Flip Your Skillset

Here are some extra things to think about, and resources to download, to help you Flip Your Skillset.

Improve Your Ability to Express and Receive the Correct Nonverbal Behaviors

Some bosses are really good at nonverbal communication, saying and doing the right things at the right moment. Some are not. No matter your previous experience, you are a new leader who can improve your nonverbal communication and flip your communication skillset. Here are some ways I always share with new leaders interested in flipping their communication skillset.


1) Nonverbal Communication is Giving and Receiving at the Same Time

You know the six channels. And you know you have to display or send messages nonverbally, and do so correctly and genuinely (“expressive nonverbal communication”) and be able to recognize, understand, and interpret the nonverbal behaviors of others (“receptive nonverbal communication”).

Receptive nonverbal communication is tied to how effective you may think your own leadership is. In my own research with Karl Kuhnert, we displayed happy, sad, angry, and fearful faces on a screen (a test that Nowicki and Duke made famous, the Diagnostic Analysis of NonVerbal Accuracy, or DANVA). Those who made more errors on the test tended to see themselves as poor leaders when it came to interpersonal relationships. If you are unable to correctly guess the emotions of others, you may tend to view yourself as a weak leader, particularly with relationships.

Interestingly, correctly identifying emotions in faces may be tied to your earning potential too. In a study led by German researchers Tassilo Momm and Gerhard Blickle, workers who correctly identified facial emotions using the DANVA tended to have higher incomes. Why is that? If you are able to read the emotions of others, Momm, Blickle, and their colleagues believe you have the foundation to understand others. You can use that information to appropriately choose the right words and style to fit the situation to understand priorities and accomplish goals. All that knowledge can come together for you to get ahead at work while being seen as cooperative, helpful, and an all-around team player. So, accurately expressing and receiving nonverbal communication can help you as a new leader, be the boss everyone wants to work for, and maybe even your earnings potential!

Effective new leaders both send and receive nonverbal communication correctly. Frankly, that’s why communication is so hard. Not only are you aware of what you are sending, you must read how your message is being heard, and adjust accordingly once it’s your turn to talk again.

2) Understand the Perspective of Others

When it comes to receptive nonverbal communication, see how others see the world. For instance, how are they feeling about their work, the decision made, or the process of what’s going on. Here’s a story of what one new leader had to do in a performance appraisal meeting with one of her direct reports.

In our performance appraisal process, direct reports rate themselves on how they fulfilled their goals by assigning a number (1-5) and writing some comments to justify that number. After they complete self-ratings, they send to me. I read their comments and see their scores, and then rate the person while writing comments as well. This is done at least a couple of days before the more formal one-on-one meeting.

Because Rick is not located where I am, all I can really rely on in terms of performance is what Rick wrote. Rick thought he fulfilled his goals and for the most part met or exceeded expectations in his opinion. I read them, and just based on what was written, well, let’s just say it did not meet my standards of excellence. Our view of “exceeding expectations” was not quite in alignment.

Because Rick is in another location than me, our meeting was over the phone which of course makes it a lot tougher because I can only really work with one channel – paralanguage. But, just through that one channel I could tell how Rick was feeling. During the phone call, we talked about his view of performance. Based on what was written, I said it didn’t match the goals stated. Then Rick’s voice started to change. There was a little anger behind it. He got a little louder. He then started telling me other things he did to fulfill the goals that were not written down originally. As I tried to talk more about my perspective, just based on his tone of voice I sensed he was irritated and frustrated. He then quit responding, no turn-taking at all in conversation, just an “uh-huh” every now and then. I knew something wasn’t right. The silence was so uncomfortable and almost unbearable. All that silence said a lot to me. Even through that one channel I could sense Rick was not happy.

“Rick,” I said, “I sense from your tone and lack of talking now, that something may be wrong. Over the phone it’s sometimes hard to tell. I feel that we hit some sort of road block in conversation. Am I correct?” Rick explained to me that he had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t see his performance in the same light as he did. Rick also said that he felt the whole process was unfair. As I talked, I purposefully lowered the tone of my voice, and talked a little slower, to ease the tension over the phone. I explained, “Rick, because I am not in the same location as you, I don’t have a chance to view your performance all the time. The only information I have to rate your performance is what you wrote me last week, and what I see as tangible outcomes. Much of that is not what you told me about over the last few minutes on the phone. What can we do so that you feel that your accomplishments are truly documented and you feel the performance appraisal is fair?”

In the end, I gave Rick another chance to write down all the things he had done. We came into better alignment after that second chance and follow-up phone call a week later.          

