The Language of Silence
As a leader, you have the best intentions. After all, the buck stops at your desk. You are responsible if the project fails, or better yet, if it’s wildly successful. You’ve put all the right people in the right places, you know the rules, and you are the team’s biggest cheerleader. So what could you do better?
One thing that many leaders miss or undervalue is the world of tacit or invisible communications… that mysterious, underground, semi-conscious world of implied or inferred messages that we all send continuously, whether we know it or not.
There are two sides to this coin: tactic communications that enhance or reinforce your words, and tacit communications that undermine or conflict with your words. Often times without even realizing it, tacit communications can devalue or discourage performance, or value and encourage performance. As the leader of your team, those underground unspoken messages that you send play a big role in how you motivate, inspire and drive others to live up to their full potential.
A simple example… how do you introduce your team members to a client or another leader in your organization? Let’s say you are introducing two team members to an important client. You introduce Mary with great enthusiasm, you draw her into the conversation, you make eye contact with her as well as your client, and there is a smile on your face and pride in your tone as you mention a few of her accomplishments. You introduce John quickly, make no eye contact with him, and exclude him from the conversation as quickly as possible, and show little excitement on your face when you mention a few of his accomplishments. It may not be your intent to create this inequity, but in a heartbeat, you have done so. You have set Mary up for success and John for something less.
There are several differences in how this scenario differed between Mary and John. It included your tone of voice, hand gestures, choice of words, eye contact and interactions. Your introductions revealed what you truly feel about Mary and John… and you can be sure they know the difference. As leader you have done not only a disservice to John, but to yourself as well, as the end result is that you may never know John’s full potential since often times our employees live up to our expectations, not their potential. On the other side of the coin, Mary’s introduction can have a huge impact on her performance, commitment, loyalty and output.
Beyond the relationship between you, John and Mary, your introduction will also profoundly impact their relationship with the client. That first impression you created for John and Mary with the client is more than lasting. It is indelible and has set the stage for the quality of their relationship over the long term.
It is simple to know that tacit communications go far beyond simple introductions. It takes place in every piece of communication that we deliver. As a leader, keep up the great work that you are already doing. But remember to recognize the messages you are sending and how they impact those who are receiving. Words are important. Tactic communications are paramount.