Reading the Room

colleaguesWe are trained to think and act rationally in the workplace.

We expect others to do the same.

It’s part of our professional culture.

But it’s sort of weird that we imagine emotion to be irrelevant in the workplace, because we’re not robots.

People are emotional.

We can be far more effective by paying attention to emotional cues. They are windows into how people are thinking.

They are often the fastest, most-effective, and most direct way to communicate.

And they often reveal lots of crucial information. Things that people aren’t saying out loud.

Tuning into these cues is what’s commonly referred to as “reading the room.” It’s how you assess individuals and groups on an emotional level.

It’s how you find out if people are engaged, confused, upset, delighted, concerned.

You can read the room and use it to your advantage. You have the powers of observation necessary to do this, because you’re human too.

If you pay attention on this level to people in a meeting, you can learn an enormous amount.

If you watch for the signs, you will see them.

You will see that someone draws back and closes their body language when they don’t like what is being said in a meeting.

You will notice someone displaying dominant body language when they want to assert themselves.

You will also see conflict. Someone will say that they agree with you, but be sitting with their arms crossed and reluctant perhaps avoid eye contact.

Hmmm… what are they really saying?

Someone will speak in sophisticated language when simple language would do. Which person is behind you 100%?

Is it the one who says, “I think that idea is quite sound and could promote our interests well,” or the one who simply says, “I like it!”

You will see someone who has a question or concern. It will be clear from their facial expression. You know the look.

If you are not watching, you will miss a lot.

It’s better to keep your head up, to scan the room, to make eye contact, than it is to monitor your notes.

If you are not listening carefully, you will miss a lot too. How something is said is just as important (maybe more important) than what is being said.

A good way to practice is to compare notes with a colleague after a meeting.

I have found that, many times, others paid quite careful attention to what was being said while I had been paying careful to how it was being said and to the display and interplay of nonverbal communication.

As I shared my observations with colleagues, they’d start to pick up on the nonverbal stuff too, often with great results. They would learn much more from meetings by doing so.

They would have a much more complete picture and more informed strategies for moving forward afterward.

Even more encouraging, as the skill is practiced, it improves. Soon enough it becomes sort of second-nature.

Which is funny, because we’re training ourselves to do something that is natural in the first place.