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All the Worlds a Stage: Part ll

What is in this article:

  • You do not have an accurate understanding of how you are perceived by others
  • Your verbal and non-verbal behaviors that have positive and negative effects on others have not been accurately pinpointed
  • No matter what interpersonal behaviors you want to start doing or stop doing, you cannot change those behaviors without going through 3 steps
  • Very few people ever change their personal style because they do not have access to these 3 steps

Part 1 of this blog was confrontational by design.I attempted to strip away the illusions and rationalizations that most people harbor about the way they are perceived by others—and why.One of the biggest problems in business and industry surrounds interpersonal style—how managers and supervisors are perceived by their subordinates.

Verbal behavior—the words you use and their connotations—their emotional impact, is one major component of the effect you have on others.Secondly, the way you deliver those words—the emphasis, gestures, demeanor, tone, inflection, create an effect in the listener.

People in general, irrespective of the context in which they are behaving, would prefer to have a positive impact on others.Most supervisors would prefer to get things done in a positive way—using positive discussions that engender positive emotions in themselves and their subordinates.In social situations, most of us would prefer to have a positive influence on those with whom we are interacting; we would like to make new friends and maintain the friends we have.

From my perspective, most people are discouraged from changing themselves to become more effective friends and managers because the sheer volume of literature that proposes to help them develop a more effective interpersonal style is ponderous, complex, and filled with unnecessary jargon.Most of us give up on personal change because we don’t understand or trust the methods being presented to us.

Another deterrent to personal change is the fact that we cannot get precise feedback about our verbal behavior and mannerisms.The three critical factors related to changing one’s interpersonal style are—

1. Assessment—precise information about the words and mannerisms you use that are turning people off and the behaviors that are currently effective;

2. New Behavior—what words should you be using?What are effective mannerisms that will have a positive effect on others;

3. Feedback and Coaching—how does one get new behaviors started, practice them, get feedback on improvement and encourage one’s self to keep going?

Whether you are a high level executive with a Fortune 500 company, or someone who just wants to be more successful in social situations, the same process will work for you.In addition, you will not be able to change your behavior without this process.You cannot change your interpersonal style without these three steps. Of course it is more palatable to read books about interpersonal style--they are usually interesting and you recognize yourself in them--whether you are shy or bold, quiet or passive, domineering or cooperative.

Irrespective of the interpersonal skills algorithm you select, you will not be able to adopt the desired behaviors without the three step process presented above. The solution—the path to the personal objectives discussed in Part I require this process.Those objectives were:

  • To be loved and cared for
  • To influence others to do things our way
  • To be liked; to have friends. Most of us would like to be more popular
  • To be believed
  • We want to be trusted
  • We want to inspire—to positively influence others
  • We want others to cooperate with us
  • We want recognition, promotion, bonuses, and raises
  • We want others to say good things about us


Most of us do not change because we never receive a precise, objective diagnosis of the things we are saying (the words and phrases) and the manner in which we are saying them that put people off—that turn them off.Our verbal behavior and mannerisms (non-verbal behavior) may not be outrageous—in fact, in most cases the words and expressions that prevent us from achieving the 9 outcomes listed above are fairly subtle.The words and mannerisms that repel and attract others can be difficult for us to self-observe; self-diagnosis is extremely difficult for that reason.

Most of us know one or more persons who behave outrageously; they are loud, strident in their tones, aggressive, abusive, and negative—always complaining about someone or something.These are not the people who are concerned with developing and improving their effectiveness with others.

Using friends or acquaintances to help us diagnose problematic verbal and non-verbal behavior is usually unreliable.Others do not want to negatively influence their relationship with us by being direct and honest.We all understand and accept that the messenger often gets shot.People who believe that “being honest” with their friends in order to help them is going to strengthen their relationship are being a bit naïve.

We often discount the feedback from those we know, work with, or work for because we suspect them to have an agenda—personal motives for wanting us to behave one way or another.To believe that one’s boss or one’s co-workers, or even one’s friends want one to be successful is a risky assumption.Most of us suspect this and for that reason do not accept feedback from others.We tend to listen and then develop reasons why their opinion is wrong or biased.People who work with us or know us socially are not objective about our behavior.

One interpersonal behavior that constantly gets me in trouble (puts people off) is my use of words that are uncommon to most people—big words—polysyllabic words.My vocabulary is pretty big (I’m not particularly smart, so I don’t know why I have all the words), and the words just come out naturally.I suspect that it is off-putting to others; that it makes them uncomfortable.Whether this is because they compare their vocabulary to mine and assume that I am more intelligent—I don’t know.Many of us do not want to be around people who are more intelligent than us because we assume they are hypercritical and analytical—a couple of characteristics that seem to come along with intelligence.

The issues of diagnosis and assessment are clear in my example; no one is going to say, “That’s right smart ass.You use all those big words all the time.You trying to prove you’re smarter than us.”If I was actually trying to do that, they would be justified in their appraisal and in not wanting to spend time around someone who was trying to prove he is smarter than those around him.

Behavioral self-assessment and assessment from friends and business associates is not going to help us change what we say and how we say it to become more effective.That is where most of us throw up our hands and throw in the towel. We give up.We read self-help books like they are novels, recognizing the desirability of changing our behavior but exasperated by the absence of a system to achieve the necessary change.

Many leaders, managers and supervisors read contemporary books on management strategy in order to improve their efficacy; the collective wisdom in these books ultimately requires one to do something differently, to adopt a new method. Invariably, these new tactics are invoked through interactions with others in the company. So, once again, self-development and performance improvement is dependent on one's ability to say the right things in the right way to elicit the cooperation, enthusiasm, compliance, support, and involvement of the employees who will execute your vision or strategy.

Personal Coaches

If we were to find an effective personal coach—someone we paid to do a behavioral assessment—someone who could provide us with precisely pinpointed positive and negative verbal and non-verbal behaviors we could begin to make progress.Someone who would say, here is the word or phrase you used in this situation and here is the effect it has on others; or, this is the facial expression you used when you said “X” and it conveys this message (sarcasm, uncertainty, condescension, hostility, etc.).

Many of us cannot afford a personal coach, we are uncertain about where to find one and how to select the best one, and we are uncomfortable with the idea of meeting with someone to discuss these type of personal issues.It is clear, that a good “behavioral” coach could help us identify appropriate and inappropriate behavior, provide us with successful behaviors, and provide us with the ongoing feedback necessary to coach us through the change process.

In my next post, I will discuss some new techniques being used that allow supervisor, managers, executives and others to work on their interpersonal style using web based formats.Behavior change using webmeetings can be more effective, less threatening and much more affordable.