Everything you do communicates

The Cantonese have a proverb that warns us to watch out for the man whose stomach doesn’t move when he laughs. Flab aside, does your stomach move when you laugh? Do your talk and your walk say the same thing?

Actions, they say, speak louder than words and the words you say are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you communicate to others. Everything you do communicates. You brim with unspoken messages, some inadvertent, many, or even most, involuntary.

In fact, what you don’t say often speaks much louder than what you do say. Your silent communications reflect your innermost self, your skills and your confidence. It hides or highlights your talents and accomplishments. It indicates how much appreciation and respect you accord yourself and expect from others.

This in turn strongly influences your career paths, friendships, pay raises, promotions and responsibilities. It affects how much help and support you receive from others and whether others accept your ideas and implement them.

So what is this silent language?

Think about the way you sit and stand. This communicates volumes. It tells people how interested you are in them and in what you’re doing, how delighted you are (or not) to be there, how you feel about yourself and what you think your place is in the scheme of things.

Are you a Shuffler who continually paces to and fro? A Shifter who constantly moves weight from one foot to the other? A Sprawler who takes up a lot of space? A Sleepyhead who looks as if you hardly have the energy to sit, walk or stand? Or does your upright posture show that you are calm, composed, confident, and competent? (Good posture doesn’t just look good, it helps you breathe better and think better, too.)

You’re probably not aware of your movements and expressions but these tell a story, too. Every time you move or change your posture, seating position or facial expression, you’re signalling something about your attitudes and feelings.

Do you detract from your message and your influence by sucking on a pen, fiddling with a paper clip, your hair, or your tie? Do you diminish your authority by constantly clearing your throat, tapping your foot or pumping your leg?

Empty your mouth and your hands to look less nervous and present a more positive and confident image. Take your hands off your hips or away from behind your head to look less aggressive, condescending, defiant or hostile. Keep your movements open and relaxed, look at people when they’re speaking, and smile (unless it’s clearly unsuitable). This positively shapes the entire conversation and encourages strong relationships.

Even the way you dress, the jewellery you wear and accessories you carry communicate. They tell people how you think about ourself and how you want others to view you.

Your voice communicates, too. The way you speak can totally undermine or powerfully strengthen what you intend to say. When you speak, do people sit up and take notice, or do they switch off?

The volume and tone of voice you use, for example, reveals whether or not you’re nervous or in a hurry and it can even signal how much you like the person you’re speaking with. Your inflections proclaim not just what part of the country you’re from and what your social background is; they can also show how confident you feel about what you’re saying.

Your pitch, whether it’s high, low, flat, or sharp, how quickly you speak, how clearly you articulate, the energy and rhythm you speak with can make you sound pompous or powerful, pleasant or pretentious. Linguists and psychologists have identified different tones people habitually use: accusing, appeasing, bossy, cheerful, dull, friendly, haughty, know-it-all, over-the-top, and positive, to name a few. How would people describe your voice?

To sound more credible and confident, lower your voice. To sound more authoritative, drop the rising inflections to less than 30 per cent. To sound more thoughtful and serious, slow down a bit. To sound more energetic and enthusiastic, speed up a bit.

Match your walk to your talk

People interpret your words and decide what you really mean based on your silent messages. When you’re unaware of them, you communicate oceans of information accidentally and involuntarily. Your walk and your talk may not match.

When you’re aware of them, you can convey less of what you don’t want and more of what you do want. That puts your verbal messages and nonverbal messages in harmony and makes people more apt to like you, believe you, and trust you.

Discussion questions

How well do your actions match your words? How well does your silent communication–your body language–communicate your intentions and meanings? What can you do to strengthen your communication?

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Hang up a few mirrors around the workplace

Some people think that having mirrors dotted around the office or the home is a sign of vanity. But actually, mirrors are good things to have hanging around. That’s because they seem to effect people in positive ways.

According to one study, people working in rooms with a mirror worked harder, were more helpful and did ‘the right thing’ than people doing the same things in rooms with no mirrors. People in a room with a mirror were also less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes such as sex, race or religion (unless they were socially accepted stereotypes like those about politicians, lawyers and used car dealers, for instance; they’re always fair go, aren’t they!).

The authors of the study think that mirrors might make people behave better because they make us self-aware and therefore more likely to stop and think about what we’re doing. As a result, we shift out of autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.

So try dotting a few mirrors around your workplace and your home and see what happens!

Discussion questions

What steps do you take to encourage and help people to work harder, be more helpful and do the ‘right thing’?

Why threats don’t work

Direct threats can make your blood run cold, or at least make you extremely uneasy:

Angry grizzly bears are going to look tame next to what is waiting for you at home.

Veiled threats can be scary:

My patience isn’t limitless … unlike my authority.

Psychopathic threat can be creepy:

Keep your eyes open, Fireheart. Keep your ears pricked. Keep looking behind you. Because one day I’ll find you, and then you’ll be crowfood.