3) Understand How Others See You

As a new leader, getting feedback on how you appear to others can be huge. So instead of waiting for that feedback, be proactive and ask people what they see when they see you. Ask them how you come across in certain situations: a formal meeting; when they knock on your door; as they walk up to you at your desk; at the lunch-line. Ask for the feedback and make adjustments if you keep hearing the same thing over-and-over again. Such feedback has been tremendously helpful for me personally (remember reading about my “resting” face and body).

4) You Can Observe a Lot By Just Watching

It’s a line by Yogi Berra, almost as famous for his malapropisms as he is for his hall-of-fame baseball career. But it is so true when it comes to nonverbal communication. Guess the emotions in paintings and photographs. Notice people in public places and speculate what they are feeling or talking about. Turn down the sound of a television show or movie to decode the emotions of the actors on screen. Understanding the emotions in art, television, or random people on the street, can really help you develop your skills in paying attention to others and deciphering the emotions of others. And while you’re at it, have a friend or trusted confidant do it with you. They can act as a “reality check” for what you think. Or, when there are differences of opinion, they can describe what they see that you don’t, or what they don’t see that you do. Plus, people won’t be as weirded out when they see you staring at a muted TV if they see someone else with you doing it too.

Another thing you should do is use your phone or video camera to tape yourself talking for a minute or two. Then, replay it back and take note of what you see and hear. This is something we have the leaders do who come to the Maximizing your Leadership Potential program at CCL. It will be uncomfortable but you can learn so much when you do it. Like, how many times you say those “credibility killers” that ruin your credibility, authority, and communication reputation, like, well, “like” and “you know” and “uh” and “uhm.” So many new leaders hear and see themselves talk for the first time doing this exercise, and notice how many of those things they say just in one or two minutes, or any other nonverbal behaviors they do well or poorly. You won’t know what you are good at, bad at, or have to change, until you try it for yourself.

5) Get a Coach

Finally, being coached or mentored by a friend, colleague, someone at work who has the reputation of being able to read the room as soon as he or she walks in, or a paid professional whose expertise is nonverbal communication, can help you out. They will be able to pinpoint  what exact problems you may have whether it’s sending or receiving bad or incorrect nonverbal behaviors or signs. These coaches can also be active participants in role-playing exercises so you can get more practice and feedback to correctly and effectively send and receive nonverbals.

6) Active Listening

So to listen better, practice active listening. That’s your willingness and ability to hear and understand someone else. Reflect the feelings expressed and summarize what you heard others say. Here’s how:

  • Pay attention.
  • Delay judgment.
  • WAIT – it stands for Why Am I Talking. Are you giving enough airtime for people to talk?
  • Reflect and paraphrase. Say something like, “What I hear you saying is…”
  • Clarify if you don’t understand something. Say something like, “What are your thoughts on…” or “I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Could you repeat that?”
  • Summarize what you just heard.
  • Share and be an active participant in the dialogue. Say something like, “That sounds like something I went through.” But don’t tell your entire story. Remember, “It’s not about me” anymore!


How to Build an “Influence Plan”


You now have several different ways to influence people. So you just pick your favorite one and go, right? No – remember, “It’s not about me anymore.” The best way to flip your influence is to understand your audience and influence them the way they want to be influenced (follow the platinum rule). The next time you have a situation where you must influence someone or an audience, whether it is a formal presentation to a group of people or a one-on-one meeting, try the following ideas. Consider it your “Influence Plan” to maximize the effectiveness of your influence attempt or session.

1) Start Early

You can’t just think of an influence attempt as THE hour-long presentation to your audience next month or THE 15-minute conversation you will have with a person next week. There’s a lot of preparation involved, a lot of building momentum which happens over time. I’m not talking about hours, but days, weeks, possibly months. It will take some practice, insight, and homework. Therefore, craft your influence plan well before the actual influence attempt.

2) Determine Your End Game

In the end, what would a successful influence attempt look like for you? What do you hope to get out of it? What benefits will you get? Are there any costs associated? Knowing these will help you craft your message.

 3) Understand Who Your Audience Is

The way you influence may be dictated by who you are trying to influence. Are you trying to influence one person, a couple of people, or an entire group? Who is that person? Who are those people in your audience? If your plan is to influence one direct report, it may be a little different from a plan to influence a peer, a boss, a group in higher management, or customers. The positional power you have over the people who report to you may allow you certain influence attempts (like, “Do this because I said so and I’m your boss”) that is just not possible with others. With one or several peers, you may have to find some common ground because of the similar power base. With higher management, think about having a “pre-meeting” to understand their thoughts or at least, inform them of your thoughts before going in.

Also, think about your history with your audience. Is there a lot of goodwill and trust that can be used as a foundation? Or, is there a lot of ill-will that you have to overcome? Does someone in your audience have a lot of knowledge or expertise in the area you want to influence? If so, they could be used as an expert, ally, collaborator, or co-sponsor in your influence attempt.

