Stop Apologizing!

sad-dogI love language, especially listening to the words that people choose to speak. Lately, I have noticed something quite peculiar. Call it a trend, or a bad habit. I have become acutely aware of people who repeatedly apologize. The key word here is repeatedly.

Their comment automatically begins with “I’m sorry.”

What would you think of someone who you met for the first time who, within several minutes, apologized to you several times? The confident professional would not apologize. It’s the person with the lack of self-confidence who would.

Whether it’s you or a member of your team, listen to the language being used. Whenever there is repetitive language, listen more intently to the impression that is being made. Is it a positive or negative impression?

Here are a few examples of “I’m sorry” that I recently experienced:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know if you preferred coffee or tea.” Revised: “Do you prefer coffee or tea?”

“I’m sorry, but could you end the program at 3:45 instead of 4:00?” Revised: “Could you please end the program at 3:45 instead of 4:00?”

“I’m sorry. Could you please wait until everyone arrives before you start your presentation?” Revised: “Could you please wait until everyone arrives before you start your presentation?

It’s a small change with great impact. By removing the habitual “I’m sorry” from your language, you position yourself with greater certainty and confidence.

Here are a few ways to help you stop over-apologizing:

Become more aware of your language. Do you say “I’m sorry” too often? If so, ask yourself why.

Pause. Take the time to choose your words more carefully. Instead of automatically saying “I’m sorry,” take a few seconds to compose your thoughts and begin the sentence with your core message.

Become more aware of the impact your language has on others. Have several people suggested that you stop apologizing, or asked you why you’re apologizing? That’s a signal that you are over-apologizing. Simply drop the phrase as your default.

Snap out of the deficit thinking. People who over-apologize may have issues with self-worth. Replace the deficit thinking with abundance and gratitude.

The flip side: Of course there will be times when you will need to use the phrase “I’m sorry.” Save it for those occasions when you really need to use it, and it means something important rather than just a sentence starter.

Communicate With Credibility

Young-Professional.490f209379970f055c2ee7e62629b438219Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change dramatically from moment to moment. Throughout your life – and your career – you will have many opportunities to compromise your credibility. Never compromise your credibility. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all away? Protect your credibility. It is one of your greatest assets. Your credibility is built on the foundation of your personal and professional character, and your competence as a professional.

In their seminal book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their longitudinal research on leaders asked professionals how they felt when they were in the presence of truly great leaders. The top ten replies were: Capable. Challenged. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Motivated. Powerful. Proud. Repeated. Supported. Valued.

How do you communicate with credibility? These tips will help you to consistently position yourself as a professional.

Align verbal and nonverbal language. Listen to your words and intonation. Be aware of your nonverbal language.

Lead by listening. Practice active listening. Deliver an “SOS” to your brain – Silently Observe, Then Speak.

Make realistic promises and keep them. Think before you speak. Do what you say you will do.

Speak from the heart. Create a mindset of inclusion. Use compassionate, caring language.

Be yourself. Align your values and behavior. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s behavior. Be your most authentic self.

Be an expert. Enhance your knowledge base continuously. Be a resource. Share your knowledge with others.

Be honest. Frame what you’re sharing so it benefits the other person. Know the difference between using kid gloves (being gentle) and boxing gloves (being more assertive).

Be proactive. Ask people their preferred form of communication. Ask clarifying questions to gain understanding. Seek challenging assignments at work, then follow through to get the job done.

Be consistent. Don’t flip-flop. Don’t exhibit unpredictable behavior.

To gain – and maintain – your credibility requires a great deal of behind the scenes strategic thinking. Begin with a simple self-assessment. It’s worth the time and your constant attention.

United We Stand, United We Fall: A Lesson in Brand Ambassadorship

united.com

united.com

As a professional, your actions represent not only you…they also represent your company. You are a brand ambassador when you work with customers, speak at a national conference, or volunteer in the community. You are the brand, and all it stands for. You are the face of the company. One false move, like bad behavior, can stunt or end career success.

The recent United Airlines debacle demonstrated that actions speak volumes about who you are and what you value.