But these are fiction. In real life, threats like these might at best be laughable. And if you threaten someone at work, you will almost certainly find yourself in deep trouble and not laughing. And that’s a fact, not a threat.

Here are some real-life threats:

‘I’ll fire you if you don’t tidy up that desk!’

The manager of a friend’s young-ish son is continually threatening to fire him if he doesn’t keep his desk tidier. The problem is, this young man doesn’t mind working in what his super-tidy boss considers to be ‘chaos’. For months, the boss has barked out the same old threat:  Maybe he will fire him; maybe he won’t. My money is on that he won’t.

Here’s another real-life threat:

I’ll cut off your pocket money!!!!

One of my friends is continually threatening to cut off her kid’s pocket money if she doesn’t do this or doesn’t stop doing that. But she never does. Actually, she did once, but Dad handed out the money anyway!

Why don’t threats work? The big reason is that the more we hear them, the less effect they have. My friend’s son has heard the threat that he’ll be fired for so long now that he’s learned to live with it. The initial pangs of anxiety, which led to half-hearted attempts to clear is desk, have given way to inward sighs whenever his boss bellows at him to tidy up. The other kid knows that Mum’s threats are hollow.

And that’s the lesson – don’t make threats that you can’t, or won’t, keep. Instead, offer carrots or make promises that you can, and will, keep if you must.

  • If you keep that desk tidy for a fortnight, I’ll let you work on that project you’re really interested in. (That’s a carrot.)
  • If you don’t do this , I’ll let you have an extra 15 minutes on the computer for a week. (That’s a carrot.)
  • If you do that, I’ll dock you 15 minutes computer time each time. (That’s a promise, not a threat.)

And make good on those promises.

Discussion questions

Have you ever been motivated by a threat? Did that motivation last long? Do you ever make empty threats or are you more likely to offer carrots and promises?

This blog is a modified version of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis format I wrote about in my blog How to get  top marks on your essays. I followed that format in the two subsequent blogs (Setbacks as opportunities and Management’s use-by date is nigh.) I like the format—what about you? Do you think it would make you a better essay writer and help you learn more deeply?

Management’s use-by date is nigh

There are fewer and fewer layers of management. Where will it stop? Could we, or should we, do away with the hierarchy altogether? Would that allow employees to be more creative and productive? Or would it lead to chaos because no one is in overall charge, and to lengthy decision making because of the constant need for consensus?

There are plenty of examples of self-managed teams to use as a model. (See, for example, the Theory to practice boxes Around sound learning on page 337 and From lines to cells and back again on pages 369-370 in the text.)

Certainly, whether they’re providing a service or making a product, people are committed, creative, energised and engaged in most self-managed teams (they have to be, or they’re kicked off the team) and they do a great job (they have to, or they’re kicked off the team). As management professor Adam Cobb points out, peer pressure means everyone is breathing down your back, not just one manager.

It’s true that things may happen more quickly when someone assigns roles and delegates tasks. But you don’t need a command-and-control boss to do that; the team itself can do it, through consensus or rotating leadership, for example. And someone needs to play the role of figurehead, liaising with other teams and suppliers, monitoring what’s going on and passing on important information. But a good team could probably organise that amongst themselves, too.

However, it must be said that not all employees have the high level of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, self-understanding and technical skills to work effectively in self-managed teams. Most team members need help, organising and support, and that’s the role of the team leader-manager. And what about the tough stuff, like performance management? That’s when a boss might be better than a team, because when the whole team gets involved in performance management, it could feel like bullying.

So what use are managers? Perhaps the answer is: it depends on the situation and the industry and the level of manager. In some situations, for example in a crisis, someone needs to take charge. In some industries, particularly industries from the industrial economy, self-managed teams may not work, but in other industries, particularly those from the knowledge and agrarian economies, they can excel. (That means they’re probably becoming more viable in Australia.) And of course, senior managers will always be needed to set direction.

Managers–good managers, at least–don’t just give employees a ‘common enemy’. Good managers pull their weight. They step back when they can and let employees decide. They don’t micromanage but make sure people have what they need so they can get on with their jobs. Good managers create the right environment and then step back. Managers like that are valued and valuable to modern organisations.

Anyway, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Discussion questions

How well does your team operate when you’re not there? (Pat yourself on the back if it operates well in your absence; it probably doesn’t mean they don’t need you, but that they want to do well while you’re away so they don’t let you down and that they want to make you proud of them.

How secure do you think the profession of ‘manager’ is? Why would people in self-managed teams be more likely to be committed, creative, energised and engaged than people in traditional teams?

If you have read my blogs How to get top marks on your essays  and Setbacks as opportunities, you know that I’m trying out a particular writing format: thesis – antithesis – synthesis. I think it worked slightly better with Setbacks as opportunities but it still worked here. What do you think of this format as a way to write essays? I think it’s certainly a great way to clarify your thinking and dredge out knowledge you may not even have known you had.