Are You Talking to Me?
To inspire people, you first need to give them your focus and attention. It’s how they know you’re invested in them.
When we give another person our full attention versus our divided attention, the conversation changes.
We communicate primarily through intermediaries—email, text messages, social media—in which we’ve traded efficiency for true connection. Social psychologists have found that we’re losing the ability to empathize due to overuse of technology.
Norms are quickly developing and changing around what is socially acceptable in terms of technology usage, and its impact. Recent research shows that while most people use technology in interpersonal situations, they also believe it hurts the conversation.
To be fully present to the conversation, eliminate distractions, use a reflective pause, get curious, hold a space, say it’s important, and show receptive body language.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves While We’re Falling Apart
With the pace of today’s work, it’s common for people to be in near-constant overwhelm, which forces our bodies into a fight-or-flight response.
When we’re in overwhelm, we’re not inspiring anyone. In fact, people’s natural instinct is to distance themselves from someone who seems frenetic.
Stress can cause us to devolve into fear-based behavior. We’re inspiring to others when we come from a place of positivity and abundance.
If we want to get out of overwhelm, we first need to challenge our assumptions rather than jumping to try new strategies. When we engage in this “double loop learning” then more possibilities open to us.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to get to a place of being centered and connected before a conversation. Try deep breathing, instituting short breaks, changing your location, engaging your body, focusing on gratitude, and using situational intentions.
Tricking Your Brain to Open Your Mind
We can’t open someone else’s mind if ours is closed. When we cultivate an open mind, we create a learning space that allows others to expand their own thinking.
Our thinking calcifies with success and experience. We develop “earned dogmatism” in which people who believe they are experts become less open-minded and more dogmatic in their thinking.
Our brains are cognitive misers, and have developed a series of shortcuts to limit our deep thinking in order to save energy. Consider our cognitive functions as Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2. System 1 is automatic and can’t be turned off. System 1 has numerous cognitive biases that limit our thinking and judgment, and operate underneath our consciousness. System 2 is our more deliberate, logical, focused attention, and it kicks in only when System 1 can’t handle it alone.
In addition to cognitive limitations, we are also influenced by social factors such as reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.
In order to cultivate an open mind and encourage expansive thinking in others, we need to have a plan. Using a “pre-mortem,” asking curious questions, detaching from the outcome, being able to say “I don’t know,” and setting time for spacious thinking can help us show and nurture an open-minded approach.
First, Keep it Real
We’re most inspiring when we’re authentic, yet authenticity is a struggle for many people in the workplace who have been trained to display an unflappable, impassive, calm demeanor.
We admire people who speak the truth, talk directly, and show their convictions. This is apparent in the leaders we admire and in the popularity of TED Talks.
Though counterintuitive, showing authenticity is something we can work on. We’re adaptively authentic, where we learn new behaviors and integrate them into our own way of being.
Authentic communicators should blend a mix of competency with vulnerability. These two dimensions, exhibited together, have been shown to connect others to us.
To be a more authentic leader, work on authenticity internalized and externalized. Internalized authenticity means knowing our core values and brand, having a cogent leadership story, and owning the messages we communicate. Externalized authenticity means being explicitly transparent, using genuine language, and expressing vulnerability.
Lifting Sights Toward Potential
The simple act of outwardly recognizing another person’s potential—sincerely and altruistically—is one of the most powerful and inspiring conversations we can have.
Inspiring corporate visions are conversations about potential on a large scale. They tell the organization that it can achieve more because it’s capable of being more.
Conversations about potential invoke the “Pygmalion effect.” Research shows that people rise or fall to the expectations of those in authority. In other words, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Conversations about potential are also affecting because they remind us of our innate strengths, which are easily overlooked or forgotten. Acknowledgment also builds confidence.
Conversations about potential need not be formal or lengthy. The most impactful ones are often extemporaneous and in the moment. A simple “I see this is in you” or “I’m proud of you” can have far-reaching meaning for another.
The Quiet Influence of Listening
Deep, focused listening is a key inspirational skill, but it’s harder than it looks. Most people focus on hearing rather than on understanding. It takes effort, but you can become a better listener by understanding the listening environment.
Any conversation is actually multiple conversations—the ones we’re stating out loud and the ones we’re having with ourselves. We pay most attention to what’s in our heads, especially when that’s an entirely different conversation than what we’re uttering. This is exacerbated by the fact that people talk far more slowly than they think.
Most conversations have both a text (what is said) and a subtext (the context that’s not expressed). If we want a conversation to be inspiring and real, we need to bring the subtext into the text.
We spend far more time listening than speaking. Listening has been shown to be a prominent part of how we evaluate one another’s communication effectiveness. Yet, we are rarely trained on listening skills.
To be a deeper listener, shift your listening from how you’re listening to what you’re listening for. These shifts include listening for the whole person rather than the facts, listening for text and subtext rather than just for text, listening for what the other person needs to say and not what you need to hear, and listening out of curiosity and not to judge.
