Perceptive leaders craft messages that meet their target audiences’ needs. They understand which information will be filtered out, how messages become distorted and disregarded, and how information is assigned meaning.
In Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (2009), management consultant Karl Albrecht explores how SI – “the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you” – plays out in executive interactions. He suggests it’s “a combination of a basic understanding of people – a kind of strategic awareness – and a set of component skills for interacting successfully with them.”
Albrecht proposes five distinct dimensions that contribute to social competencies:
We assign meaning to gestures, facial expressions and vocal intonations. But research shows we’re only 20 percent successful at reading body language.
Consider the many clues we may miss during critical negotiations or board presentations. Have you ever left a meeting wondering how you fared? If so, you likely focused intensely on your presentation and failed to observe and decode others’ communication signals.
You cannot interpret signals if you’re not seeing them. An inner focus prevents you from observing, hearing, filtering, asking questions and interpreting signs. You’re simply not taking advantage of all observable data.
The Invisible Iceberg
The stimuli we hear and see are merely the tip of a complex psychological iceberg. We know, with only one glance, when someone is upset. Many of us can walk into a meeting, instantly sense the tone and appropriately adjust our demeanor.
Why, then, can two people observe the same circumstances and draw completely different conclusions?
The brain filters incoming observations before it allows us to reach a conclusion. Common internal variables may alter this process:
“Truly advanced people-readers take this into consideration and strive to objectify their conclusions by factoring in the filters of their own world view,” writes communication consultant Harrison Monarth in Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO (McGraw-Hill, 2009).
When mastering the art of people-reading, your ultimate goal is optimizing outcomes, not judging others.
In sales, this means understanding what prospects really need, their possible objections and tailoring your presentation accordingly. With your boss, it means avoiding potential hot buttons and predicting standards of successful performance. Selective timing and customized verbal and nonverbal messages are critical.
Each step requires the ability to read moods, sense levels of stress or distraction, and gauge openness and risk levels. Learn to say and do the right things, at the right time, with the right people.
The more you observe about others, while filtering out your internal biases, the more effective and empowered you’ll become at reading people and situations accurately.
The Influence of Context
Much of social dumbness comes from not paying attention to available clues. We fail to see them when we’re focused on crafting our best message and delivering it to successfully persuade others to our point of view.
All human interaction takes place in a context or a setting. Context creates meaning, and meaning shapes people’s behavior.
3 Context Dynamics to Observe
Watch for the following dimensions in any given situation:
Steps for Better People-Reading Skills
As your coach, I give you the tools to observe more about others, while filtering out your internal biases. I support you to be more effective and feel more empowered as you’ll become master in reading people and situations accurately.
Should you care, about developing your people reading skills? You should care. When mastering the art of people reading, your ultimate goal is optimizing outcomes, not judging others.
I have a few spots available for February coaching.
Call me right now.