How to wire your brain for leadership success.
You’ve done all the training courses and produced some great successes, but you’ve been unable to inspire the high levels of performance you know your team could achieve. The team doesn’t deliver what you ask for. Could the problem stem from miscommunication?
Research from Smarp shows “3 in 4 employees see effective communication as the number one leadership attribute. Yet, less than 1 in 3 employees feel like their leaders communicate efficiently.”
While we talk about the finer details of communication, it seems we forget it’s a two-way process. It’s not always words which are a problem: it’s how your communication is received and perceived.
What influences the reception of your message?
A message is not just verbal. It’s delivered through your body language, too. Often, that’s what we respond to. Scientists still disagree on how much is communicated verbally, but they all agree body language is a primary source of information.
Susan Goldin-Meadow, an expert in gesture, says humans are born with the ability to use gesture to communicate. Think of the instinct to shake hands or open our arms when we meet people. It’s based on the primitive gesture of showing an open hand –you’re carrying no weapons.
She believes that because gesture and body language is innate and often used unconsciously, people trust it more than the verbal message. At the very least, they subconsciously read physical cues before they recognise the words.
What influences the perception of your message?
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that people’s perceptions are coloured by their prior beliefs. Those beliefs are based on similar previous experiences and they “exert their effect on behavior by warping the representation of sensory events in the brain.”
Here’s an example. You say to a team member, “I’m not sure this is up to standard so let’s have another go.” The message seems harmless. But if the person has lost a job after being told “this is not up to standard,” they’re unlikely to hear the end of your sentence. You can imagine the panic and fear that would set in.
Researchers believe prior experience changes the strength of neural pathways. Bad experiences trigger the brain’s self-defence mechanisms. In other words, previous experience has a controlling effect on present behaviour and understanding.
Your team is influenced by their perception of your message, not the message you intended to present. As perception is extremely subjective, it is quite likely that each member of your team hears your message differently.
Your mindset is another key influence on how your message is perceived. If you’re honest with yourself, the way you deliver a message is different depending on your mood. Even if you’re not aware of it, the way you feel affects the delivery of your message.
When you’re tired or emotional, your brain, mind and body respond and change the way you present yourself. It’s tough to present a message with enthusiasm when you’re running on empty. Team members pick up on the subliminal message you’re sending and interpret it based on their past beliefs. Because the human brain is wired to quickly pick up on threats, the amygdala will trigger a threat response when there’s a mismatch between the words and the non-verbal message. The simple message you thought you delivered could be triggering alarm in your people. Often, they’ll just worry about it rather than question you. That’s how team performance drops.
Manage yourself to manage your message.
One of the key leadership traits to ensure your future survival is self-leadership - understanding yourself and managing your own responses and behaviour. Picking up on the emotional cues your body gives is important. Once you recognise them, you can manage their impact on the way you present yourself and your message.
To improve your self-awareness, include reflection time into your day. Think about how people reacted to you, and how connected you were while working with and managing others. Did you get the response you expected? If not, what could have influenced the outcome?
When you understand the link between body, mind, and message, not only will you improve your self-management, but you’ll be better equipped to observe the way your message is being received. You’ll be alert to the non-verbal cues your team send, so you can tackle misinterpretations before they become problems.
True communication demand we understand each other’s perceptions. Great communication means starting with your own. Leaders can’t afford to assume their message has been accurately received. Take the time to make sure it has.
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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.