Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

6 items categorized "Body Language"


What is the Color of their Eyes?

People that know me well, know that I am really an introvert.  When I am in a networking setting, or a meeting with new people, or a corporate function, I’d rather sit down and read a book than engage with people in the room.  I naturally want to do what I came to do and then get out of there.  I have had to work on these communication skills and change my approach.  It reminds me of a story from an earlier time in my career:

Steve and George

Steve had just entered the room.  I had been waiting for a chance to speak with Steve and knew he was going to be at this event.  I quickly disengaged from my conversation with George, whom I had just met, and went over to talk with Steve about some issues with the upcoming software roll out.  I wanted his support.

The next day while discussing steps in a team meeting to move forward with the project management software roll out, we came to the topic of the new server that was required.  I asked the others in the meeting (our client) how to go about procuring a new server.  The answer was that it was a long, arduous process (uh-oh), unless you could get the Director of Operations on your side to expedite it.  “Who is the Director of Operations?” I naturally asked.  “George,” came the reply.  Yikes.

I thought back to my meeting the day before where I was so focused on Steve that I had cut George short.  Worse, I thought about how my body language conveyed my disinterest in George.  My eyes had been roving and looking for Steve.  My stance conveyed that I was ready to move on as soon as I zeroed in on Steve.

That was eleven years ago, and I still have to work to genuinely engage with everyone I meet.  I have had to push myself over the years, and from the many conversations I have had with many of you, I am not the only person in this boat.

The color of their eyes

Recently, a friend of mine, Dew Tinnin, mentioned something that brings this to an even higher level.  She talked about discovering the color of their eyes.  I think that I have good eye contact - I’ve worked on it over the years.  But this raises the bar and is a great tool to instantly improve your one-on-one communication skills.  I have caught myself, just in the last couple of weeks, losing my focus.  When I work to discover their eye color, it has been a “poke in the side” to really engage and listen.  That makes the other person feel heard and important.  And I enjoy the conversation and usually learn something from it.

Fortunately, I was able to repair what I had done with George and eventually developed a good rapport.  But I truly believe it cost me a couple of weeks on the project timeline.  After all, it's really all about relationships.

So…with whom do you need to engage?  And what is the color of their eyes?




The Art of Mirroring

IStock_000025659109_web“You are way too blunt.”

“You’re not blunt! You just tell it like it is!”

“I appreciate your small talk. It makes me feel like you care.”

“Enough small talk already- just get to the point!”

Ever been completely confused by people’s contrasting opinions of your communication style? Ever been bewildered, trying to figure out the best way to communicate a message?

One principle can help. It’s called “mirroring.”

Mirroring describes a number of different processes in communication. One type of mirroring begins with observing another person’s communication style closely to see if he or she is more assertive or less assertive and more people-oriented or less people-oriented. Once we identify the other person’s style, we then attempt to “mirror” that style in a particular interaction.

Business communication author Sue Bishop in her book, Develop Your Assertiveness, explains that mirroring can help to create rapport and empathy between you and another person. Rapport (a harmonious relationship) and empathy (experiencing the feelings of another) are essential to making connections and creating an environment for understanding.

So, in the workplace, if you notice that your boss is less assertive and more people-oriented, you would mirror his or her style, allowing time to talk about personal matters first, and then using more tentative language in your request. “Hi Barbara! How’s it going?” and then, “I heard your daughter is graduating this weekend. That’s great!” and then, “So, we’re talking about maybe going to Florida this summer.   Do you think it would be okay for me to take off the first week in July?”

But, if you observe that your boss is highly assertive and not very people-oriented, the principle of mirroring suggests that you stick to the facts and keep your conversation brief and direct. “Hi Barbara. I need to take off the first week in July this summer. Would that work?”

If she’s really super assertive, you can just say, “Vacation. July. 1st week.”  Then salute her and walk out of her office.

No, I’m kidding. Don’t try that at home, I mean, at work.

On second thought, maybe you could try it at home. If you would like your super assertive husband to take out the trash, don’t say, “Hi honey sweetie it’s looking like we might get some rain later and is your indigestion feeling any better and if so I was wondering if you could possibly consider taking out the trash sometime in the next few hours?”

Instead, try, “Babe. Trash. Now.”

Okay, so in certain situations, mirror at your own risk. And let me know how it goes.