The United Airlines Flight 3711 incident, which occurred on Sunday, April 2, has been reported, analyzed and picked apart by the media, bloggers and regular folks like you and me. Here’s what happened: The flight was fully booked, and passengers were already seated. One passenger, Dr. David Dao, had been asked to relinquish his seat (which he had paid for) to make room for a United employee. He refused. As a result, Chicago Department of Aviation officers swooped in with brut force, handcuffed and carted Dr. Dao off the plane. In the process, his nose and a few teeth were broken. A video captured by another passenger immediately went viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it was an historic event.

It didn’t have to be this way. A moment of thought before taking an action would have resulted in an entirely different outcome…a more positive one…for everyone involved.

Days later, top headlines are still trending:

Newsweek: Why United Was Legally Wrong to Deplane David Dao

NBC News: United CEO: Doctor being dragged off plane was ‘watershed moment’

What would a good brand ambassador do? Here are a few thoughts:

Know what your brand stands for. Your brand is that one thing that represents who you are and what you stand for. First, United’s brand begins with its name, United. That one word creates a larger-than-life image of the company. What does United stand for? Second, you may or may not remember United Airlines’ famous tagline, “Fly the friendly skies.” Because of the brut force that was used to remove Dr. Dao from his seat, one might question, “Is United really friendly?” If United’s thought leaders had really, well, thought about this, they may have come to the conclusion that the action that was being considered didn’t fit with the United brand. But things didn’t play out that way. Every employee of United is a brand ambassador for the airline. And every employee of the Chicago Department of Aviation serves as a brand ambassador for the organization.

Do the right thing. Consider the public’s reaction once the video went viral. It was clear that everyone agreed that the situation was not handled properly. We have all been in situations where our gut screamed out to us “Don’t do it!!!!!” Yet, we ended up not listening to our intuition and lived to regret our poor choice. When your conscience speaks, listen.

If protocol is flawed, pitch it. “I was just following protocol” is not a good enough reason. Sure, United Airlines had a policy. All airlines have policies, procedures and protocol. Sometimes you need to look at protocol, look at the situation, consider the outcome, and ask if the protocol fits the situation and if the outcome is one you desire. If things don’t add up, it’s time to re-examine the protocol or throw it out completely in that situation. The incident has resulted in United Airlines changing its policy.

Take quick, responsible action. The leadership at United Airlines first offered a boilerplate response to the media, saying they were examining what had happened before commenting. A few days later, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized and took full responsibility. This was too little too late. Two days after the incident, United’s stock had fallen by 4%, roughly $1.5 billion. Although the stock has regained some of its strength, United will carry this ding on its record forever.

Be strategic. In my workshops, I remind people how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the marketplace. Technology makes it so easy to do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stay ahead of the competition. A change in the airline industry began shortly after the United Airlines incident. A CBS News headline says it all: “Three airlines change policies in wake of United’s passenger dragging incident.”

Build a culture of respect and compassion. You will never find yourself in an awkward situation or have to apologize for bad behavior if you treat every person that you meet with respect and compassion. More people recognize  that this is the best way to move forward together.

The United Airlines incident is already becoming an important case study for business schools, communication scholars, human resource professionals and enforcement officers. Hopefully this is one case where we will learn from mistakes and bring about positive change as brand ambassadors.

A Quick Click Confirmation Keeps Lines of Communication Open

iPhoneuserProfessionals often complain about the lack of communication with co-workers, bosses or clients that could be remedied easily with a simple “quick click” solution: a confirmation. Technology allows you to quickly respond via text, email, or instant messaging.

All it requires is the addition of one sentence to your communication: Please confirm that you received this (fill in the blank…information/proposal).

Of course your computer or mobile device will let you know when a message is delivered. That’s a good start. It’s not enough. Just because it was delivered doesn’t mean it was opened or even read. Instead of hoping that the recipient will let you know, ask for confirmation instead.

