Thursday, 6 August 2015

Reading the Room

In the course of my business I have recently, personally experienced two suppliers who very much embody ‘iaam.com’ philosophy. For those of you wondering what on earth that means, it stands for ‘it’s all about me dot com’. It’s a phrase that embodies others who, in their interactions, are really only concerned about their own agenda, their own priorities, their own needs – with a woeful lack of focus or flexibility regarding the agenda of others. What was so fascinating was that they had no idea of the impact of their communication. So how good are you at reading the room? I only ask because over the course of the past month, I have been working with clients who struggle in this area. 

Let’s start with some definitions. ‘Reading the Room’ means being able to gauge the impact of your communication on your audience and make adjustments accordingly. It’s all about emotional intelligence in terms of having your radar ‘on’, and then behavioural flexibility to adjust your communication style accordingly. Leaders who have ‘Executive Presence’ are able to do this well. The place to start is by analysing how others speak and we can do this in a couple of different ways. Firstly we can pay attention to style (pace, language, intonation, key words, thought vs. feelings, says a lot vs. says a little etc.). In terms of rapport, if we don’t get this right, building an environment of trust – and the basis of a mutually beneficial relationship - is tough. A fantastic resource that I have been using to underpin my coaching with clients in this area is the book ‘Reading the Room’ by David Kantor. Assuming we’ve done this first piece of analysis correctly (no mean feat), Kantor advises that we pay attention to the content of the speech of others, using three different frames of reference. I’ll start in this blog with the first, which Kantor suggests is to listen for the type of action being spoken by each person. Is the talk of others about being a mover (making suggestions/showing initiative), opposer (disagreeing/proposing a different direction), follower (agreeing with the suggestion of others), or bystander (not committing and rather commentating or observing on what is occurring)?

Who cares? Well, you should. Leadership is a relationship business and that means being able to easily, smoothly, readily connect, engage, delight, motivate, enthuse others. Whenever we try to ‘decode’ what we do well, then it can appear complex, confusing and chaotic. The point is that this is how we learn. By understanding what we do (or what others do well) and replicating it. This isn’t easy. By the way, our ability to pay attention as leaders has never been more under threat, so on that basis, if we’re not tuned in, how can we influence effectively?

So here’s my challenge – as the summer holidays approach (a great opportunity to people watch/observe), I invite you to simply ‘read the room’. What do you notice? What do you really hear and observe that you haven’t noticed before?

Have fun and we’ll continue this conversation in September.

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