5 Tools to Get Out of a Communication Rut

IStock_000001355840_web2So often our communication in business gets in a rut - we do things the same way day after day.  I recently read a story about an actor who was having a difficult time "getting into the flow" while practicing his scenes for an upcoming rehearsal.  He felt disjointed, uncomfortable, and uninspired.  He was in a rut.  The next day some people were gathered in an adjacent room so he had to change his practice routine so that he would not disturb them.  He went to the opposite side of the room and spoke in a quiet voice.  He found that his mood and demeanor were transformed.

While we are not practicing to perform in an actual play each of us performs on our own "stage" every day, whether it is a team meeting, a one-on-one conversation, a phone call, or a presentation.  How we present and conduct ourselves goes a long way towards our ability to shape and be successfully in the "scene."

Too often we get stuck in a rut where we do things the same way every time.  We lead meetings the same way, we prepare the same way for presentations, we approach someone the same way for a one-on-one discussion.

Instead, if we are serious about becoming a great communicator that is highly proficient at what we do, we need to mix things up and continue to try new things.

Try these 5 simple tools to simply do something different:

1. Stand

If you always sit down to lead a meeting, try standing.  Standing changes your energy level and commands more respect.  In fact, studies have shown that people are more persuaded by people who are standing as opposed to sitting.

2.  Add Emotion

On a phone call or a one-on-one, change the inflection of your voice to add some emotion to it.  Just once.  How does that change the conversation and even your energy level?

3. Use Silence

In your next briefing or presentation, strategically insert silence.  Make a statement to your audience and let it hang out there for a few seconds before speaking again.  Silence is one of those simple but powerful tools to keep your message from getting in a rut.

4. Do Something Unexpected

If you always start the meeting the same way, do something different.  Try an icebreaker.  Tell a (tasteful) joke.  Have your "audience" do something unexpected, such as find one thing they don't know about another person.

5. Tell a Story

One of the single most powerful tools you can use to spice up your communication effectiveness is to inject a story.  Tell a story to start off a meeting, presentation, or even a one-on-one.  Keep it short and concise and tie it into the objective for your conversation.

I find often that our level of confidence in our job is tied to our level of confidence in communicating to others.  Try something new each day and watch how the effectiveness of your "performance" increases.




Is Your Listener's Capacity Overflowing? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself

IStock_000010987814_webLast year while coaching my daughter’s soccer team (she is seven), I realized that I was communicating too much.  The listening capacity of the girls was overflowing.  We covered passing, dribbling, throw-ins, corner kicks, and more.  I was playing the role of the talkative leader and did not have a proper awareness of when their listening “cup” was full.  Contrast that with this last Tuesday when I had one primary focus during practice: triangles (a way to teach passing and moving in soccer).  Most of the girls left practice talking about triangles.  It was far more effective.

While adults have a higher listening capacity than seven year olds, many times we can still take on the role of the overly-talkative leader.  We cause our listener’s capacity to fill up and overflow, either when talking one-on-one or to our business team.  I have had this experience myself when someone is telling me story and after story and making point after point.  All of a sudden I realize that I have glazed over and have not been paying attention, despite my good intention.

Ask yourself these seven questions to determine if you are playing the role of the “overly talkative leader”:

1. Are you asking questions or making statements?

If you are making a lot of statements, this is probably a one-sided conversation.  Start counting how many questions you are asking in a conversation.

2. Are you answering your own questions?

The hardest part about asking a question is to shut up and let the other person answer it.

3. Are you allowing pauses?

For many people, a pause after you have asked a question doesn’t mean that you need to fill it with words.  It means they are collecting their thoughts before answering your question.

4. How many topics did you cover?

Keep it focused and they'll remember it.

5. How many times did you interrupt them?

Once can be excused.  More than once means you are more interested in telling your story.

6. Do you start the conversation with a story or statement without being prompted?

Or do you start by asking a question and listening to the response?

7. Is the body language of the other person changing?

If they start shifting, tapping their fingers, moving eye contact, or a number of other small signs, you are talking too much.  Be aware of these subtle signs.

It is easy to fall into the trap of being an overly talkative leader, especially if your style is more assertive and outgoing.  But that can come across as disrespectful and becomes ineffective with your listeners, just like my daughter's soccer team was not able to soak up my good information.  We can all become more effective communicators and listeners, and raising self-awareness is often the first step.




4 Actor Techniques to Be More Persuasive in Your Delivery

IStock_000015522057_webLearning the communication skills of persuasion and influence helps you become a better leader and more proficient at your job (read: more valuable).  It is one of those skills that makes a big difference when used as a tool (and not a "weapon").