Here’s an example: You receive an inquiry from a prospective client who is interested in doing business with you. This prospect requests additional information and a proposal with pricing. When you send the proposal, don’t assume that the prospect will let you know that it’s been received. At the end of the message, make a request: “Please let me know that you received this proposal, and if you need any clarification.”

Now let’s turn things around. Let’s say that you’re the person doing the requesting. Let the sender know – with a simple electronic confirmation – that you have received the information. “Thanks for your quick response to my request. The proposal looks good. I will contact you after our committee reviews it and makes a decision.”

Then…and here comes the hard part…do what you said you would do. Get back in touch with the sender. Provide an update. Don’t play phone tag or – worse – avoid the sender. There is nothing more frustrating or than submitting information and being avoided by the person who requested it.

According to the summary of an email statistics report conducted by The Radicati Group, Inc., the number of emails received daily, worldwide, in 2015 was 2.6 billion, which is anticipated to increase by 2019 to 2.9 billion.

Worldwide daily texting totals about 20 billion today. Less than half come from the United States. The Pew Research Center, in 2015, issued results of a study, the American Trends Panel, analyzing U.S. smartphone use. In every age group, from 18 to over 50, 92%+ use their smartphones for texting, compared to a lower percentage, 87-91%, who use their smartphones for emails. These numbers are continuing to grow, and so will the number of electronic messages that fall between the cracks. That means you must work harder to ensure that communication remains active and open.

Use technology to remain connected, whether you are the person requesting information or the person responding to a request. It only takes a second or two to request or give a simple confirmation that will keep the lines of communication open.

Clear and Concise is the Language of Leaders

meeting3Your success as a business professional and a leader is linked with your ability to communicate well.

More and more, people today are lazy listeners. If they don’t understand what you’re talking about, they won’t ask you to clarify anything. They will simply nod their heads and lead you to believe that they heard and understood exactly what you said. Unaware, everyone goes about their business, making mistakes and misinterpreting instructions…and it’s all avoidable.

It’s up to you to communicate clearly and concisely. Here are a few tips to help you become a better communicator:

Use specific language. Rather than vague, ambiguous, generic words, use words that specifically convey your message. For example, you could say, “The real issue here is change. Our customer base has changed. That means it’s time for us to change.” What does that mean? Just by repeating the word “change” three times does not mean that you have a point (or that your message contains any real content). The statement is vapid and meaningless. Guaranteed, people will scratch their heads, wondering what you are saying. A better approach would be a laser-sharp, focused message like this: “The needs of our customers have changed, so we must adapt to their needs. They value time and demand savings. Let’s shorten our turnaround time and include free shipping on every order.” The message is much clearer. There is no gray area.

Hold attention. Of the three primary ways people learn – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – about three-quarters of people have to see it to remember it. Our highly visual culture reminds us of this, as messages appear on rapidly-changing electronic billboards, websites that contain shifting images, and fast-paced, image-driven commercials that last 15 seconds or less. How are you getting and holding attention?

Paint a visual picture. Some words help to paint a visual picture when you have no PowerPoint to share, like “Remember,” “Visualize,” and “Imagine.” If you say, “Remember when you were a teenager and sat behind the wheel of a car for the first time?” your audience is right back in the seat of that car, remembering the experience. Visual words tap into the visual cortex and give the mind permission to create an image or recall one.

Use action verbs. The opposite of action verbs is passive language. Passive words include Maybe, Guess, Probably, Possibly, Pretty, Kind of, Sort of. This is tentative language. There is no clear commitment that’s put forth. If you say, “I think I could probably have that report on your desk, maybe, by Friday afternoon,” your boss will not have the faith or confidence that you will deliver. If, instead, you say, “I will have that report on your desk by end of business on Friday,” your boss will know that she will receive your report on Friday. People in leadership positions use more direct, active language. Immediately after covering the topic of active language in one of my workshops, a participant said to me on the break, “We had a pretty successful meeting with one of our top clients.” I turned to him, smiling, and asked, “Pretty? You had a pretty successful meeting? Or…a successful meeting?” Realizing what he had done, and with a wide grin he corrected himself and said, “Yes. We had a successful meeting with one of our top clients.” And yes, his revised statement was much more powerful.

