Meetings are a necessary evil. While they can and do accomplish plenty, meetings aren’t always productive. And they’re costly too: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that unnecessary meetings cost $37 billion every year. But by defining the type of meeting you’re having, establishing ground rules, and inviting only who you need to, meetings can accomplish what they’re intended to. Don’t assume all is said and done when the team leaves the conference room either. Following up and analyzing results will help save time, too.
There are several positions which are indicators of effective, persuasive body language.
Early in Bill Clinton’s political career he would punctuate his speeches with big, wide gestures that made him appear untrustworthy. To help him keep his body language under control, his advisors taught him to imagine a box in front of his chest and belly and contain his hand movements within it. Since then, the Clinton box has become a popular term in the field.
Holding the ball
Gesturing as if you were holding a basketball between your hands is an indicator of confidence and control, as if you almost literally have the facts at your fingertips hands. Steve Jobs frequently used this position in his speeches.
When people are nervous, their hands often flit about and fidget. When they’re confident, they are still. One way to accomplish that is to clasp both hands together in a relaxed pyramid. Many business executives employ this gesture, though beware of overuse or pairing it with domineering or arrogant facial expressions. The idea is to show you’re relaxed, not smug.
How people stand is a strong indicator of their mindset. When you stand in this strong and steady position, with your feet about a shoulder width apart, it signals that you feel in control.
This gesture indicates openness and honesty. Oprah makes strong use of this during her speeches. She is a powerful, influential figure, but also appears willing to connect sincerely with the people she is speaking to, be it one person or a crowd of thousands.
The opposite movement can be viewed positively too—as a sign of strength, authority and assertiveness. Barack Obama has often used it to calm a crowd right after moments of rousing oration.
The next time you give a presentation, try to have it recorded, then review the video with the sound off, watching only your body language. How did you stand and gesture? Did you use any of these positions? If not, think about how you might do so the next time you’re in front of an audience, or even just speaking to your boss or a big client. Practice in front of a mirror, then with friends, until they feel natural.
Non-verbal communication won’t necessarily make or break you as a leader, but it might help you achieve more successful outcomes.
Fifty executives at an executive-education program at a major business school. One mentioned that a competitor had deliberately tried to damage his company.
The facilitator asked, “How many of you think a competitor has tried to hurt your business?” Fifty hands extended. The facilitator asked, “How many of you have worked for a company that has tried to hurt a competitor’s business?” Fifty hands retracted.
The point is not whether the executives were right. The point is the deeper belief revealed by their extended and retracted hands, the belief that they’d been attacked by competitors behaving with deliberate hostility.
Perhaps it’s the language we businesspeople use. Capture market share. Steal customers. Defend position. Rally the troops. Establish a beachhead. Counterattack. Alas, the war metaphor even invades the business war games I conduct in my practice. I tried calling them “strategy games” but people looked at me as though I were a draft dodger.
The war metaphor makes an implicit statement about the nature of competing businesses. They’re not merely other firms; they’re opponents in a zero-sum game. They’re enemies who see us as enemies.
Then we have “target markets.” What, are we shooting at customers with Big Data? And target market is not the only metaphor to depersonalize customers. Consider “revenue stream”, in which customers are natural resources for us to pump. Imagine what will happen when we figure out how to extract the last few drops via the equivalent of fracking. Maybe we already have. Just look at the revenue streams that end in puddles of unused stuff in our homes.
And don’t get me started on “executing” our strategy.
What other metaphors might we choose instead? Chess: win the game but don’t kill the other player. Beauty contest: delight the customer. Ecosystem: coexist without ruining the market.
What would happen if we chose a more-personal “relationship” metaphor, where businesses invest in long-term trust and mutual loyalty with their customers?
The metaphors we choose don’t only depersonalize competitors and customers. They affect how we see other human beings at work, also known as headcount, workforce, resources, and labor. We are budgets and costs, we are the current occupants of boxes on the organization chart. The box can stay without us, but we cannot stay without the box. “Your position has been eliminated.”
People ask me how many people work for me. I say none, because none of my colleagues works for me. They don’t work to serve me or make me rich. They work for themselves and their families. I say my colleagues work with me and I work with them. In my metaphor they are volunteers.
The volunteer metaphor fits an ideal free market, where a willing buyer makes a mutually beneficial deal with a willing seller. But what happens when the seller is clearly not a volunteer? Is it right for me to pay someone less because I know he or she is desperate for a job, even though I’m willing and able to pay more? Is it a feature (efficiency) or a bug (exploitation) that those most likely to get lousy deals are those who most need good deals?
These are not black-and-white issues. There is some truth in each metaphor, and exclusive truth in none. What’s important is that our metaphors reveal how we frame our beliefs and decisions. They reveal the lenses through which we perceive others and their behavior. They affect the actions we select and justify. We behave one way when we see enemies, targets, costs, and roles, and another when we see people like us.
We choose our metaphors. Try on a new metaphor from time to time. What if your enemies are non-hostile businesses like you, trying to earn a living? What if you imagine selling not to a target but to a family? What if you see your headcount as volunteers?