Here’s how to master the unconscious cues that tell others you’re a leader as soon as you walk into the room.
Imagine you could walk into a room and instantly, unconsciously infect those present with your enthusiasm and confidence? Or tell in an instant who is a friend and who is a foe (or which person across the table is planning on signing on to the deal)? These abilities might sound like emotional superpowers, but according to author Nick Morgan, the human brain is capable of some pretty heroic feats of emotional projection and understanding.
But not the conscious human brain. Our conscious minds process only 40 bits’ worth of information per second. Our unconscious brains are the real superheroes, crunching through an astounding 11 million bits. But what if we could tap into this incredible, latent processing power to unconsciously cue others to our authority and connect meaningfully with an audience?
It’s possible, he claims in his latest book, Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact. You just need to learn to tune in to and manipulate the flood of information that your brain handles on an unconscious level. In a recent, hour-long HBR Blog Network webinar, he offered a few ideas on how you can start to master these unconscious power cues and accomplish just that.
1. Walk in with a “heart posture.”
When it comes to body language advice, this first tip from Morgan will probably be the most familiar to you. In fact, he says it basically boils down to following the advice you probably got long ago from your grandmother–mind your posture.
People typically adopt one of three stances, according to Morgan. We’re either slightly hunched over (this is becoming more common thanks to all the time we spend looking at screens), in a “pelvic posture,” with hips trust forward like someone wearing high heels, or in what he terms “the heart posture.” The first comes across as reluctant and defensive, the second as flirtatious. The third, however, conveys trust and makes people comfortable. To achieve it, call to mind your gran (or your drill sergeant) and keep your shoulders back, your stomach in, and your head held high when you walk into a room.
2. Conquer distractions for greater charisma.
We usually think of charisma as a way you look or something you do–a trick of body language or behavior. But the truth, according to Morgan, is that much of charisma is in your mind. It’s about your feelings and your focus. “Charisma is something very simple–emotional focus,” he explains.
Enter a meeting with your mind abuzz with millions of tasks and worries, and you’ll “leak” that distraction to the others in the room, which isn’t ideal if you’re aiming to fire up the troops. Your unease becomes their unease without your having to do or say a thing.Conquering your cluttered mind takes practice and technique, which Morgan says leaders can steal from method actors. Before you walk into a key encounter, decide which emotion you want to project and remember a time when you felt that emotion naturally. Take a few minutes to put yourself into that memory with all your senses, and instead of leaking distraction, you’ll leak your target feeling. This is what makes heads swivel, Morgan insists.
3. Tune in to others’ unconscious messages.
The good news when it comes to reading others’ cues is that our unconscious minds are already really good at doing it. The bad news? Most of us struggle to tune in to what we know on that level. “This is simply a matter of tapping into that unconscious expertise,” Morgan says.
He notes that he goes into how to get in touch with your intuition in great detail in his book, but also explains the essential initial step to improving your ability to read others: Consciously ask key questions (Will my boss give me this raise? Who here is on my side?) of your unconscious mind, and then listen closely to what your gut is telling you.
4. Find your perfect pitch for leadership.
For a long time scientists thought the undertones in a person‘s voice served just as a marker, a vocal fingerprint of sorts that allowed others to distinguish between speakers. But then, Morgan reports, research turned up something extraordinary. “We unconsciously elect a leader within five, 10 minutes and we do so by lining up those undertones with everybody in the room,” he says. Leadership, in other words, is worked out unconsciously and quickly via the medium of the tones in which we speak.
It’s possible to use this truth to your advantage, Morgan claims, simply by finding the pitch at which your voice is naturally strongest and most resonant–the place where you maximize those undertones (he calls this high-power, radio-friendly voice “the Ronald Reagan voice”). This generally means overcoming suboptimal vocal habits we develop in childhood–men generally learn to push their voices too low, women make theirs too high.
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