Posts Tagged 'Body language'

Eye to Eye on the dance floor

At some stage in our working lives I suspect everyone has been told about the importance of creating rapport with another person and has an awareness of at least some things that create or destroy rapport. The one thing that is commonly referred to is the need to have eye contact. The question is – what’s an appropriate level of eye contact?

Last week I found myself in a situation that was rather disconcerting. I was in a meeting with a man who stared. I think he’d been on a course where he was told to always maintain eye contact. The unfortunate thing was that his stare became more intense as his words and manner became more aggressive and personal. As the person on the receiving end of these behaviours it was totally unsettling to be in the same room as this man who obviously thought that eye contact and a smile meant he could say whatever he wanted and it would be OK. I found myself looking away from him, becoming agitated – I really wanted to escape.

Yes it’s important to have eye contact with someone if you want to establish a relationship. However, there is a balance between having eye contact and also moving your eyes away. Staring is not away of creating rapport – more often than not it creates discomfort for the person you are staring at.

Creating rapport is about connecting with another person, it’s about creating your very own dance together. This can be achieved by your body language, the expressions on your face, the tone of your voice, the language you use and your responsiveness to the person’s state.

Sometimes I find myself consciously thinking about the way my actions, my words, my level of eye contact are helping or hindering me build relationships; and at other times I forget to think about it. I hope that at these times it’s because I’m dancing the same dance on the same dance floor with the other person – step by step. For all of us I think the art of rapport comes when you know that the dance is happening. Part of the art is to also be aware and do something about it when you are attempting ballet and the other person is dancing the salsa.

Are you dancing?

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Owning up to a communication mishap

Week after week I share my views on ways to communicate effectively, build relationships and work through change situations. On occasions what I say seems to resonate with the people who I talk to, who come along to a training program and read my blogs. Yet last week I had a sobering experience – under pressure, in a room full of people I froze and went in to a free fall half hour of hell.

To give a bit of context, without having to relive the whole embarrassing situation again; I was in a situation where I was under extreme pressure to perform, with people in the room making judgments about my every move and every word. I started the session feeling well prepared with a certain level of nervousness; I told myself this was a good thing and was ready to go. Things changed just a few minutes before my session started when the lead in the group told me what they were hoping to get from the session. For a minute this threw me as it was different to the things I’d prepared, but I drew on some of the things I tell others and thought I would manage the changes OK.

How wrong I was.

Free fall began……..

I realised within a few minutes of starting the session that I wasn’t connecting with the group and from there it went downhill. With my facilitator/ presenter voices babbling away to me in my head I became tongue-tied, I panicked and I lost my focus.

It’s been a long time since this has happened to me so,as you’d expect, I took time out afterwards to think about what happened and what I would do differently. The first thing I realised was that this particular situation triggered a memory for me from an experience I’d had 20 years ago – it was almost as though I reverted back to the way I handled the original situation and I lost everything I’ve learnt since.

The second thing I realised was that I needed to listen to the voices in my head and my instincts. My facilitator/ presenter voices were telling me to:

– Slow down and breath

– Make it very clear upfront about the purpose for the session and why we are covering the topic

– Make it very clear upfront how the session will work

– Bring out concerns and questions and involve the group early

– And when things seem to be going astray, stop and involve the group in what now needs to change

On this occasion I didn’t have the courage to stop when I knew things weren’t going well. My learning from this experience is that stopping couldn’t have resulted in a worse outcome than the one I had, so I should have done it.

The good news from this experience is that I now have a refreshed and more acute awareness of some of the barriers that come up for people when it comes to talking in groups, presenting or facilitating. I’m also confident that the points above really would have made a difference so practicing this myself and helping others to get these pieces right will provide a great starting point for future coaching and training sessions.

Communicating involves so much more than words

Walking through the streets of Sydney CBD I started to look at what and how people were communicating as they were going about their business. Given my comments in my recent blog about “What do leaders look like” I settled my eyes on people to see what they were communicating. I did this without eavesdropping on any conversations.

Often we think that we communicate only when we open our mouths to speak. In fact there are so many other ways we say things.

An obvious one is what we wear. There are certain uniforms that we put on to fit the situation we’re in: a common sight in the CBD is the suit, an immediate statement that communicates I’m a business person. If you see someone wearing a suit who has added in something different – a bright tie, crazy socks or a yellow jacket, then these additions also communicate something and from this we make a judgement. Your judgement about the wacky socks may be different to mine, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that the style, the colour and the materials communicate information to us.

Think how different your thinking is when you observe someone wearing a sports shirt in the colour of a particular team. Again those clothes communicate something to you and this will vary depending on your views about the particular team.

Beyond clothes there are other things that communicate. I remember a boss I had who use to comment on the way people walk along the street. He would assess whether or not he would employ people by the way they walked. Ok this wasn’t the cleanest of recruitment policies, it did however give some useful indicators about the individuals attitude, energy level and drive.

The handshake is another aspect of body language that communicates. Personally, the limp handed shake creates an immediate negative response for me. This could be different for you.

There are other aspects of appearance that also communicate:the accessories you carry and the way you carry them, the shoes you wear, your hair style, colour, cleanliness, demeanor and attitude.

Adding in to the communication mix are the expressions on your face. Walking through the CBD the expression I noticed most was one of concentration or possibly distraction. A few had smiles on their face and others appeared sad or angry – was this really what they were feeling or my interpretation?

There are two main points from this: firstly, it is worth considering what you are communicating by the way you look and act. Secondly, question yourself about the judgements and assumptions you make about others based on what you think they are communicating. Only by having a conversation and asking questions can we really find out about people and gather useful and real information about them.