non-verbal Micro-responses

Non-Verbal Matters

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.

 

_______________

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?

Book a call today.


Business Relationships: Make or Break With Micro-Responses

Today I’m thinking about micro-responses and how they can make or break your business relationships (and therefore your career).

A Business Relationships Story:

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. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?” I instantly wished I hadn’t gone into that store. Our business relationship was in bad shape.

Above, I wrote that she closed her eyes, lowered, her head and exhaled “before” she responded to me. That wasn’t really true. That body language was her first response. And it was a foundational moment for our relationship.

We humans are, “meaning making machines,” so of course I interpreted that micro-response in my mind. 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 spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I believed her non-verbals more than I believed her words.

 

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

 

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

A Take Away:

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
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

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

These micro-responses 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 as they come or afterward, and instruct yourself in how you want to respond for the future.

And if you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for the impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for, 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.

Something to Practice:

You can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness  in advance of the situations where micro-responses come up.  Some of those may include:

  • 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. Prepare to build your business relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology and move on.

The greatest benefit of this awareness and discipline… You can change your own attitude through this practice, and improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.

Today I’m thinking about micro-responses and how they can make or break your business relationships (and therefore your career).

A Business Relationships Story:

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. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?” I instantly wished I hadn’t gone into that store. Our business relationship was in bad shape.

Above, I wrote that she closed her eyes, lowered, her head and exhaled “before” she responded to me. That wasn’t really true. That body language was her first response. And it was a foundational moment for our relationship.

We humans are, “meaning making machines,” so of course I interpreted that micro-response in my mind. 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 spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I believed her non-verbals more than I believed her words.

 

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

 

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

A Take Away:

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
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

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

These micro-responses 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 as they come or afterward, and instruct yourself in how you want to respond for the future.

And if you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for the impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for, 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.

Something to Practice:

You can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness  in advance of the situations where micro-responses come up.  Some of those may include:

  • 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. Prepare to build your business relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology and move on.

The greatest benefit of this awareness and discipline… You can change your own attitude through this practice, and improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.


An Effective Apology in 7 Parts

It’s often said in business, but rarely written in so many words: “Shit happens.” Sometimes, the shit that happens is our responsibility, and it lands on others.  Sometimes, hell, it hits the fan, and lands on a great many people. At these times, there’s damage to repair. So, humans have invented the apology. Properly deployed, the apology is an incredibly powerful tool of reconciliation and relationship repair.

Sadly however, apologies are rarely properly deployed.  When botched, they’re weak tools of repair at best. At worst, they’re powerful tools for relationship destruction and prohibiting reconciliation.

Bad Apology

Take for example the not-so-funny comedy-of-errors created by Chip Wilson, CEO of yoga apparel manufacturer LuluLemon Athletica. People loved them. Their yoga pants sold and sold and sold. Then, they changed their fabric source, and people complained that their pants were too sheer, revealing more than they wished to reveal when they bent over — which people often do in yoga class.

When CEO Chip Wilson could have said, “Sorry. My bad. We shouldn’t have gone with the cheaper fabric. Free, better replacements on me.” Instead, he essentially blamed customers whose thighs were too big. And he did it on national television, saying, “It’s, you know, really about the rubbing through the thighs… how much pressure is there.” Bad form, Chip, blaming the people who made you rich for the decline in quality and opacity.

Well, all is not lost. That’s why we invented apologies, for people like Chip (and the rest of us — to err is human). “I can fix this, he said. “I’ll post a video online,” he said. Good idea. He can reach thousands, millions of people to make amends for the offense he gave.

You get second chances

So he did make a video and post it online.  He said, ““I’m sad for the people at LuluLemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of my actions.” Good. He’s aware that his actions affect his employees. That’s good. He continued, “I take responsibility for all that has occurred.” Good.  He owns it. Going on, “and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this.” Ok.  And now, surely, he’ll apologize to his customers, to women everywhere, and to anyone else he may have offended for blaming the sheerness of his clothing on too big thighs instead of cost-cutting.

But, no. He stops there. Not even a single word to customers. Why’d you post that online, Chip?  Oh, I see. You posted that online in order to add insult to injury.

Stock prices plummeted. Chip resigned. LuluLemon’s rep still hasn’t recovered.

So, that’s one way to really screw it up — fail to ever actually apologize to those who are waiting for your apology — but, how do you do it right?

It’s not a magic trick, and there’s no sleight of hand. If you determine that you’re responsible for something that’s caused someone else displeasure…

(Side note: I’ve said it twice now.  Responsible. Notice I didn’t say, “culpable.” You don’t have to be at fault. If you promise to give a presentation in Anchorage on Tuesday, that’s your responsibility.  If all flights in and out of Anchorage have been cancelled due to a storm for a week, that’s an act of god, and not your fault. Guess what… An apology is still warranted.)

An Adept Apology

If you’re responsible for something that’s caused someone else displeasure… Here are 7 ingredients you can mix together to make an effective apology soup.  You don’t need every one, every time, but when in doubt, don’t skimp.