Listen to your language. Are you sabotaging your own success by using vague, ambiguous, weak, tentative or passive language? Or are you thinking before you speak, and making your messages more powerful, using specific, direct action language? Be aware of your language, decide what messages you want to share, and focus on desired results. You will quickly gain a reputation among your team and senior leadership that you are a clear, concise communicator.

Step Away From the Circus

not-my-circusYou may think that drama plays out only on the movie screen or theatre stage. Not so. Look around you, in your work environment or personal life, and it’s there, disguised yet still visible to the keen eye. People “performing” as stellar showstoppers, pulling everyone in their path into their dramatic vortex. If you’re not careful, you may disappear into the darkness never to be seen again.

I came across a graphic phrase that – to me – puts things into great perspective. The sentiment is spot on.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Brilliant! Little did I know that this is a Polish phrase (I am a Polish American). I have shared this saying with colleagues and friends who are overwhelmed by the emotional clutter in their lives. Here are a few tips on controlling your involvement in someone else’s drama:

Listen without judgment. Simply hear what the other person is saying. Ask questions for clarification if you need to.

Separate the drama from the content. What is the person’s emotional connection to the content? Anger? Frustration? Pain? Hurt? Anguish? What is the primary message being shared?

Determine your role. What is it exactly that the other person wants from you? Is it simply to hear her voice/opinion? Is there an expectation that you will guide, offer advice or suggest a solution?

Remain objective. Drama divas love to get you worked up to their same emotional level. Remain clear-headed and objective, asking, What does this person want from me? What is the point? How (if at all) can I help?

It’s not your circus. You are not the ringmaster. You are simply an observer. If you find yourself being sucked into the circus, consider the price of admission. There are no free circuses.

If it’s gossip, step away. Nothing breaks down fruitful relationships faster than gossip. Especially in the workplace, do not get pulled into the drama of gossip. It serves no purpose and is a waste of your valuable time.

Make a referral. If you are not the person to offer guidance or assistance, refer the person to a better qualified professional. On-staff psychologist or counselor? Human resource professional who knows company policies? A religious leader to offer spiritual guidance?

Be proactive and create parameters if you’re stuck in the circus. I know what you’re thinking. What if it’s my boss’s circus? How can I escape? Be proactive and create parameters so that you can remain sane in your work environment. Develop a system of handling the drama that works for you. The other option, of course, is exiting the tent.

Imagine putting on your invisible armor every morning, a T-shirt with the words “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” With laser sharp focus and determination, walk into every situation “mentally” wearing your T-shirt. Let it protect you from the drama divas. Remain objective and nonjudgmental as you enjoy your day that is fabulous, trouble-free and drama-less.

 © Christine Zust 

This article first appeared in my monthly newsletter, Q Tips. If you would like to subscribe to this free e-newsletter, click here.

Set a Positive Tone and Build Lasting Relationships

relationship-building-content-marketing-372x230Your success as a professional comes from building solid relationships. When you are working with someone for the first time, you set a certain tone to help the other person understand who you are, your values, principles, work style, and your worldview.

In my career work with leaders and spokespeople for more than 30 years, I emphasize the importance of making a positive first impression. Whether it’s a new Board of Directors, new boss, or new client, you want to set a positive tone from day one. That tone says “I respect you.” “I will take your thoughts into consideration.” “I am here to help you.” Whether in business or politics, academia or non-profit life, there are certain professional standards, ethics, and behaviors to uphold.

As I enter my fifth year of providing blog posts on topics related to professional presence, professionalism, strategic communication, brand ambassadorship and leadership, I often turn to the current news for examples.

The buzz since Inauguration Day has been around one topic: What is the tone being set by the incoming administration? Herein I provide three lessons on the importance of setting a positive tone.

