The second point is that you get about 7 seconds to make a first impression. When you meet someone for the first time, your primal brain is assessing, in milliseconds, is this person a friend or foe? do I approach or avoid? Does this person have status and authority? These are human survival mechanisms. But in business and life you can use them to your advantage if you pay attention to these key things:
Adjust your attitude – think about the situation you are entering and what kind of impression you want to make. Do you want to be business-like, friendly, open? In some circumstances, for example if you’re heading into a difficult contract negotiation, you may want to have a more authoritative and aloof attitude. But that would be a totally inappropriate attitude if you’re going to a meeting with a prospective customer or employee.
Straighten your posture – Posture is a non-verbal cue for power and status. If you want to appear more powerful and authoritative, stand up tall and square up your shoulders.
Smile – a smile says I’m friendly and approachable.
Make eye contact – this indicates openness and interest.
Shake hands – this is an instantly successful way of quickly establishing rapport (in most western cultures anyway).
Lean in slightly – by leaning slightly towards the other person it shows that you’re interested and engaged.
However, when applying these tips, be ever mindful of the other person’s personal space and cultural sensitivities. If you are too engaging, too loud, move too much into people’s personal space, you can very quickly lose rapport and respect.
The Third key point is that the message heard is the message received. It doesn’t matter what you think you’ve said, if the person or people you’re speaking with didn’t understand that message or it was unclear, they’re not going to understand or remember what you said. Because we all have different attitudes, values and social norms of behaviour, we interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues in our communications differently. The meaning behind the message is not always directly apparent. As we get to know people better and understand their values and even their idiosyncrasies, we learn to interpret what they are saying through that ‘filter’. The more we talk to people and the more we listen to what they are really saying, the greater the chance of there being shared meaning between us.
Let’s explore these in a bit more detail:
Firstly, the point that over 90% of face-to-face communications is non-verbal. Your body language, the expression on your face, your eye contact, what you are doing with your hands, your stance, and how much you move around while you speak, says more than what is coming out of your mouth in the form of words. If you are engaged, present, have an open stance, maintain eye contact and nod your head occasionally the person you are conversing with is much more likely to a) pay attention to you; b) really listen to what you have said and c) understand what you’re saying.
Finally, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason: listening is more important than speaking.
These fundamentals underpin every conversation you have with other people, regardless of whether they are casual conversations getting to know your work colleagues or whether you are having a difficult conversation with someone about, for example, their work not being done on time or to the standard you expected.
This is quite a difficult subject to teach through a recorded lecture; it’s a bit ironic really. But it is what it is so we will have to make the most of any opportunities we do get when we are present with each other to practice some of the things we are learning in this lecture!
I’d like you to watch a TED Talk now by Celeste Headlee, a US-based journalist, radio and TV presenter and regular TED Speaker. Her TED Talk on ‘ways to have better conversations’ highlights the points I’ve been talking about here in a very succinct and entertaining talk. The 10 tips for better conversations she presents here are tips that you can apply in all conversations; whether personal or business-related.
Imagine, for example, if I was to tell a spray contractor that I wanted Paddock number 12 to be sprayed with MCPA at 4 litres/hectare on Monday. The contractor might be on the tractor at the time: What he heard was “Spray paddock 5 with MCPA at 4 litres/hectare on Monday”. Very easy to do, but the outcome is that the wrong paddock gets sprayed. In this case, it may not be that detrimental, but there can often be more serious consequences of not using an appropriate communication medium for the message intent.