When we lead, we know that what someone says is not necessarily what they mean or what they feel. The words that come out of a person’s mouth might not express what they wanted to convey. On top of that, when we listen carefully and look at the individual, we can sometimes sense a disconnect between the actual words and how they sound to us. Our internal antennas set off a “red flag” to our brains that we are not getting the whole story. What just happened? We were the receiver of some misinformation and the real message became diluted. We need to find a way to understand- to process the hidden agenda. Here are a few strategies to start your search:
1. LOOK AT THE BODY LANGUAGE:
Our bodies share a lot of important information about how we are honestly feeling. See if the individual is making good eye contact. Are they turning away as they are speaking? Are they looking down? Reading one’s eyes can give us great insight to whether there is an inconsistency between words that are communicated and actual truth to their meaning. What is the speaker’s posture– standing tall or hunched over, perhaps displaying insecurity or uncertainty?
2. LISTEN TO THE TONE:
When we listen carefully, do we hear some anger or frustration by the way the message is conveyed? Is the volume particularly loud or soft? Are they speaking too quickly so that it is difficult to catch what is being said? Does the tone match the words?
3. FOLLOW THE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS:
When a speaker shares their message and they are honest about their words, they have matching facial expressions. If they are telling you something sad or upsetting, they might have a frown, while they might have a smile and bright eyes if they are sharing something positive. If there are opposing facial looks to the words being said, there may be a misconstrued message being broadcast.
4. KEY INTO THE HAND GESTURES:
Some of us use our hands more, but our hand movements usually help us to communicate more effectively. Our hands support our spoken ideas and help us to make a clear point. If we want to be more forceful we might make a fist or if we want to show we care, we might touch someone gently. What is the speaker doing with their hands and is it consistent with the message?
5. ASK QUESTIONS:
When we speak with someone and we are unclear about the words being shared, it is helpful to ask the important open-ended questions: who, what, where, when, how. The answers can sometimes put things into context and aid us in evaluating the true meaning of the words being spoken. The questions should be thoughtful, while never putting the individual on the defensive. Avoid blaming or accusing and remain calm.
6. REFLECT BACK TO CLARIFY:
After digesting all the hints and insights into what is actually being said, it is always a good idea to step back and process. Ask yourself: Did I read anything more than I should have into this message? Am I adding my own baggage to the words being spoken? Do I feel confident that I understand what is actually being said? Have I delved deeply enough to analyze the true hidden agenda?
How do you make sure you understand what is behind the spoken words? How can leaders be better interpreters of communication?