4) Determine the End Game of Your Audience

You’ve already determined what success looks like for you. Now, think about what a successful influence attempt looks like for your audience. What would your audience get out of it? What benefits will your audience get? Are there any costs associated from the perspective of your audience?

5) What is Your Audience’s Motivation?

Why would your audience even go along with your influence attempt in the first place? What’s in it for them? If you can understand their motivation, what they want, you can work toward fulfilling that need with your influence attempt.

If you don’t know what’s in it for them, put yourself in their shoes and determine what you would want to hear if you were them. Or, ask people who may know your audience better than you, to give you advice and understanding on your audience’s perspective.

You can also learn from the past. Ask people what successful or unsuccessful influence attempts to your audience looked like. What happened that made past influence attempts successful or unsuccessful?

Here’s another thought. You could also have a pre-meeting early on with your “toughest critic” and try to understand what he or she would want out of it. Get his or her perspective on the issues. Use that vital information to build arguments to sway that person’s opinion, or those who may share that opinion.

 6) Establish Where Everyone Agrees

It’s always easier to influence people if there is some sort of mutual agreement or common ground. If you and your audience can focus on one thing, like “I am sure we can all agree this will benefit others,” or “We all know how any decision made will be difficult in the short-term, but the long-term costs will be minimized,” then people may feel more open to hearing what you are saying. Why? They understand that you have something in common with them.

 7) Pick the Influence Tactic(s) to Use

If you understand your audience and know your desired end result, then it’s a matter of anticipating their needs and goals and matching the right tactic to those needs and goals.

If you don’t know the person very well, ask people you know what their experience is working with that person or what that person likes to hear. If you have a room full of people, you may have to use several tactics. Combining influence tactics is probably the safest way to go to influence a room full of people.

If you do know what makes that person tick, use the proper Head, Heart, or Hands influence tactic that you know will resonate with them the most from the start.

8) Follow the Platinum Rule of Communication When Influencing Others

So you know which influence tactic to use. But, if you don’t follow the platinum rule of communication, your influence tactic may fall short of your intended goal. For instance, let’s say the person you are trying to influence has a reputation for being a quiet, contemplative person. You have seen this person in meetings and in work projects, and know this person is cerebral. The person often needs time to reflect on things to come up with an answer or to solve a problem. The person does not have the reputation for being an animated, passionate speaker who likes to talk things out in a group to get to a conclusion.

Use that information about a person’s communication style in your influence attempt. For instance, you may want to give that person a heads-up, an agenda, or something to think about well before you want to meet with him or her; don’t put that person on the spot or catch the person off-guard. Be respectful of how that person likes to think, talk, and make decisions. When it’s time to talk, give that person the conversational space to talk and think with appropriate pauses and silence. Be mindful of your nonverbals; lower your tone of voice or keep big gestures to a minimum. When influencing the way another wants to be influenced, you’ll need to communicate the way he or she wants to be communicated with too.

 9) Think of the Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenarios from your Influence Tactics

We all hope that we pick the right influence tactic, and that it will go over well. If it does, what will that look like for you and those being influenced?

But what happens if it doesn’t? Play out that scenario in your mind, and think about where your influence attempt may fall flat or on deaf ears. What would be the reason behind that failure? What will you do if that happens? What’s your strategy to overcome this situation?

Once you play out the worst-case scenarios, prepare for them. For instance, if you think someone could challenge you on the numbers, figures, or facts, to have the data and fact sheets ready. If you think the conversation could turn into a brainstorming session or go off onto a tangent, be ready to either get it back on track, or continue with it if your audience is energized by it. If you are focused on the practicality and details of things and your audience is up more for the big picture, be prepared to go there and focus more on the big idea rather than the specifics.

10) Practice

Now that you have a plan, the next thing you need to do is practice. Whether it’s a presentation to a group of people or a one-on-one conversation, practice it over and over again. When you feel like you got it nailed, do it a few more times. Overpractice. Do it in front of the mirror to see exactly how you are presenting your message. Make your presentation in front of a trusted colleague, coworker, or friend, and get feedback on how your message is coming across. If it’s a conversation, role play it.

 11) Debrief

When it’s all over, think about how well you did. Did you get the desired end game you wanted? What did you learn? What did you do well? Where do you need to improve for next time?


  • Want to remind yourself of the Head, Heart, and Hands influence techniques?

Reminder of Different Influence Techniques


  • Want reminders on how to confidently express and receive nonverbal communication?

Checklist for Effective Nonverbal Communication


  • Want reminders about active listening?

Steps for Successful Active Listening