“Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
It was a pretty normal day in the office. People going about their lives number crunching, taking phone calls, catching up at the coffee bar. As I passed through all this I noticed something a bit off with a fellow coworker, one that I happen to think very highly of. He is usually pretty serious looking but is quick to flip his social switch and lighten the expression up a bit. The long and short of it that day: his face looked somewhere in between extremely busy and livid and he definitely did not flip the switch in conversation. Weird. I went into observer mode.
I saw him a few times during the day, same unwavering look. I was about to leave work and decided to swing by his office just to check in on my way out. On a side note, I personally am working on my “people before tasks” orientation. “Popping by” offices has never been top of mind for me but what the heck? I do care. Let me try showing it for a change. He looked busy (like usual). I kept it short, “How was your day? How’s it going?” I got a glare and a very inconvenienced “FINE, THANKS” answer. Yikes. I guess the answer matched the face. I got pretty awkward and just walked away.
I’m human. Initially I wondered what I did to annoy him, why he didn’t like me, what was his problem? Yes, all of those. After a bit of thought I reasoned, maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe he was stressed and wore the stress on his face. Maybe he had a rough day. Maybe he did not feel like talking. Maybe he was tired. Or maybe it really was me, who knows. Whatever the case, it happened and then it was over. The craziest thing of it all? The entire interaction started with one look on his face and my interpretation of that look.
Granted, the above is one incident, one time, but it really got me thinking. A million times over I have read it: nonverbal communication makes up for around 80% of the messages we convey. That means what you say only accounts for 20% of the message you are delivering! Admittedly, this is something I grapple with myself. Our gestures, our stances, and our faces are literally roadmaps to our inner most thoughts and feelings. You can literally Google thousands of articles that dissect every single move we make from the curl of our lips, to the arch of our brows, to the blink of our eyes. Psychologists and behavioral analysts eat this stuff up. Even businesses are showing more interest in the subject. Why? Because it matters. According to Forbes, nonverbal signals can actually be reflective of your personal brand. People watch each other and we know for sure that people watch their leaders. Forbes explains that, “we are all looking for little poker “tells” that will give us an accurate appraisal of another’s character and motivations in the shortest amount of time.” Interesting.
So, what messages are you sending? As a leader, are you conscious of the nonverbal cues you are giving, everyday? And more importantly, are you willing to leave your emotional intent to chance or to the mercy of my interpretation, thoughts, and feelings?
As I mentioned, that behavior is not a norm for my buddy at work. Typical of a VBL environment, he and I ended up having a fierce follow up conversation. In fact, it was probably one of the best conversations I have ever had with him. He had no idea and was completely receptive and beyond appreciative that we talked. Turns out a bit of miscommunication coupled with a lack of sleep and a busy day make for a less than optimal state of being. Fancy that. Fortunately at this company though, for him and so many others, days like those are few and far between. We are all constantly striving to develop ourselves and be better but at the end of the day, we are still always perfectly imperfect human beings. The goal here is not to get it right 100% of the time…the goal is simply to get it wrong one less time. If he has one rough day out of a hundred, I would label that a profound success.