While most of us want to become more persuasive, most of us have work to do on our delivery.  In fact, how we deliver our messages is what is restricting our effectiveness.  Whether you are influencing a peer, a team, or an entire organization, these four actor techniques will help when the "curtain goes up" and all eyes are on you:

1.  Persuade with your eyes

Most of the time we focus on our words when attempting to be persuasive.  It was once said that our eyes are the window to our soul.  Focus your attention to your eyes.  Think about the most dramatic movie scenes you have seen.  Watch them again and pay attention how the actor(s) convey the true drama with their eyes.  When you are giving a persuasive message, focus on your eyes by making solid eye contact, and intentionally conveying emotion and passion.  You may try "rehearsing" in front of a mirror by reciting your "message" internally while focusing on generating emotion coming from your eyes.

2.  Invent your Enthusiasm

Let's face it - sometimes we really, really need to be persuasive, but we just can't get enthusiastic from the context, content, or purpose.  That lack of enthusiasm and energy shows.  So...invent your own enthusiasm, by creating an "as if" scenario.  If your passion is to teach people, act "as if" you are teaching people and let your enthusiasm come out.  If your passion is software coding, act "as if" you are creating or discussing a great piece of software code.  Find an "as if" scenario that you can connect with that creates enthusiasm for you.  It works.

3.  Smile like a Capuchan Monkey

I don't know if capuchan monkeys actually smile, but it invokes an image for me to smile like I never would otherwise.  Like our eyes, smiling has an incredible effect.  Your recipient will respond both physically and emotionally.  Even on the phone, the person at the other end will be able to "hear" the smile in your voice.  You may feel sillier than a capuchan monkey but it won't come across that way.

4.  Make it about your Audience

An actor wants to connect with and move their audience.  The focus is on the audience, and when we are trying to be persuasive, it is no different.  What's in it for them?  Do you care more about being persuasive or about what's best for the other person?  Is your motivation to look good and get what you want?  Or to make them look good and help them get what they want?  Do you want to win?  Or build a long-term working relationship?  People can feel your authenticity and sincerity, and whether you are more concerned about them or yourself.  Make it about them.  Change your thought process by asking "what's in it for them?" or "what if I were in their shoes?"

While you may not literally be performing on a stage, each of us are performing on your own "stage" every day.  Focus on one of these techniques and watch for the subtle differences they have in your audience.




Do You Mean It? Three Things to Monitor to Build Authenticity and Believability in Your Communications

IStock_000015629440_webYou have probably observed an actor on screen or on stage whose performance was simply not believable.  You could not buy-in to the scene or the script, and were perhaps even distracted by the actor.  On the other hand, you have probably been moved by an actor that was so good that they seemed to literally pull you into the performance.

Guess what?  Everyone around you has the same reaction to your communication skills.  Are you believable...authentic...transparent?  Can they trust you?  Follow you?  Often times, the way they make those judgments are not by the words you use, but through all of your non-verbal cues. Stated another way, does your body language match your message?  For example, you tell your team that "I am really excited about this new project and its implications" while you sit back in your chair with your arms crossed, talking quietly.  Are you believable...authentic?  No.

Here are three things that you (just like an actor) need to monitor as you are communicating with others:

  1. Body.  What is your body doing?  Is it sitting back (disinterested) or forward (engaged)?  Are you crossing your arms (bored, apathetic, arrogant)?  Or open?  Are you pacing (nervous)?  Moving your limbs around a lot (confused, unsure of yourself)?
  2. Voice.  What is the inflection and volume of your voice?  Are you talking softly (uninspired, thoughtful) or louder (engaged, emotional, passionate)?  Monotone (bored, uninspiring) or with varied expression (interested, authentic, passionate, authority)?
  3. Face.  Are you maintaining eye contact (telling the truth, interested) or looking away (not trustworthy, disinterested)?  Do you have bland facial expressions or varied expressions that match your intent?

Those are the tip of the iceberg.  The key point is that you shouldn't do some of these things.  It is appropriate at times to speak louder or softer.  The key point is that your body language needs to match your message to be seen as authentic and believable.  Many times it doesn't, not necessarily because our intent is not good, but because we get into ruts.  For example, we always speak the same way, we lean back all the time, or we consistently cross our arms.

How you communicate has a tremendous impact on your life and career.  Ask a couple of trusted people what your body language is conveying to them.  Chances are that your "performance" could be improved by fixing a couple of simple things of which you are probably not even aware.