Guest Article Written By Lou Solomon
Years ago I attended a radio group awards gala for excellence in ratings and revenue. Everyone in that ballroom had already achieved a high bar of performance and made a huge sacrifice just to have been invited to this event. But the seating chart didn’t say that. The very best performers were seated in front of the room and the lesser best were seated in a graduated order toward the back, according to actual numbers. My team sat at the back of the room, the last of best.
The lights dimmed and the CEO, we’ll call him Jim, stepped out into the spotlight. “If those of you in the back of the room want to move to the front row,” he said, “you’re about to learn from the true champions.” He went on to say, “Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow we will ask more of you for the new fiscal year. We are a fast growth organization, and we won’t concede to anything but fast growth at each of our properties.”
Someone on my team grumbled, “I thought we were all champions,” and another, “Wow, we get to celebrate for one night and then it’s another year of working harder!” and I thought, “Jim, you’re committed to fast growth for the shareholders—what’s the commitment to this team?”
It’s important to consider that it’s not just what someone says, but the way in which words are said that reveals true meaning of what a person wants to get across, thus impacting business success. Research proves it: MIT’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland, one of the ‘seven most powerful data scientists in the world’ did a study outfitting executives at a party with devices that recorded data on their social signals—tone of voice, gesticulation, proximity to others, and more to show if being more positive and energetic would impact business success.
The results showed that social signals (also called honest signals) are often mimicked by the receiver, and that the more positive and energetic the person is, the more positive and energetic the receivers will be, driving better productivity and success in business. Humans use many types of signals, but social signals are unusual in that they cause changes in the receiver of the signal. For instance, if we’re spending time together, and I’m happy and chipper, you’ll be more happy and chipper.
Being conscious of honest signals in conjunction with our words reminds business leaders they have the power to affect workplace productivity and culture for the better or worse each day.
Scores of scenes like that one play out every hour at company all-staff meetings, retreats, awards galas, video conferences, and everywhere employees are gathered across the globe. Ironically the blow back on attempts to control people with fear moves an organization backward into disengagement and turnover.
The obvious and overlooked alternative? Stop unloading your own fear and say something real and authentic with words that inspire positive change to build trust, a positive workplace culture, and productivity.
Authentic communication asks that we open ourselves up to humanness.
What if Jim had talked about the giftedness in every individual in the room? He might have made us all feel included in the celebration. If he had expressed his deep gratitude, he might have instilled trust. Instead of making us feel a sense of dread, he might have given us a vote of confidence to lean into our greatness for not only the company, but also one another and ourselves. Instead, he made some of those hard-working people fearful that while they might be good, but not quite good enough. Mind you, these things would have to have come from the heart.
Here are 5 points for reflection when you have the opportunity to connect with employees at a company event:
- Give careful thought to what you can do to bring authentic value to people.
- Tell a relevant personal story and share what your life has taught you.
- Let people know you understand and appreciate their contribution (and make sure you do).
- Activate the best ideas and inspiration within people by giving voice to your own true passion for the future.
- Articulate a bigger picture and more meaningful purpose than the work alone.
By replacing negative tone and lackluster words with a positive tone and authentic appreciative words, workplace productivity and trust in an organization can grow, enabling a business to be successful. Each new day is an opportunity to inspire greatness in your organization, and say something real.
Lou Solomon is CEO of Interact, a communications consultancy that helps business leaders and their teams build authenticity, make connections, earn trust and build influence. She is the author of “Say Something Real” and is also an adjunct faculty member at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.