  • Simply name the offending action or event.  “We at LuluLemon compromised the quality of our clothing by going with a less expensive fabric supplier.” Or, if you don’t catch it that early, “I blamed my customers on national television for the sheerness that was actually caused by an inferior material.” Or, if you were meant to be the keynote speaker in Anchorage, “I didn’t show up for your event.”
  • Express empathy. Demonstrate that you know that your actions had an impact, and that you have enough insight into others that you can imagine what that impact may have been. “You, our customers, came to rely on the quality of our apparel, and have been disappointed, and by showing a bit more tush than you intended, perhaps embarrassed.” Or, if you didn’t catch it that early, “You may have been shocked and disappointed, perhaps offended by my misplaced blame and fat-shaming.” Or, if you didn’t make it to AK, “You were left to twiddle your thumbs without your keynote speaker. I imagine that was disappointing and likely boring.”
  • Express regret or apology. You don’t have to grovel. Just note that different would have been better. “I’m sorry.” Or, “I wish we hadn’t changed suppliers.” Or, “We’d all be better off if we had stuck with a fabric that was working.” Or, “I never should have said those things.” Or, if you were due in the frozen north, “I wish I could have been there.”
  • Explain (without defense – sans defensiveness – no defending) why it happened. Use “I” language. This is not to be an excuse. Demonstrate that you have the insight that would make this apology meaningful.  This begins to give them assurance that you know enough to be able to prevent its happening again. By the way, keep it brief. This is meant to be a proof of concept, not a treatise. “I was really feeling the pressure, and I didn’t want to damage our (or my) image by admitting we’d compromised quality.” Or, “We put profits ahead of quality.” Or, if you flub the first one, “I really have a problem with prejudice against people who are overweight.” Or, “I lash out like a rabid dog when I feel cornered.”  Notice the “I” language. You didn’t see, “Your thighs are too big.” There was no, “The devil made me do it.” If all the flights were canceled for a week, “I couldn’t get a flight. All the flights were cancelled for a week.”
  • Offer a remedy. Very often, most of the time, you can’t completely heal the rift. But you can make a gesture that demonstrates that you are sincere. You may or may not be able to make the other party whole, but you can put your money (literal or figurative) where your mouth is. “If you bought pants that showed ass-pects you intended to keep hidden, while I can’t restore your dignity, your next pair of yoga pants — original opaque formula — is on me.” (Maybe you leave out the part about dignity, or maybe you keep it as a part of your naming the impact. Probably, you’d leave out the ass pun.) Or, if you’ve already put your foot in your mouth, “I’m going to sensitivity training next week.” Or, “I’m going to put myself in stockades in Time Square at noon on Tuesday. Please don’t throw hard vegetables.” Or, if you were kept from the cold, “Is there an opportunity for us to reschedule?”
  • Make a credible commitment for the future, and live up to it. “Credible” is important here. We’ve got to be able to believe you. Don’t promise the moon. “I promise never to utter another offensive word so long as I live,” is not credible. Try, “I’m going to call our old distributor and get the high-quality fabric back.” Or, if you’ve already offended half of America, “I’m going to strive to think before I speak, and care for our customers — body, mind, and soul. Namaste.” And, “I’m going to start doing yoga so I’m not so volatile under stress.” Or, if you couldn’t fly north, “I’m going to prohibit snow-storms for a week surrounding and future engagements.” Hopefully, you were paying attention, and caught that one. That’s not credible. And in a case where it’s not your actions that caused the breach, this ingredient isn’t needed.
  • Listen. Really listen. You may have given a credible and beautifully crafted apology, but don’t think that ends it. An apology cannot completely close the rift. Trust must be regained. The greater the rift, the greater the need for rebuilding. Emotional pressure has built up under the strain. Your apology opens the door to release the pressure. Now listen as the pressure escapes. You may get an earful. If you are still, non-reactive, peaceful, and receptive during the entirety of the eruption, you may find that when the other party is through venting, they will stop. Then there is peace. Then there is nothing more to say. All you need do is honor your commitments to repair the relationship.

Why Apology Matters

Not every rift requires all of these ingredients. Often, you can get by with only a few. But the more complete the recipe, the more powerful the apology.  Don’t bring a knife to a gun apology.

Apologies can:

  • Build trust
  • Repair relationships
  • Accelerate the pace of business
  • Demonstrate strength of character

An apology is not:

  • A sign of weakness
  • A miracle cure
  • A time to make demands

So, I’ll leave you with this. An apology is an offering. It’s an offering of reconciliation to another, and of strength and integrity to yourself. It is not a time or opportunity to make demands. Even, “Please forgive me,” is a demand. “I hope you can forgive me,” is better.

Try one today. Make a call. Write a letter. Tell me how it goes.

(ABC covered Chip Wilson’s failed apology – watch here)

 

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High-Performance Accountability Culture: 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?

Book a call today.