1. Apply Empathy.
Great organisations are built on the back of generosity. When a team feels respected and heard, their efficacy goes up.
However, leaders can sometimes forget their team players are human first. When we use a harsh tone, speak at someone rather than to them or disrespect a person’s time, we are forgetting to see things from their perspective. With all stick and no carrot, team morale suffers.
Always apply empathy as your cardinal rule. Begin by treating your team players the way they wish to be treated. To do this, we must try to figure out how others operate and how they view the world. Ask open-ended questions and be curious about how they feel about a decision. The truth of how a person feels is often different to their surface expression. When you can understand how your team feel, you’ll earn their trust and only then can you influence them towards certain behaviours.
That doesn’t mean we have to be “nice”. This is not necessarily about compromising or indulging a woe-is-me culture. When the going gets tough, we have to set solid boundaries, guide people with a cool head and accept that some decisions will be unwelcome. You can’t always be liked; but you can always be respected.
2. Be Objective.
Effective leaders refuse to get sucked into black-or-white thinking. They understand that life is far more complex than superficial appearances or simplified groupthink.
When we can park our emotive assertions and question our own assumptions, we think more rationally. We can take the time to reflect and we feel calmer too. This helps us pause our knee-jerk reactions, and the more stable we feel, the less vulnerable we are to unhelpful pressure. Ultimately, our decision-making process improves.
Being objective also means accepting when our own ideas aren’t always the best. It takes a strong person to admit fallibility without shame – and no human is perfect. Despite the fact that work culture unrealistically demands constant and perfect knowledge, it’s absolutely fine to NOT always have an answer on tap. And owning that sets a powerful example.
On the flip side, leaders who do let their emotions govern their objectivity can signal a lack of credibility. Ultimately, their emotions make it hard for them to question the status quo or consider alternative ideas. This lack of intellectual flexibility ultimately cripples them.
We all fall pray to biases. That’s part of being human. However, if we stay self-aware, we can stem the tide of faulty thinking and get to our desired results faster.
3. Read People.
Reading people is a Jedi skill that enables you to influence anyone. It’s tough to persuade a person to do anything without first striving to understand what makes them tick.
To do this, an effective leader temporarily puts their own needs aside so they can listen powerfully to others and gather key intelligence. It’s not just the superficial words they listen to either; they pay acute attention to what is being said on a deeper level – the words beneath the words.
You need to look out for the dynamic information another person gives away without even realising! This includes non-verbal clues like body language, micro-expressions, tone, pace, energy, inflection and subtext. Even the way a person uses their eyes or purses their lips speaks volumes about their emotional state.
These clues are a window into another person’s reality. And when you learn to piece these clues together, you uncover what a person is really saying – even if their actual words point you elsewhere.
A great way to start any difficult meeting is to immediately read the room and name the elephant. Don’t let yourself avoid the hot issues. But you must keep a constructive tone at all times. You do this by raising and aknowledging all the objections you sense other people secretly think. You then answer every single one of their objections with positive reframes. This shows that you understand your team’s pain – but can also help them see the bigger brighter picture. People struggle sometimes to do that for themselves and we all need a little help from others.
When people feel understood, they become less guarded and more willing to try something new.
4. Never Take It Personally.
Many of us resist the word No. We hear No as a personal rejection and work extremely hard to get to Yes. But, the fear of hearing No weakens our power to negotiate.
We need to reframe the meaning of the word.
Rather than seeing No as a rejection of us personally, see it instead as a rejection of an idea. We become far more effective communicators when we make this distinction.
If we can allow someone the freedom to say No without getting upset by it, we no longer hold them hostage to our agenda of hearing Yes. They then start to trust us more. And Yes could be just around the corner with a little more patience and rapport-building.
The most meaningful part of reframing No is that it triggers reciprocity. If, for example, you accept your peer’s No and listen to their frustration with an open mind, that person will be more willing to listen to your ideas in return. This is negotiation tactic 101. When we’re no longer distracted by rejection, we’re far more capable of building a bond. And, the more connection we have, the greater our influence!
As with romance, we cannot force another person into commitment. But if we let go of the overwhelming desire for agreement, we’re more likely to get it.
5. Say a lot less.
We all feel the need to prove ourselves at times. But some people truly waste time in the pursuit of status as opposed to getting anything productive done. When they speak, they can often digress into verbosity, jargon and waffle. It’s that common feeling of sitting in yet another team meeting where many people are talking, but no one gets to the point.
A strong leader will call that out – in themselves and others. And will instead facilitate a solution-focused conversation with mutual respect at its core. Those that dominate will be respectfully reigned in; those that hide on the sidelines will be encouraged to speak up. And the tone will be constructive rather than obstructive at all times.
When we focus on facilitating such powerful conversations, we develop considerable leadership edge. We listen more generously, say far less, and most importantly, steer everyone in a positive direction. The result? Greater team enthusiasm.
And when push comes to shove, a committed team is one that will give you their best every time they go out to bat.