So you’re having a conversation with a colleague. His eyes are shifting around the room, and he’s moving his weight from one leg to another. There’s a lot of ‘uh-huh’ in his responses. You sense that he’s not really engaging with what you’re saying. Annoying, right? Or maybe you’re on the phone with a friend, and you sense that she’s not fully listening (she’s probably scrolling through her emails). You hang up feeling lack luster about the entire conversation. There was no sense of connection. It felt like just going through the motions.
We’re all guilty of it – talking on the phone to mum while keeping an eye on the telly. We make mental to-do lists while sitting in presentations (‘Hmm…What should I pick up for dinner?’). We’re reading our iPhones while listening to our kids talk about their day. It’s called continuous partial inattention. (Translation: doing or thinking about ‘other stuff’ when you should, in fact, be paying attention).
According to Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate, our attention span is approximately 9 seconds – apparently the same as that of a goldfish. Distractibility is hardwired into us and it’s incredibly hard to resist. Which is precisely why being fully present in a conversation catapults your personal brand into an entirely new league.
3 tell tale signs that you’re not fully engaged (readable by the person you’re attempting to engage with). Hint: all undermine your personal brand:
Eyes like a haunted house painting. You know the ones I’m talking about. You’re in a conversation and you keep shifting your gaze side to side or around the room, scanning for new (more interesting) stimuli. We’re particularly susceptible at cocktail parties and networking events, where other distractions are competing for our attention.
Delayed facial expressions. The human mind can read facial expressions in as little as seventeen milliseconds, according to Olivia Fox Cabane in The Charisma Myth. If your mind is even slightly distracted, the lag effect in your facial expressions will give you away.
Fidgety body language. This can be a blinking neon sign that you’re distracted or disinterested. Or both. People can be particularly distrustful if our words and body language don’t flow together. We’re sending mixed signals. Be aware if you’re emitting lack of focus via subtle signals in your posture and body language.
Consider how you feel when talking to someone whose presence is lacking. People will associate us with what feelings we produce in them. That’s the beauty of presence. With a little practice, it’s an amazing tool to make you truly memorable.
Take a tip from Bill Clinton. He’s a master at making a person feel like they’re the only one in the room, even if he has only a moment to converse with them. He leans in, has eye contact and positive facial expressions. However briefly, he connects.
This is a brand-boosting skill that all of us can develop. Challenge yourself to be fully present in your conversations. Make eye contact when you shake hands and greet someone. In conversations, resist the pull of the television, scrolling through emails, or diverting your gaze to see who has just entered the room.
How would it be if you were mindful of how you wanted to make others feel when they interacted with you? How would it change your style of communicating?
Like this? Last time: Is Complaining Killing Your Personal Brand?