People are fascinating. The more we watch us, the more fascinating we are. As a leader, people watching — in an observational (not creepy) way — is an essential skill because our truths play out in the combination of what we say and how we say it, both verbally and non-verbally.

Whether your meeting observations are virtual or in person, you can use them to coach your team members to get more intentional about their interactions for stronger conversation results.

What we say

Reading between the lines. When did you last do that?

Decisions are made so fast that we’ve come take in only what someone utters vocally or in an email or text, and we accept that to be true or factual.

But our choice of words, the phrases we repeat, the emphasis we place in our expressions, who we direct our words at as well as who we exclude, and the congruency (or not) with our body language, these all tell us so much about what a person really believes and thinks, and who or what decision they are trying to influence.

It’s not necessarily the case that they are trying to deceive us; it’s more that they are not so aware of their own thinking or behaviour as much as we may assume. And sometimes they are trying to deceive us, and that’s when people watching is incredibly valuable.

How we say it

Our mood, our intention or our inattention, our self-awareness in the moment, who else is listening, our own emotional needs, our level of anxiety or confidence, and the energy of someone else, these all influence the intensity of and reduce what we are saying. How we say things reveals our real character and neuroses, and the dynamics of our relationships or strength of emotional connection with our teammates or stakeholders.

Whatever combination is at play can have us come off as ego-driven or ego-less, as unsure or competent, as passionate or uncommitted, as needy or very self-assured. And that can change from one environment to the next, which is why some people see us as confident and engaging while another group of people might have us down as quiet or unambitious.

Sometimes we don’t say anything

Some of us don’t want to say very much at all or will only speak to say something we feel is important and that hasn’t been said or heard. Some of us need time to reflect and think over the ideas and conversations we’re listening to. We can need hours or days to go through our deep processing and analysing of our thoughts and feelings.

And so, it never feels right to jump into a heated discussed or excited debate with an immediate reaction or our first thought. It might even feel scary.

And sometimes we want to be lied to

“We put up little resistance to the deceptions that please us and comfort us—be it false praise or the promise of impossibly high investment returns. When we are fed falsehoods by people who have wealth, power, and status, they appear to be even easier to swallow…”
— Yudhijit Bhattecharjee.

Yes, sometimes we want to be lied to because it serves our need to be liked, loved, admired, or even worshipped.

Also, we’re more likely to accept a lie that confirms our own opinion or bias. George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California, Berkeley says, “If a fact comes in that doesn’t fit into your frame, you’ll either not notice it, or ignore it, or ridicule it, or be puzzled by it—or attack it if it’s threatening.”

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We’re hard wired to connect

We all get excited and sometimes we let our ego take over. And how other people behave can equally have a strong physiological and hormonal effect on us. It’s all because of our desire to connect with people, to belong — it can whip up our emotions and helps us find ways to synchronise with others in our group emotionally and in our thinking.

All of this is why we’re fascinating. All of this makes for great people watching, and as a leader, learning to observe can help us understand our people better, ask good questions, and be a consistent and balanced resource to our team members.

8 ways to people watch in meetings

Meetings are great places to people watch and in Leaders Who Coach™, leaders learn to spot behaviours that they simply weren’t aware of before. They discover that the trouble-spots were always in plain sight, they just had never registered them because they held an opinion about people that wasn’t 100% true.

Here are 8 things to watch for in your next virtual or in person team meeting:

  1. Who interrupts, cuts across or speaks over other team members
  2. Who builds on what their team members have to say
  3. Who asks open questions that invite discussion
  4. Who asks closed questions that are in fact bating, leading or loaded
  5. Who makes direct requests or asks for contributions or support, e.g. “Given your experience, what do you think, Anna?”
  6. Who makes indirect, or soft, asks, e.g. “Some ideas from folks would be nice.” (and what response do they get)
  7. Who doesn’t say very much at all or stays quiet
  8. Who changes their body posture or facial expression in response to what someone is saying

Reflect on your observations and then line up one-to-one conversations with each of them. Share your observations gently and be ready to listen. Use the opportunity to explore how they can get more intentional about their interactions in useful ways to themselves and the team.

Feedback Conversations Infographic with Video Tutorials
Feedback Conversations Infographic with Video Tutorials

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