Leadership: The Power (And Trap) Of Non-Verbals

We have been studying nonverbal communications in class and it is interesting how you can tell what people are thinking by their actions – especially when they are inconsistent with their words.  Is it important for leaders to know this?

I received this note from a leader who also loves to learn.  It reminded me of a couple of things:

  1. 60-70% of our communication is non-verbal 
  2. Great communicators have mastered non-verbal cues
  3. Stress behaviors for leaders (according the the Birkman Method) often shows up as us sending the wrong nonverbal signals

My big concern about teaching leaders how to read non-verbal signs is that we fail to teach them the skills needed to use it to have a great conversation about how a person really feels.

It is a slippery slope if we start taking a nonverbal cue as their statement.  Imagine the power of a leader saying “I heard you say you supported the decision, but I sense that support is not 100%.  What % would most accurately gauge your support? . . . . “ 

Understanding non-verbals gives leaders/individuals a tool to know when to hit pause in a conversation and allow someone space to share what they are thinking/feeling. 

My admission (I am supposed to be skilled at this) – Today I read a nonverbal (watery eyes) cue and my interpretation was someone is done reviewing their Birkman results after a 90 minute discussion.  They had absorbed all they could in one sitting. When I shared that perception it turns out it was allergies, and that launched us into 15 minutes of great conversation.  I was wrong, and I am glad I found out before I unilaterally shut the conversation down.

Read them – yes.  But remember that it is a cue to keep talking / listening.