Make your message powerful, positive, and uniting. Words matter. Tone matters. Embracing the importance of the moment matters. Donald Trump’s inaugural address contained some strong negative rhetoric, sounding more like a campaign speech rather than the inaugural address that so many were hoping for. Part of that negative rhetoric degraded the political leaders sitting behind Mr. Trump on the platform, including elected officials, past presidents and Supreme Court Justices by referring to them as a small group of elites. The inaugural address was the time to focus on the future by including messages of unity, not division; lifting up, not putting down. Lesson: If you want to win friends and influence people, begin by starting out on a positive rather than a negative note, and never insult people publicly, especially those who have come before you. Why? Because you need those people.

Remain open, not defensive. Being a former spokesperson myself, I tuned into the live television coverage of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference. The key word here is first. What I saw and heard shocked and concerned me. His defensive body language spoke volumes. He came at the media with both guns blasting, yelling, as he chastised them for the ‘miscalculations’ of the size of the audience on Inauguration Day. He claimed that the audience size was bigger. His language was bombastic, aggressive, and unprofessional. When he was finished, he abruptly left the room, not allowing the media to ask any questions. You see, the White House staff was miffed at the comparison in audience size, since television stations and major newspapers ran a side-by-side photo of President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Day audience with President Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Day. Clearly, Obama’s audience was much bigger. And rightfully so. It was an historic event. He was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. On that day in 2009, Washington, D.C. Metro stations were jammed. Busses were full to capacity. Hotels were over-booked. It’s historically noted. You can’t change those facts, though this is what Spicer was trying to do, to de-legitimize the media’s reports of the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day. Lesson: There are several lessons here. The first, and most important, is on your first day, your first press conference, you set the tone. Make it positive, not negative. Second, have something important to say. Don’t waste the media’s time with a single trivial message. There was no reason to hold a press conference. Third, control your emotions. Don’t shout at the media. They have power. And they will use that power to call you out. A spokesperson’s role is to communicate factual information in a clear, concise fashion. Uncontrolled emotion does not belong in the room.

Admit your mistakes and move on. In a televised interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway tried to downplay Sean Spicer’s remarks by using a new phrase, “alternative facts,” which immediately went viral. When Chuck Todd pushed Conway on the phrase, claiming that a more correct phrase to use would be “falsehoods,” Conway flippantly accused Todd of being “overly dramatic.” In all the years that I served as a media spokesperson, I never talked to a member of the media like that. It’s disrespectful. Lesson: Words matter. The moment Conway said “alternative facts,” she was in trouble because there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are just facts. Admit that a mistake was made, and move on. Now, the alternative facts conversation will continue to be covered in the national media and social media for far too many days to come. News flash: There are far more important issues to be discussed.

Instead of setting a tone of inclusion and unity, the Trump administration in its first few days in office has unfortunately continued its exclusive, divisive, arrogant tone from its campaign days. So sad!!!!

Workplace Leaders Must “Be the Change”

seedling-growthFollowing the most unprecedented, unpredictable Presidential election in U.S. history, the online community has been saturated with posts, tweets, and articles ranging from how people need to handle the emotional aftermath of division and grief to acceptance and “moving on.” There is no doubt that political analysts, news organizations, and universities will be using this election as a case study for a multitude of topics in the years to come: Communication, political strategy, public relations, cross-cultural relations, and change, to name a few. In the workplace, however, political commentary and division can show up in side comments and retorts among co-workers. As a leader, be prepared to handle opposing viewpoints of team members when they are manifested as non-productive behavior.

How will you bring together co-workers who are still divided? How will you encourage moving forward when some people’s minds are still stuck on past events? Let the words of Gandhi guide and inspire you: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In order to be the change, you must be empowered and responsible for your own actions. Serve as a positive role model for your team. The messages and the energy that you convey will set an example. The same is true for your team members. Arguing, shouting, screaming, demanding, bullying, and blaming others with negative rhetoric will accomplish nothing. Conversely, using a civil tone, listening, collaborating, accepting responsibility, and treating others with dignity and respect will lead to more positive results. Which outcome is preferred? Choose open conversation over open hostility. Choose to rise above rather than fall victim to. Choose to stop the negative rhetoric and instead search for positive outcomes. Choose to find common ground and common purpose.

