There is considerable pressure in today’s workplace to do ‘more’: more effort, more data, more time, more stress. And sometimes doing more is the answer: you may need to work harder to reach your goals.
But the answer isn’t always ‘more’: sometimes doing less of something, or even eliminating a behaviour altogether, is the right move. Awareness of these behaviours can help you manage your personal energy and work more collaboratively with others.
Beyond those advantages, controlling certain habits and behaviours at work will allow you to project more confidence and credibility. With that in mind, here are five things that current and would-be-leaders should stop doing:
Stop fidgeting. Fidgeting conveys nervousness. We expect to see this in young children but it doesn’t look good with grownups. We need to control our energy and movements, particularly when we are nervous. Try to project a calm, steady energy, especially in stressful moments. Keep relatively still when sitting or standing, with relaxed gestures, not abrupt ones.
Be alert for tapping your foot, rustling your papers, or glancing frequently at your iPhone. You may not realise you are doing it, but those around you will sense a nervous vibe. Manage this properly and you will project steadiness and calm.
Stop filling the silence. Don’t feel compelled to fill every gap with words: you can appear insecure. This is a challenge for some people because silence makes them nervous. They speak to fill the void and often end up wishing they had kept silent.
Find a comfort level with pauses in conversations and presentations: these allow people to think and ‘catch up’. And the ability to ‘wait out’ a short silence is a sign of patience and self-control, both good traits in a leader.
Silences are also moments when important non-verbal communication can occur, and the wise leader pays close attention to this. Pro tip: observe good negotiators. Many of them don’t say much: they deploy silence. And it’s the same with great poker players. So find your own comfort level with silence.
Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking can convey a lack of control, an inability to prioritise, or even a hint of panic. These things are not always true, but multi-tasking can create these impressions. In contrast, when you spend time with people in authority you will notice they tend to focus on one thing at a time. They give an issue their attention, decide, and then move to the next issue.
This ability to focus reduces mistakes and misunderstandings and contributes to the energy that many top leaders exude: the self-assurance to take things in order and give each one their full attention, even if only for a few moments. So stop multi-tasking and start ‘single’-tasking: one thing at a time.
Stop rushing your words. Speaking quickly is not inherently a bad thing, but it can convey nervousness and make you more difficult to understand. For example, if you rush through a presentation in order to avoid an awkward silence, you may also deprive your listeners of the opportunity to think, absorb your ideas, ‘catch up’, or ask questions. So slow down; it’s okay.
People will not think you are less intelligent simply because you are speaking slowly. This is important in a multi-lingual setting, where people may be listening in their second or third language. Speaking quickly also presents a challenge in virtual conversations, since we are already sacrificing nuances of inflection, facial expression, and body language.
Although speaking quickly may appear to be a timesaver, it doesn’t always work out that way. The tip: ‘slow and clear’ is better than ‘fast and confusing’.
Stop asking compound questions. Multi-part or ‘compound’ questions can be confusing and even irritating to listeners: they are complex, and it can be difficult to remember the ‘first’ part of the question when you are trying to understand the third or fourth part.
Long interrogations may also give the impression that the person asking the question is trying to ‘show off’ or trip up the person who is answering. And that does not encourage collaborative problem-solving.
So there really isn’t much upside to asking long, compound questions. If you have several related questions, that’s fine: ask them one at a time, so the audience can follow and the person responding can keep up with your thinking. Strike a blow for clarity and everyone will benefit.
The takeaway for leaders: project calm, focused energy with your words and body language. This conveys that you are in control of yourself, confident, and ready to deal with whatever comes up.
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