You’re talking to your husband, and he picks up his BlackBerry and sends a text. The service representative rolls her eyes when you give her a request. These and other slights might not seem like much, but they add up and can impact our behavior in return.
According to an article published in O Magazine in November, 2005 (The Little Chill by Lise Funderburg), we send between 2,000 and 4,000 subtle signals each day – mostly nonverbal and often not conscious. Some are positive (microadvantages) and some are negative (microinequities).
We owe much to Stephen Young of Insight Education Systems for his work on micromessages. He talks about the roots of these micromessages in our assumptions and beliefs about the world, certain groups and individuals. If we believe that a certain person is not competent, we will send micromessages that convey that. In turn, the receiver of the microinequities can be impacted by them – reducing their enthusiasm, confidence and ability to perform.
What responsibility do we as leaders have when it comes to micromessages?
Recognize power imbalances. Power plays a part in nearly every interpersonal situation. When you have the power, be aware of how that may impact your micromessages. Do you give different signals to the boss, your peers and your direct reports? What impact might these micromessages have?
Be aware of your assumptions about people. What beliefs do you have about certain individuals or groups? Examine them honestly and consider whether they impact your micromessages. (They do.) It’s never too late to give up your prejudices.
Pay attention to your micromessaging choices. That’s right. Micromessages represent choices. Slow down and tune into your gestures, eye contact, posture and other micromessages, and choose positive ones.
Microaffirm every day. Talk with people you otherwise wouldn’t. Sit next to the person you don’t know or don’t feel as comfortable with. Ask questions and pay attention to the answers. It’s not just for fun. Microaffirmation builds relationships of trust and loyalty.
Don’t just freeze. It can be tempting to turn off your micromessages, or at least to try to do so. First, this doesn’t work. You just look like a robot (not good micromessages), and you can’t sustain it for any length of time. Just be yourself, but a more self-aware you.
Ask for feedback. You may be pretty unaware of your micromessages. Ask your significant other or co-workers to give you feedback. Thank them for their input and do your best to address the microinequities.
Thinking about my micromessaging is humbling. I suspect that I give off many more than I’m aware of, and some I would be ashamed to own. My next step is to be more mindful of not only what I say, but the underlying assumptions that drive my micromessages. Only then will I truly communicate with integrity.
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