their true feelings may be visible for as little as 1/15th of a second.
Reading body language will certainly keep you on your toes!
So, you know that you should watch for non-verbal cues and you even have some tips regarding how to watch, but how should you interpret what you see? What do specific gestures mean?
Some body language is blatant and easily understood by most people:
- Leaning forward and nodding vehemently expresses comprehension and/or agreement.
- Folded arms with body turned away may convey disinterest or displeasure.
But what about subtler actions that are difficult to detect and maybe even more difficult to discern? What do they look like? Here are some examples of non-verbal communication and their general interpretations:
- Indirect gaze: Uncertainty
- Tilted head: Sympathy
- Hands fiddling, glazed expression: Inattention, Disinterest
- Chewing on a pen: Lack of confidence, Fear
- Lowered head: Shy/timid or possibly hiding something
- Dilated pupils: Interested
- Looking away multiple times: Dishonesty
- Arms wrapped around body/ one hand on neck, other on waist: Needs reassurance
- Brushing hair away while raising eyebrows: Disagreement
- Excessive laughing: Dishonesty or nervousness, or perhaps natural joviality
- Standing tall with feet spread apart: Calm and standing ground
- Touching lips: Seeks comfort, Is nervous
Keep in mind that people are individuals, and no two people will use exactly the same body motions to convey the same message. Differences in body language occur based on factors like culture, age, situation, gender, and your relationship with the person.
Reassuringly, Phipps tells us research has identified seven universally recognized facial expressions (joy, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, contempt, and disgust). These emotions are expressed the same way for all people regardless of background or situation. so feel confident to get out there and start listening with your eyes. Then let these non-verbal cues guide the delivery of your instructions. You’ll ensure that when your employees, or colleagues, or children say ‘Yes!’, they actually mean it.
How many times have you consciously monitored someone’s body language in the past six months? One month? One week? Have you ever adjusted your interpretation of a conversation based on non-verbal communication? If someone’s body language indicates he/she is upset, angry, nervous, or uncertain, what types of methods do you employ to put the person at ease? Are you a skilled non-verbal communicator? I’d love to hear your comments!
Gwenn Andahazy is a Leadership Development Coordinator for ImClone Systems.
She can be reached at andahazy@FHL3.com
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