Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo
You may consider yourself to be someone who, “lives life free of the good opinion of other people,” someone whose actions are entirely independent of what others think of you, that you are the captain of your own ship, the director of your own story line, (please feel free to insert your own “individualist” cliché here).
Now, whether I choose to believe your protestations of social independence, or not (PS. I don’t entirely), what I would like you to consider, is just how affected you might be by your own internal judgements and opinions, as well as how these might be interpreted by those around you when they manifest.
Do your peers, customers and colleagues, for instance, read you as you believe you present yourself, or are they reading something entirely different and perhaps something you’re not consciously aware of.
While many of us fancy ourselves as having a good poker face, our internal dialogue often shows up unconsciously in our expressions, behaviours, posture and demeanour.
I was once reminded of this by my little sister, Simone, who after watching me being interviewed on television, suggested that I have RBF (Resting Bitch Face). In fact, it turns out that when I’m concentrating on what someone is saying, even when I’m particularly interested, I look quite furious, even livid. Simone reminded me to consciously prep myself to smile amiably and relax my eyebrows when I was listening to a question lest they be frightened to ask me back.
So, if we are capable of unconsciously communicating the opposite of what we’re thinking, it might also be true that we’re not outwardly hiding what’s actually going on inside our heads, even if we think we are.
This can even be true in our non-personal and commercial communications. Things like email, advertising, sales, calls, public relations statement and presentations to shareholders, investors, boards and our teams, are all opportunities for our inside communications to undermine the impression we’re making on the outside. You don’t need a degree in the social sciences to know when the boss arrives at work “in a bit of a mood.” Everyone knows.
This means we need to become more conscious of our unconscious communication.
One of the great mistakes we make in all communication is to believe that any conversation begins in neutral. We all bring our biases, prejudices and past to every conversation we have. Just had a high conflict meeting? It comes with you to your next customer call. Feeling distracted during a board meeting? We can all see it.
So, how might we best make our inside and outside voices congruent?
1. Watch your internal dialogue
I’ll admit that all of us know someone who seems to have no internal voice, or at least no filter between thought and speech (if you can’t think of anyone, it’s you). But even these honest souls can indulge in unhelpful self-talk that undermines the effectiveness of their outer communication.
Before an important meeting or writing an important email or speech, take a temperature check of your emotions and assess whether the tonality of your internal voice is correct for the communications task at hand.
If not, you might need to decompress a little first, to reframe your intent or to write it as another “character.”
For example, because my business partner Kieran Flanagan and I often write books together, we write each book with its own character, so that no one can tell who wrote or edited which chapters. In other words, we don’t write the way Kieran speaks or with Dan’s tonality, we write in the character unique to the project we’re working on - as you might do with a stage play or movie script.
So, who are you bringing to the meeting? Hugh Grant? Stephen Fry? Or Vinnie Jones? And if you look like Hugh but communicate like Vinnie, you might find others observing, “It’s been emotional!!!”
2. Question whether what you’re focusing on is true? And if true, is it useful?
Often our inside voice is working against us by either running us down, or at other times, having us write cheques we can’t cash. Either way, we need to evaluate what we’re thinking for accuracy, or much more importantly, for relevance and usefulness.
What this requires is a willingness to still your mind and ask better questions of yourself. Questions that are values aligned and congruent with your goals and vision.
3. Don’t believe everything you believe
The great thing about beliefs is that we’ve all got them, but many of them are mutually exclusive. This means many of us, sometimes most of us, are wrong by our own definitions!
Rather than undermining your sense of certainty, this should be taken as permission to hold your convictions a little less tightly, particularly those that might cause you, or others, harm.
One of my professional idols as a young man was Bill Bernbach, the legendary Madman of New York’s advertising scene in the 1950s and 60s. Bill is reputed to have carried a small note in his top pocket reading, “They might be right.” A great reminder to be humble and open minded.
I’d like to add an amendment to Bill’s note that reads, “You might also be wrong.”
4. Seek useful feedback from those you trust
There’s a meme doing the rounds on social media at the moment. It’s a picture of Morgan Freeman with the quote, “Don’t accept criticism from those you wouldn’t seek advice from.” Whether it’s an original quote from Mr Freeman or a line from a character in a movie doesn’t matter so much - the sentiment is a sound one.
It’s also a reminder to be open to and to actively seek feedback from those we respect.
As with the anecdote of I shared about my sister; Simone knows she can tell me I have RBF - we’re siblings after all and she has it a little RBF too (Sorry Sim, but you totally do). But I also know that unless we’re fighting at the family Christmas lunch over something I may or may not have said in 1983, she has my best interests at heart and it’s not personal.
In other words, it’s useful to create space for those who have your back to occasionally stab you in the front… obviously in the nicest most useful way.
In short, make it OK for those you trust to share important truths with you and to help you understand where your inner and outer voice are not in harmony.
Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He speaks on how to READ & LEAD Human Behaviour: Leadership & Culture | Influence & Engagement | Insights & Incites! Dan helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including:
#Purpose - Culture & Leadership
#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing
#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand
#Performance - Behaviour & Experience Design
Find out how Dan can help you and your team read & lead human behaviour and “be people smart” though his Keynote Presentations & Training Workshops. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com