What non-verbal "micro-messages" are you sending as a leader?

As businesses move forward in today’s economy, leaders are groomed to be familiar with buzz words, such as “equality,” “forward-thinking,” or “synergy.” Leaders don’t miss a beat when it comes to the terms, “value-added,” “transparency,” “innovation,” or “game-changer.” But are you verbally and non-verbally keeping your team engaged? Take a look at these questions and let’s see how well you are doing.

1.     Do you check emails or text during a conversation with your team?

2.     Do you ignore emails from certain team members or only read a portion of them?

3.     Do you often interrupt a team member’s conversation with you?

4.     Do you have a habit of praising certain team members or only asking their opinions, in front of others?

5.     Do you ever glance at your watch during a conversation with a team member?

6.     Do you ever deliver weak handshakes or not maintain eye contact during a handshake?

7.     Do you ever cross your arms over your chest, while listening to a team member?

8.     Do you ever raise your eyebrows, roll your eyes or sigh loudly during a conversation with your team member?

9.     Do you ever repeatedly confuse someone’s ethnicity or mispronounce their name?

10.  Do you have a habit of using sarcasm or hovering with your team members?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are delivering “micro-inequities” to your team. These unintentional micro-messages, coined by Mary Rowe in the early 1970s, have a profound impact on your team by expressing doubt, eroding self-esteem and/or causing your team to disengage. This simple form of micro-messaging encompasses your power to absolutely lose the productivity of your team with a simple nonverbal communiqué that you may not even notice. The key here is that your team notices.  Research tells us that we deliver 2,000 to 4,000 micro-messages a day and as many as 40 – 50 in just one minute of conversation at work. So how do you fix it?

Simple. You learn to deliver “micro-affirmations.”

1.     You greet every team member with sincerity, with eye contact.

2.     You give your team members your complete attention, when they are speaking to you.

3.     You respond to your team members by paraphrasing, asking questions and inviting input.

4.     You be intentional in praising your team members with specific details.

5.     You carry these micro-affirmations to your team members outside of the work place.

6.     You respect your team’s time by arriving on time and/or not leaving a scheduled meeting time early.

Also, other examples deserve mentioning, but are outside the realm of micro-affirmations. These include your habits and the micro-messages that these habits may be translating to your team. What kind of clothing are you wearing? Does it match the attire of your team? Where are you going for lunch dates? Is it a place that they could easily afford? Who do you invite to lunch with you? 

Now, these terms may ring new to your ears, but I’m betting it’s been part and parcel to your education and experience. Let me throw out some more familiar words. How about… “non-verbal communication” or “active listening?” I’m sure these phrases are touching home, but are you living them? These practices may be using a different name these days, but they are the tried and true methods of building strong partnerships. Every single member of your team represents a partnership with your company. And your company or team is only as strong as the weakest link. Remember, that the “proof is in the pudding.”