How well are you able to apply posturing for strengthening your presence, enhancing your position and influence in meetings, presentations or negotiations?
How aware are you of the presence of posturing in meetings and in business interactions around you? How well do you think those using it as a strategy add to their outcomes with it? Do you only notice it when it is blatant (as in poorly executed) or also when it is elegantly performed? How often do you consciously use posturing in your business life? And when you do, does it work for you? What do you think works and what doesn’t?
Does your presence have posture?
You may notice I have used the term posturing rather than posture. Posture is defined as holding an upright and upstanding posture in the way we present ourselves. While that may certainly play a part in what I wrote about in Presence, this is not what I wanted to discuss today. I wanted to explore the more actively based use of the word as a verb, that is to use posturing to help improve your position of influence in your people interactions. That is the psychological posture as in self-awareness or self-evaluation and also as is defined as the behaviour or speech that is intended to attract attention and interest, or to make people believe something that is not true; false behaviour in order to impress or deceive people; a particular way of behaving that is intended to convey a certain impression; the assumption of an exaggerated pose or attitude.
I have learned that there are differences between elegant or effective posturing and unhealthy posturing. I recently had a successful entrepreneur share with me an example of where he “lost his audience” by laying it on too thick” at the start of his presentation in order to impress them with his background, thinking that this would contribute to “winning them over” early in the piece. While he certainly has an incredibly impressive track record and is extraordinarily connected, he disregarded a reality of Australian business culture that dislikes “bragging” or what we like to call “the tall poppy syndrome”.
Now most successful business leaders have a strong ego. The strong will to win is a critically important part of any winning. I guess the issue outlined in the above example is that whether this slip-up was the result of an overly emphasized ego (perhaps even trying to mask feelings of inadequacy) or not isn’t as important as the Awareness of where to draw the line; the sensitivity of being able to better judge the degree of posturing that this audience would have required and no more than that.
I would also urge leaders at this point to be aware of how your use of this skill may be intimidating subordinates without your being aware of this effect. A revisit to what I said in Arrogance, Aggression & Assertiveness may be useful here.
Belief and confidence
I am well known to believe that confidence “comes out of our eyes”, that the other person or audience gets a sense of our belief in ourselves from the vibes that we project in our presence and our communication. And after that it is less what we say but rather more how we say it, as I describe below. So whether it is true or not, their perception of how you come across becomes their reality.
If you are outwardly trying to present or adopt a superior image posture but don’t personally believe what you are saying or selling or representing, you will not convince the person or audience you are talking to or selling to or trying to influence.
However, conversely, if you have too strong a posture that you come across as intimidating or “cocky” or arrogant, you can equally lose your prospect.
Have you ever watched two cats posturing in a ground protecting confrontation? Their body language is remarkable and a wonderful example of how in the world of wildlife, presenting yourself to look bigger and more confident than you are to your opponent is commonplace.
Whenever I observe business people “in the arena” I enjoy watching when such obvious posturing is taking place, particularly when two or more “unhealthy egos” are competitively present. Body language outlines a range of behaviours looking to emphasize “power”. Name dropping is rife and can sometimes become a contest. Testosterone is oozing in abundance. “I know more than you” or “mine’s bigger than yours” or “my track record speaks volumes” type of posturing is alive and well. The world’s a stage and examples such as these are good theatre for the observer watching them play out.
Do they work? I believe they do. Maybe not necessarily often as blatantly as I’ve chosen to outline above. However, anyone in a selling or influencing role would ignore them at their peril.
In my soft skills grooming, my clients are reminded that words play only 7% a part in our communication and that the rest is non-verbal language, namely 38% gesture and more than half (55%) posture or body language. They learn that rapport can be strengthened by listening and watching for the other person’s “unconsciously preferred language” and adapting theirs to match and to mirror it so their unconscious mind picks up – “hey, this person is speaking my language – I’m interested”.
The key to successful application of such techniques is subtlety, because in business we are mainly dealing with “intellectually clever people” that are “sharp” and would see through blatant copying or such evident forms of posturing.
So if everyone’s “doing it”, how does it help me in my influence?
My strong view here is that there are levels of elegance. The strongest possible level is supported by the best listening skills. Asking what you wish to communicate in the form of questions instead of “telling” will avoid the other person feeling confronted.
