non-verbal Micro-responses

Today I’m thinking about the unconscious communications we all make. Someone says or does something in our presence. Then, quick as a flash, we give them a non-verbal micro-response. It might be a sound, a gesture, a facial expression. These non-verbals go by so quickly, we may not even know they happened. Like it or not, other people notice. Some of these non-verbals serve to build relationships. Some serve to destroy them. Really, if you’ll pardon the double negative, none of them have no impact at all.

AN ILLUSTRATION

The other day at a store, I said to the clerk, “Hey, I’m hoping you can help me with something.” Before responding to me, she closed her eyes, lowered her head, and let out a quick breath through her nose. The whole gesture took less than two seconds. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?”

Before she spoke, I already wished I hadn’t gone into that store.

NON-VERBAL MATTERS

I expect that if you were to ask her how she responded to my request for help, she’d tell you, “I said, ‘Sure. How can I help you?’” But that wasn’t her first response. While it was the first thing she said, her gesture, her body language, was the first response. And it was also therefore my first impression. And it was the communication I believed.

There’s a principle of Adeptability we teach our clients. We humans are, “meaning making machines.” Every bit of information we take in, we make meaning of. We tell ourselves a story to make sense of the information. We fit every gesture and sound, every non-verbal expression, into the story we’re telling ourselves.

I’m a meaning making machine. So, I told myself a story to interpret her non-verbal response — right or wrong — and then I believed my story. To me it meant, “I don’t want to help you. Don’t bother me.” That response and the meaning I took from it had a more profound effect on my experience than her second/spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I may have been mistaken. It’s possible I was wrong.

To the store I was in, however, it doesn’t matter whether my interpretation was correct or not. As a result of her unconscious communication to me, I felt unwelcome. So, I probably won’t go back. I got what I came for, and left as quickly as possible. She likely affected others in the same fashion.

In business, non-verbals are a major part of our brand. They’re a big part of our company culture. Micro-responses play a significant role in everyone’s sense of well-being, belonging, and motivation. Non-verbal communication drives productivity and results or it puts on the brakes.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

There’s another principle of Adeptability that informs where our attention belongs in order to have the impact in the world and our businesses that we’re looking to have.

It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.

The store clerk was willing to help me. In fact, she did help me. And even so, with her initial micro-response, she tore down the relationship with me.

Non-verbal micro-responses can tear down the relationship, and they can also build it up. How often do you smile at the people you work with when you encounter them? How often do you approach their requests with an attitude of “yes”?

Micro-responses that tear down relationships:

  • Sighs
  • “Oh no”
  • Frowning
  • Head shaking
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Eye-rolling
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

  • Smiles
  • Nodding
  • “Uh-huh”
  • Eye-contact
  • Slightly raised eyebrows
  • Etc.

THE CHALLENGE

The non-verbal micro-responses we’ve been talking about are pre-conscious and reflect the thoughts you have about the situation (or person) presenting itself. You can’t necessarily control micro-responses in the moment because they come before you know it. You can, however, notice them in retrospect. Often, if you train yourself, you can recognize them even as they come. And you can instruct yourself in how you want to respond in like circumstances in the future.

And if you notice you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for your impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for and offered without prompting, is a powerful relationship builder.

You can ask those around you to give you feedback specifically about your pre-conscious micro-responses and enlist them in your effort to improve your collaborative ability.

And you can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness in advance of the situations where potentially destructive micro-responses come up.  

You know you best. Make an inventory of the places you’re most likely to sneer, roll your eyes, groan, sigh, slump your shoulders, etc.

Here’s a start:

  • When someone makes a request of you
  • When someone comes unannounced to your work space
  • When you encounter someone when walking through the office
  • When someone gives you feedback — corrective or congratulatory
  • When someone asks you for a status report
  • When someone tells you about their personal life, or asks you about yours

Keep track of these triggers. Prepare to build relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology, offer a remedy, and move on.

Additionally, if you’ve got a feedback culture (and if you don’t, get to work right away to build one), give and ask for feedback on non-verbal behaviors.

  • When you roll your eyes, I’m left thinking you’re not ready for a project like this.
  • Thank you for nodding throughout my presentation. I knew I had you with me, and I felt encouraged.
  • When you shake your head while a customer is talking to you about a problem, they won’t feel supported. We’ll lose business.
  • When you occasionally say, “uh-huh,” when I’m telling the team about this new initiative, people know I have your support. It helps smooth the transition and get everyone on board.

Even subtle and unconscious behavior affects the team, the customers, and the business results. So it’s part of performance and deserving of feedback — both congratulatory and corrective.

WHY BOTHER

The greatest benefit of the awareness and discipline I’m suggesting… You can change your own attitude through this practice. Our attitudes surely affect our behaviors. It works in reverse too. Discipline yourself to constructive behaviors and your attitudes will shift.

You’ll improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.

Meanwhile, you’ll also affect the impression others have of you. You’ll upgrade the way they think of you, upgrade the way they feel being around you, upgrade the opportunities that come your way, and upgrade the results you get in the many negotiations we all engage in every day.

Whatever your work, this will fuel your career and increase your sense of fulfillment. It’ll drive results for you, for your team, and for your company.

 

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Imagine your team operating with high-level EQ. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

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