“I looked him in the eyes
He was looking somewhere in the skies
I looked up again but I dint want to complain “
No. I am not a poet.
On 29th June 2015 at 7:00 pm, one of my friend rings me up to have a casual talk with me. He happens to be the founder of a company that has a team size of 30 people. While discussing other things, he tells me about the problems he is facing at work. He says “I have a big team, but no work is getting done. I am the only person working on everything. My team looks highly disintegrated and disinterested in the work they do. The performance levels are very low”. I tell him about the importance of sharing goals, vision and purpose with his team. He says he has done it all, but still sees no change in the attitude, performance or the behavior of the employees. We decide to meet in his office the next day to understand the issue.
So the next day I put on my Sherlock hat and go to meet him in his office at 11:00 am to study the work environment, discuss the problem in detail and understand the root cause of it. I sit at his desk while he calls for a cup of coffee for me and asks his second in command (Lets call him Mr B) to join the discussion. I notice that my friend is continuously looking at his laptop. I look at him to get some eye contact, but there is none.
‘B’ takes half an hour to wrap up his work and join us. I wonder why this couldn’t be planned in advance so that the meeting could start as soon as I entered. But we Indians have some love for delays. (Sometimes I think people believe that arriving late makes them feel more powerful and superior. Weird human behavior I say). Anyhow, the meeting starts at 11:45 am and all this while, my friend has his head buried in his laptop.
In the middle of the discussion, I realize that it’s just B and I who are talking and sharing points. I don’t hear my friend sharing any inputs. So, I turn to gaze at my friend and ask him if he has any points to share. That is when he looks at me and talks about how he doesn’t see any commitment or performance from the employees as expected. The salaries they earn are absolutely not justifiable for the outcome received and yet they demand higher salary, he said with a look of disconcert.
I call for another cup of coffee and continue my conversation. I ask him when was the last time he had a talk with the team? He tells me about the weekly Monday morning meetings where they discuss targets and performance vis-a-vis the targets . I ask him if I can attend the meeting and he readily agrees.
On Monday, I get to his office by 9:15 am and the office boy serves me coffee (I think by now he knows that I need my cup of coffee to start the day). I wait in my friend’s cabin till B comes to tell us that the meeting will start by 10:00 am (delays make me fume but thank god for the coffee that keeps me from erupting). I see my friend focused on something, his eyes looking at the laptop while I am seated opposite him. No, I’m not reading any book nor am I just sitting there in silence. I am having a conversation with the laptop (err… I mean my friend).Isn’t it so darn irritating to talk to a person who’s buried in his laptop or phone? Doesn’t it make your skin creep? Doesn’t it make you feel unwanted?
My friend and I enter the conference room to face 30 employees of different age and position. Everyone looks at me with skepticism. That’s when B comes to my rescue and introduces me to the team. He starts & conducts the meeting as per the agenda and does a stellar job of it. However, in the midst of all this I notice that the entire meeting is conducted by B and my friend gives his inputs once in a while. I also notice that as usual my friend is busy looking into his phone, checking messages, mails or sending some communication,while an employee is talking and addressing him in the talk.
It was then, when I saw the blank expression on the faces of all the employees, I had my ahaa moment. My moment of euphoria. I realized the cause behind the dissatisfied, demotivated team in my friend’s office. I realized why sharing vision, goals & mission did not help him. The reason was simple yet so important. The answer was right in front of me, yet so complex to explain it to my friend with facts.
My friend was always lost in his laptop or phone when a team member was speaking.He did not show any signs of listening by giving a nod or any cue of agreement
As humans we crave for attention all the time. In fact while talking, if we don’t get the attention of the listener we feel neglected, rejected and demotivated. That’s exactly what was happening in his office.
The nonverbal behavior of my friend was perceived negatively by his team. It is said that body language makes 55% of the impact on your communication. People observe your nonverbal behavior and make judgments about you. In my friend’s case, his team thought negatively about him. They assumed that he was not interested in listening to their views, suggestions or ideas. They assumed that he dint consider them worthwhile. They felt as if they were not valued for who they were. My assumptions were vetted after I spoke to some of the employees on a one to one basis.
It often happens that we communicate something and our body language communicates something entirely different. This leads to a conflicting image in the eyes of the other person.
Most of us (entrepreneurs) go by the book and introduce initiatives for employee engagement but we don’t notice any change.
Have we ever wondered why?
Most of the time, it is the body language (nonverbal behavior) that we use that contradicts with what we want to say. Even if the listener is not an expert on nonverbal behavior, they subconsciously judge us.
In my friend’s case, I realized that his nonverbal behavior had caused an alarming negativity in the minds of his team. They felt disconnected from him and the company.
The next day, I met my friend in his office to discuss my findings. I spoke to him about his nonverbal behavior and how he should make changes in his behavior to see a change in the workplace. I told him to
- Have an eye contact when someone is talking to him
- To lead the meetings and speak to everyone, because meetings are the only time when he interacts with the team. That’s the only time when he can build his connection with the team.
- To talk with more gestures, as our hands symbolizes trust and makes us look more trustworthy
- To smile at & greet employees
After a month from our discussion, I rang up my friend to see if there was any change from the time we discussed this issue. This is what my friend had to say
“Thanks for helping me realize that my behavior was not resonating with the communication I was trying to have .This entire exercise has proven to be very useful. My team is more connected with the company. I see the performance level increase and the attitude of employees change”. I was happy to know that my friend was seeing a positive culture change.
Most often than not, we forget about these little things. Who would have thought that not having an eye contact could lead to a demotivated staff and eventually lead to low profits & problems in running a company? Who would have thought that by altering the way the entrepreneur (leader) behaves could result in better performance from employees?
Engagement is not only about what you say but it is also about how you say it.
In the end I will leave you with one question – Is your non-verbal behavior resonating with what you want to say to your team?