Lead by example. When you hear opposing viewpoints of a co-worker, don’t belittle that person. Listen. Use positive language that keeps the conversation open rather than shutting it down. Invite greater understanding through listening and using neutral language.

Whether you are engaged in a one-on-one conversation or a group discussion, here are some examples of comments or questions that lead to open dialogue:

Beginning a conversation, use language like this: “Help me to understand your viewpoint.” “Thank you for sharing your perspective.” “I appreciate hearing your point of view.” “I now have a better understanding of why you feel this way.”

As you share your perspective, consider using comments like these: “I would like to share my perspective with you as well. All I ask is that you listen to me.” “There may be times when our viewpoints are opposite. That’s okay. The important thing is that we share, without any judgment or preconceived notions. Let’s really listen to each other.”

As you go deeper into the conversation, to try to find a comfortable half-way meeting point, you may use language like this: “Now that we have shared our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, let’s look at common threads that we share.” “What would it take for us to come together so we each felt like we got something we wanted?” “How can we ‘agree to disagree’ and still be productive in our work?” “How can we move ahead together?”

You may not be able to resolve every issue. What you will be able to do is begin an open dialogue.

The workplace would be different if one common goal was shared: Open communication. How would your workplace change if employees at all levels of the company shared their voices in an open forum? How are you creating a safe environment for open, honest conversation? What opportunities are you providing to your team to engage in sharing their feelings in a respectful, nonjudgmental way?

“Being the change” is not easy. It’s difficult. Shifting from potentially destructive behavior to productive behavior is a giant leap. It begins with one step. Initiate a positive conversation that matters. You are worth it. Your team is worth it. Your workplace is worth it.

It’s Time to End the Spin Cycle

scampi_2051714cWith less than three weeks before Election Day, the spin of this year’s U.S. Presidential political campaign is spinning out of control.

I spent the first half of my professional career in public relations and marketing, so I know what spin looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Just so you know, spin is the action taken by public relations professionals to meet the objectives of their PR campaign. Spinning or fluffing can often be defined as the art of presenting something negative in a more positive light. The person creating the spin is called a spin doctor.

One of the most frequently used words by the media regarding this year’s Presidential campaign is “unprecedented.” We have never seen anything like this, and hopefully we will never see it again.

For the educated professional like me, I can tell a spin when it’s in action. It has a certain look, sound, and feel to it. No matter what the negative charge or accusation, the spin that follows is either appalling or amusing to me. I can see right through it. But average Americans who don’t have a public relations background have no clue what’s happening. They don’t see the strategic spin for what it is. They take the words that were spoken by the candidate or their surrogates verbatim and begin repeating them as if they were the truth.

What has happened in this election is that those spins don’t just get summed up in one or two sound bytes, get featured for a day, and then are dropped. Instead, that spin remains spinning for days or weeks until we, the American voters, feel like we are trapped in this perpetual spin cycle.

We have witnessed a series of spins in recent weeks.

Recently, the national media aired an audio recorded conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush while they were killing time preparing for an interview with Access Hollywood back in 2005. The language used by the media and the public presented a deeper issue, which was potentially harmful to Donald Trump’s campaign: his sexual misconduct, which was then referred to as sexual assault. Trump’s spin, which included the phrase “locker room talk” tried to minimize, even dismiss, his behavior.

What happened next? Women were outraged. Multiple allegations of sexual assault came pouring in from women stating that Donald Trump had fondled, kissed, or groped them in the past. The “locker room talk” spin has dominated the news cycle for nearly two weeks and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Building on the locker room talk spin, Donald Trump said all of these allegations were fabricated, which is another spin. Even Melania Trump came to her husband’s defense in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, referring to the incident as “boy talk” and suggesting that Billy Bush initiated the conversation. Let me add one note worth mentioning. Melanie Trump’s comments came more than ten days after the Bush-Trump tapes were leaked. Timing for this defense did not work in Trump’s favor. Even Stephen Colbert’s Melania Trump surrogate, Tony Award winning actress Laura Benanti, joined the Donald’s defense.

