My mother-in-law once befriended a cat who had decided to make a home in her garden. “Bemore” she called the cat after the O2 adverts “Be more dog” in which a cat decides to break out of his life of indifference and step into a life of excitement. A life of well, according to this cat, a dog. It’s a great advert and for the non-Brits around I recommend checking it out.
As funny as the advert is, it’s basically suggesting that cats come across as arrogant and indifferent to us humans whereas dogs are attentive, open and approachable. As a cat person, I find it a little derogatory to my favourite furry friends. It’s time we stopped our blatant “catism” and started celebrating cats for who they really are. After all, they are the masters of credibility and we could all do with being a little more cat every once in a while.
Much like our furry friends, our own body language sends out strong messages to those we’re communicating with. In fact, studies continually show that up to 93% of what we communicate is through our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. To this day, the consensus is that while the stats might show slightly more or slightly less, it really is our body language and facial expressions that say the most
A few years back I attended a leadership program which included some of Michael grinder’s work. In it, we discussed the credible cat and approachable dog communication styles. His work has helped me understand how to find balance in my own style and has completely simplified the concept for me.
So, should we be more like mans’ best friend or is it better to show our authority much like a cat? The truth is that we need a bit of both and when to draw on your credible or approachable patterns of behaviour will very much depend on the situation.
The ability to blend both approaches is best demonstrated by the flight attendant. When you first step onto the plane, you want to be greeted with a warm, friendly and reassuring voice, however, as they’re completing the safety demonstration you want to hear strength, authority and the assertiveness of someone in charge.
As a leader, there will definitely be times where you will need to communicate with strength and assertiveness, times when you are dealing with an emergency, managing performance or tackling a business challenge. Other situations call for a more open and friendly approach. This may be a sensitive conversation or during an energising team brief. So how do you mix it up?
Firstly, it’s important to identify your natural preference. Do this by noticing trends in your posture, tone of voice and gestures as you’re having typical conversations. Maybe you tend to move around a lot, maybe your tone of voice varies and you use a lot of open gestures. If this sounds like you, then chances are that you’re more comfortable communicating in an approachable style.
If you’re the person that stands strong and straight with little movement in your body and your head square ahead then maybe you find a credible style more your thing.
Whatever your natural style, we all need a good balance of both. If you haven’t developed your credibility or your approachability then you may find it slightly uncomfortable when you come to use it. Develop your skills in both by leaning into the discomfort of your non-preferred style and you will find that this discomfort will dissipate.
Developing these styles can be really simple. For me, it was “becoming more cat.” I tend to use big open gestures, increase the speed of my conversation as I get excited and have trouble standing still, even for a couple of seconds.
Strengthening my credible body language was simple. Each day for around 6 months as I stood in line waiting for my bus, I would simply stand up straight and proud with my arms by my side and my chin up. At first, this felt utterly ridiculous but as I practised it started to feel more and more comfortable. In fact, while it’s still not my natural style, I find that I revert to this stance naturally now in many instances.
So that was the simple technique that I used to develop my credibility. Here are some more tips for mastering your own credible and approachable communication.
- Stand up straight, arms to your side and hold your head still and straight with your chin at 90 degrees.
- Use a steady, (not monotone) strong and confident voice when giving directions. Use pause to accentuate your point.
- Deepen your voice to accentuate your point at the end of your sentences.
- Use palms down hand gestures such as palm down pointing or counting. Be careful not to use the palm down, one finger point directly at someone as this is considered rude in western societies.
- Credible body language is particularly useful when sending information.
- Use this when you need to achieve an outcome or speak with authority.
- Move more weight onto one leg in a slight lean, hold your hands either in front of behind you and move your head up and down as you talk.
- Fluctuate tone, pitch and strength of your voice as you talk.
- Your voice should have a rising inflection at the end of sentences. This is affectionately called the Australian question intonation.
- Use open, palms up gestures. If pointing, point with your full open palm up. You may use more hand gestures but just be mindful that too much can be distracting.
- Approachable body language is particularly useful when receiving information.
- Use this when you’re listening or when the conversation has high emotion
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By now you’ve mastered your tone so it’s time to start developing your body language flexability.
Each time you have a conversation where you’re able to stand, actively practice the opposite style to which you’re most comfortable. For example, if you’re natural style is approachable, start getting used to standing tall with your hands by your sides and have the person you’re talking to straight in front of you. When you’re in meetings and need to change up your style, try implementing one piece of the communication puzzle. Get comfortable with it and then start adding more. It will feel awkward at first but with a little practice, you will feel completely comfortable.
Until next time,