I have three boys, aged 15 to 20. As a Dad for 20 years now, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes. Being a military man, a husband, and a father has given me plenty of opportunities to screw up—and chances to practice and learn from my own human connection skillset.
One of the things that I’ve learned, and am still learning, is how to engage with my sons when the stakes are high for them. How many times have you engaged with your kids when they try to tell you something that—to them—seems like the most important thing in the world?
“Hey, Dad, hey, Dad, hey, Dad.”
And what do we do? We say “Not right now. I’m busy.”
Another thing I’m guilty of is giving them unsolicited advice. When they come to me with an issue, I want to tell them right away how they need to fix it. Before they even get the words out of their mouth, I know how to fix it. And I tell them before they can even finish their sentence.
Neither of those responses work for us, not as parents, or as leaders. Instead, we need to lean in and maximize our conversations.
There are a lot of studies that show body language, the physicality in an interpersonal engagement, makes up 60 percent of the human connection. Another 30 percent is voice tonality. That means about 10 percent of influence with another human comes from the words out of your mouth.
Communication is a physical act.
But where do we spend most of our time? In the spoken word, from the neck up. We leave out the physicality, the intention, the availability of being present. And so we are virtually and literally leaving immense value on the table, value in the form of social capital, human connection, and revenue.
We are social creatures and we are wired to sniff things out at very deep levels, like when someone is not fully present. We catalog that interaction in our minds, it manifests as distrust and disconnection, and we start to tell ourselves, “I don’t want to work with that person.”
When you sit across from someone, how often are you distracted? How badly do you want to check that phone? How often when you’re talking to someone, are you thinking about what you’re going to say? By doing this, you’ve shut the other person out.
Your job as a leader is to manage your own energy and the energy of those around you. If you’re going to lean in and connect with people, you only have so much energy to give before you start dissipating and tapping out. We want to be very intentional about our own energy and how we manage the energy of those around us by leaning in. Here’s some things you can work on to do that.
One is, prepare to show up. Create a pause, a story break, a scene break before walking in the room. In order to get out of your head and be fully present for your kids or your boss, create a tactical pause to reset so that you can step into that new scene.
One of the best ways to do that is with a lower body breath. Dr. Belisa Vranich teaches us to big belly expand, inhale, squeeze belly to spine, then exhale. Do three of those before you walk from one engagement into the next, and and watch how your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. You will hit that calm and connected state, ready to walk in fully present.
Next is check in with the other party. If you find your mind starting to wander, or you’re wanting to check your phone, or wonder what’s for supper, you immediately need to check in with them. Make eye contact, literally lean in, and point your feet toward them. Once you’ve mentally checked out, look at where your feet are pointing. If it is towards the door, it’s because you’re ready to go.
Our body does not lie. So keep your feet pointed right at them. Lean in. Show your chest. Don’t cower. Don’t shrink. Be present. Verbally check in. Ask how they’re doing. “Are we meeting your goals? Is this getting where we need to be?” This will get you out of your head, into your body, and right where you need to be to start creating deep connection and relevance.
What happens if you don’t lean in? What happens if you just show up the way you feel like showing up, carrying all the crud from the crummy drive into work? What’s that going to mean to your kid? What’s that going to mean to your potential client or your longtime customers? Or the associate who’s worked hard all day for you and is just looking for one moment for you to tell them they did a good job? What’s that going to cost you as a leader?
Way too much.
You will create resentment in your family, in your business, and in your community that can bleed away your power, your good will, and even your bottom line.
It’s not worth it.
Take a breath. Get Present. Lean in.
Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com