Really listening to and for what the other person wants and:
· what they are saying,
· what they are not saying
· as well as how they are saying it
will usually give you all the signs you could possibly need to choose the most appropriate responses.
However, most of us are so intent on showing the other “how good we are” and also “how much we know” that we aren’t listening. Instead we are waiting for another gap to slip in another example or idea or solution. In fact, it is in this our non-listening space that the other person will be able to successfully out-posture us simply by noticing this and playing us.
Successful influencing is built on subtle and powerful use of the rules of elegant communication, which doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Active listening isn’t rocket science. In fact, I don’t think it is very scientific at all. It only requires what I wrote in Awareness and Interested or Interesting? and also in Questions and Statements as well as Are you listening?.
Taking our eyes of ourselves and what we want and putting them onto the person we are talking to and establishing what they want before we can then elegantly show or give them exactly what they want.
Diplomacy based on seeing more perspectives than your own means seeing and hearing opportunities by being aware and listening for what matters to the other party. This is an important part of negotiation skills 101.
Some Tips and Traps
There are many good books written on the topic of projecting power, including the unconscious power of “body language” and so I won’t attempt to emulate any of that here. I will just share a few specifics that I have learned to work well most of the time:
· Dress for success. Call me “old fashioned” if you wish, but I believe our posture is enhanced by how we feel and that is supported by what we are saying with our external presentation. I certainly choose the level of “dressing up” depending on who I am visiting. We can always dress down (remove a tie or jacket) but it is hard to remedy if we are “under-dressed” for an occasion or client to whom that would have been important to. One of my first schoolboy jobs was to sell shoes in a men’s shoe store. It left a pet hobby with me that I will always look at a person’s shoes as that tells me heaps about the way “they care” (about themselves). When you look at shoes now that I have raised your awareness to it, you will notice how often people have dirty, scuffed, unpolished shoes and how worn their heels are (there is a reason for the term “well heeled”).
· I don’t need to remind you that red clothing suggests the presence of power, either in a tie or jumper of dress or coat, do I?
· Where you sit in the room (if you can choose) says something. I urge you to read up on some research here – it can be very useful.
I like to be able to see the door of the room so I can be warned and able to prepare for interruptions. However I also prefer to sit facing the wall, so I can concentrate fully on my client and have most of the distractions behind me (that includes windows – it’s better to have the window behind me).
I prefer to sit alongside or around the corner from my client in a coaching session rather than across the table from them.
In negotiations it is customary to sit opposite those we are dealing with. However,I would often try to place my people amongst the others if we were looking for a more collaborative outcome.
· I have learned that the person with the whiteboard marker has the power (like the writer of the minutes does). It’s important to know when to take control of the whiteboard to maximize your control – your coach can teach you that in your preparation for a meeting.
· Name dropping can become a contest, but at the right time and in the right context can serve to move your outcome forward very well. I’d suggest less is more here.
· Not just in Asia, but more generally in business today, avoiding open confrontation, particularly in respect of “saving face” has become a critical “soft skill” today; one which I believe can enhance your posture, if used elegantly.
· I still stand up when on important phone calls. That’s more evident using mobile phones anyway. However I notice lots of people “prowling” or walking about when on a mobile phone call. I prefer to anchor myself, to let the person I’m talking to know I’m outside and then make sure I really focus on them and to try to shut out any external interference. For really important calls, I have asked to call back when I’m back in an office again.
· And while we’re on the phone, smile – they can hear it.
So, there are just a few obvious ones that I tend to focus on. It may be time well spent if you invest in some further reading research on this or have your coach fine-tune a few that are tailored just to you and your enhanced use of your posture to further your outcomes.
So now that we have your attention on this topic, how do we know just how much posturing to use and how much is “too much”?
Experience and awareness is what I’d say in response to that question. Becoming aware of the use of posturing is a great place to start. In your next meetings or functions, just observe the different levels of posturing people use (or miss out on). Notice the subtleties. Notice the blatant ones and differentiate them from the elegant ones.
Then I’d urge you to set a goal to have a go more consciously using posturing than perhaps is your natural want. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. Involve someone you trust to give you feedback.
I would be very surprised if you didn’t learn some new ways to present yourself and to enhance your outcomes by being able to more elegantly choose the right posturing practices for your personality and for your audiences.
What if you could?