The latest spin of the Trump campaign is that the entire 2016 U.S. Presidential election process is rigged. Many Republican and Democratic leaders are speaking up, defending the American electoral process. And yet the spin is out there and continues to grow.

Listen to the key words or phrases from these recent spin cycle examples: Locker room talk, fabricated, boy talk, rigged. When does it end? I would like to say it will all end on November 8, 2016, Election Day, but I know better. These multiple spins have some American voters’ emotions running high. Let’s not get swept away with talk. Instead, let’s focus on the issues. America has more important work to do, and we need to do it together.

Body Language Speaks Volumes in Second Presidential Debate

cnn.com

cnn.com

The second U.S. Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which aired on October 10, 2016, was less about verbal exchanges or barbs and more about nonverbal (or silent) language. Trump and Clinton both revealed their attitudes through nonverbal language. Here’s what stood out to me:

No opening handshake. The media repeatedly described this behavior as “unprecedented.” I agree. Even when you dislike or disagree with an opponent, you still extend the courtesy of a handshake. Knowing what had transpired in the media leading up to the second debate, we can certainly understand why there was no handshake. I am surprised that no one in the media mentioned how honest this gesture was. It revealed deeper emotions.

Trump’s dominant, invasive physical stance. Throughout the debate, Trump physically stood close to Clinton while she answered audience questions, sometimes standing right behind her, invading her personal space on the platform. The media (and women, I might add) picked up on this right away. Words like “stalking” have been used in media reports. In a professional arena, such as a debate platform, candidates follow certain protocols or extend courtesies to one another. Candidates have their own designated seated areas. While they are allowed to walk to any part of the platform, they remain mindful of their opponent’s physical position. Trump continued to break protocol. He also wandered and paced the platform while Clinton responded to audience questions, which could be interpreted as a lack of respect or a lack of engagement.

Clinton’s appropriate use of the platform. Clinton came closer to audience members when answering questions, creating an intimate space for dialogue. She followed platform protocol and did not invade Trump’s physical space at any time.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-11-59-pmTrump’s lack of control over facial expressions. Trump’s visible facial expressions included pursed lips, pouting, furrowed brows, rolling of the eyes, and finger pointing. His nonverbal behavior can be summed up in one phrase: arrogant bullying.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-14-22-pmClinton’s smiling during Trump’s negative attacks. Hillary Clinton demonstrated significant restraint during Trump’s repeated verbal assaults. I would have loved to have asked Clinton, “Penny for your thoughts” during those moments. Never before has a politician’s nonverbal language been scrutinized as much as Hillary Clinton’s. When she doesn’t smile, media advisors say she needs to smile more. When she does smile, advisors say she needs to tone down the smiling. It seems that no matter what she does, it’s just not right. I thought she handled Trump’s assaults with grace and professionalism. Some people may have perceived her smiles as artificial, however, I felt she used smiling as a way to remain positive in her remarks.

Closing handshake. Well, despite the unprecedented lack of a handshake at the beginning of the debate, the Presidential candidates enjoyed a closing handshake at the end of the debate. Was it because they felt all warm and fuzzy from the closing question, which asked each candidate to say something positive about the other? Hmmm…..Change of heart or following protocol?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the capability of reviewing Trump’s or Clinton’s micro expressions using slow-motion replay technology. Psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman co-discovered the phrase micro expressions. These brief facial expressions (lasting just 1/15 to 1/25 of a second), can reveal a deeper or masked truth about a person’s attitude or behavior. Examples include quick raising of the corner of the lips, expanding or contracting of the iris, narrowing or opening of the eyes, etc. Ekman’s work became the basis for a FOX television program, Lie to Me, which ran three seasons, 2009-2011. A short Guide to Reading Micro Expressions may prove helpful in deciphering the facial expressions during this second debate.

The lesson: Become aware of your nonverbal language because it speaks volumes about who you are as a person and who you are as a professional. Are you presenting yourself well through your nonverbal language?