Your Energy Is Contagious
Energy is a primary way that we convey passion. We want to see passionate energy in our leaders and we view it as a requirement for being able to get things done. Further, our energy shows others how much they should care, and in effect, sets the benchmark.
Significant research has proven that mood is contagious—whether shared intentionally or accidentally. Positive mood contagion is linked to better task performance, decreased conflict, greater collaboration, and transformational leadership.
Someone else’s energy can range from exhilarating to off-putting. We need to calibrate our energy to the situation and the audience. Aim for the average of where you are and where your audience is. In other words, meet them in the middle.
All passion isn’t equal. There is harmonious passion, which lifts people up. We choose the activities that bring it, and can easily walk away from them. On the flip side, there’s obsessive passion, the kind of passion that brings stress.
Energy is a tool we can harness and cultivate to great effect. To do so, first know what gives you energy about your message, synch that up with your audience, and display your passion verbally and nonverbally.
Moving Hearts Before Minds
There is no passion without emotion, and any attempt to convey such comes across unconvincing or deceptive. Emotion tells others what’s real to us. Yet, we’ve been taught that showing emotion is a sign of weakness.
Sharing our emotions allows others to share theirs in return, and encourages personal investment. Inspiring others to change or grow requires an emotional investment on both sides—the communicator and the receiver.
We’re emotional beings, whether we want to be or not. Research shows that emotions drive many of our decisions which we rationalize with logic after the fact—hence the saying, “the emotional tail wags the rational dog.” Some decisions are based in emotion to the extent that we can’t even explain them with logic.
Stories have a strong emotional pull on us. They have been shown to increase a listener’s focus and attention, invoke empathy, and release oxytocin, which creates trust.
Being strategic and authentic with emotions in our communications helps us to inspire others. Three ways to do this are by making emotional appeals, by using emotion words, and by telling engaging stories.
Say It Like You Mean It
We need to see conviction—it’s not enough to read it or hear about it thirdhand. Communicators show conviction through a range of verbal and nonverbal communications.
People get fixated on individual elements of nonverbal communications, such as gestures or eye contact, but we evaluate others using a cluster of behaviors. These include words, tone, facial expressions, gestures, posture, touch, spatial distance, and appearance.
We think we’re better at reading other people’s nonverbal signals than we actually are. Many times, we either get them wrong, or don’t know why we get them right.
To show conviction, instead of focusing on single nonverbal behaviors, focus on aligning your nonverbal with your words, and both with your intent. This helps your body and mind to work together to show up with clarity.
To speak with more conviction, first try on the message visually, so you can see yourself in action. Then speak simply; orient your body OUT: open, up, and toward; and give a natural smile that shows confidence.
Having an inspired purpose is important to any level of professional. Leaders should learn to engage their people on purpose, which helps to increase well-being and goal progression, as well as vitality, positivity, and life satisfaction. Purpose-oriented people are more likely to be leaders.
Purpose exists on multiple levels from one’s life purpose to the purpose of a discrete work project. An inspiring place for leaders to play is the middle—helping another to determine work that’s meaningful for where that person is at this moment in his or her life and career.
Having a purpose is linked to inspiration and intrinsic motivation. People are inspired by something, and when you engage others in purpose, you create the impetus.
There are multiple levels of analysis for any situation, from the process (“I’m reading the words on the page”) to the purpose (“I’m learning to inspire others”). Engaging in purposeful conversations involves walking people up this ladder of sense-making.
To guide others toward their purpose, explore what they’re good at doing, enjoy doing, find useful, has forward-momentum, and builds relationships to others.
If You’re Not Wearing It, You’re Not Sharing It
To inspire purpose in others, we first need to make sure we have a clear sense of purpose of our own. This is easy to neglect in ourselves as we try to motivate others.
Companies and institutions are spending more time focusing on communicating their own strong sense of purpose beyond growth and profitability. On a personal level, you can work on your own sense of purpose in any situation.
You need mental space and time to determine your purpose, and to strengthen, adapt, and change it to fit the current circumstances. It takes focused attention to keep your individual purpose alive.
Strategies for living into your purpose include activating your personal presence brand, which is a shorthand way to access your values, and scheduling strategic time with yourself regularly to gauge your choices against your purpose.
To continually refresh your sense of purpose, inspire yourself by surrounding yourself with a personal board of advisors as role models, and by taking risks toward your purpose.
The Call for Courage
Organizations need leaders to exhibit managerial courage, with the demand increasing with the level of uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace.
Courage isn’t an abstraction but a series of discrete, smaller choices one makes that build courage. We can use try courage, trust courage, and tell courage.
A leadership shadow is the subtle influence exerted by the leader’s choices, actions, and values.
Courageous leadership requires clear choices, saying no to some opportunities to be able to say yes to others.
Courageous moves that are desired from leaders include the courage to have honest conversations, prioritize purpose, be real, lead by values, jump, and let go.