Breaking Down Your Approach: Become More Approachable

          Shelly shared a wonderful blog post on the importance of how you come across as a leader in meetings.  Your approach with the group is critical for your group’s development, and for how the team perceives you.  You must understand how you appear before the group as an approachable leader, but also a credible leader.  Both sides of you must be understood for you to be an effective, charismatic leader.  First, we must understand what each leader looks like.

          Shelly mentions the importance of running a good meeting.  She cites cases where the leader has said “we have 15 minutes to hold this meeting…”.  Obviously, this is not going to build a positive environment for your team, nor will it accomplish what you hope it will.  More importantly, it leads to frustration with the team and an unwillingness to support these meetings in the future.  To put it bluntly, your team may be smarter than you on the issue you want to discuss, and you need to listen to them.  Without dragging this out, if you are not sure about how to run a good meeting, or it is not your strength, research it on the web.  Set up your plan for running a meeting, then stick to it.  I will write more about how to run an effective meeting in the future for others to reference.

          The question of leadership and holding meetings is more than just can you run an effective meeting.  You must be clear on the intent of the meeting.  What is it you hope to accomplish?  What are the goals?  How much time is needed to accomplish those goals?  And what position must you take as a leader for the meeting to be effective?  I will look at the position of approachability and focus on the behaviors, not the content, of the leader to give you some guidance in this area.  I hope to answer the underlying question above, how do I present myself as approachable?

          It is my belief, and that of others that I have trained with, that we are over trained in the practice of the approachable style.  As educators, we do it all the time because we are told to be good listeners and pay attention when others are speaking.  The verbal and non-verbal behaviors I share below should be very familiar to you.

The Approachable Leader

          As a leader or teacher, the approachable style should sound and look very familiar.  I would suggest that you observe a few people around you and see if you notice these behaviors in them:

  • Look at the person speaking
  • Body faces the person speaking
  • Lean forward towards them
  • Nod your head as they speak
  • Make sounds of acknowledgement such as “yes”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, etc.
  • Smile
  • Palms are up
  • Our voice tone goes up at the end of our sentences
  • Gestures of approachability such as gesturing towards yourself and the other person
  • Breathe low in the abdomen

          Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?  We do them very naturally when speaking with others with whom we are trying to build rapport.  They show we are listening and responding to the person who is speaking. These gestures show we are interested.  They are the gestures of engagement with the speaker.  So, the question is, why are these important to the leader who wants to be approachable?

          Before I answer the last question, I will digress a bit to some underlying beliefs we must value before moving forward.  As leaders, we must value other people’s opinions and desire feedback for improvement.  To do this, we must separate the content of the discussion, from the person sharing it so we understand it is information only, not personal values we are discussing.  We must be willing to make adjustments so that we can hear other people and value their ideas.  For example, if our meetings are 15 minutes in length, there is likely frustration, and we must make the adjustment so people can be heard.  I would strongly recommend a mentor who can be the third party to identify these issues for the leader to address.  Once the willingness is there and the mindset is being developed or fully developed, then non-verbal cues can become valuable.

          As the leader of a group, if we wish to be more approachable in our position, we must align our verbals and our non-verbals.  In simpler terms, if our body language is out of alignment with what we say, people will be confused about the message.  Developing our non-verbal skills of approachability will likely not be difficult.  You are likely doing them already.  The practice becomes aligning them with the message you are working to get across.  I would suggest taking one of the above behaviors to identify it, understand what it feels like, and become aware of how you feel when you are practicing it.  Once you are aware of it, you will recognize it in practice, or be able to shift to it when you want to become more approachable.

Skills to Practice

          In order to better understand what it means to be approachable, I would like to suggest that you try a couple of these drills below to better grasp how it feels to be “approachable” at least in practice.

Tone of Voice

          As a simple practice for this, think of a phrase you may say in a meeting.  Ideally, it could be one that you use regularly when trying to get feedback, or connect with the group.  A phrase such as “what do you think?” or “does anyone have any thoughts?” can be easy to use if a phrase does not come to mind.

          The drill is simple and I would suggest you practice in a mirror, or perhaps video yourself while practicing.  Say the phrase you have selected.  When you get to the last word, allow the tone of your voice to rise or go up, not in volume but in tone.  If it helps, you may even lift your chin slightly as you do this.  You should notice a lifting tone of the voice and one that is friendly.  This is an approachable tone of voice and one that encourages a response.  Much like an airline stewardess asks if you would like something, we hear the tone and think “this person would like a response” they sound pleasant.

          The second part of the drill is also simple.  Use the same phrase and do the same thing.  However, at the end of the phrase, allow the voice tone to drop lower and slightly lower your chin at the same time.  Repeat the phrases and notice the difference.  When your tone drops, it sounds like a command voice, much like a police officer or airline pilot.  It is not friendly nor does it encourage a response.  Non-verbally, we hear the tone and think “the person says they want a response, but it does not sound like it” or “they may be angry”.

          The tone of one’s voice can drive how one is perceived in conversation or meetings.  Tone of voice is very powerful.  If you couple the tone of the voice with a non-verbal skill, the result can be very powerful in determining how someone responds to you.

Palm Up versus Palm Down

          This skill practice is quite easy.  There are many variations to this same practice, I will keep it simple.

          In this practice, I would suggest the phrase “does anyone have any questions?” however you may use any phrase you are comfortable with.  In this first practice, you will again use the approachable tone where you lift the tone at the end of the phrase.  Say the phrase, asking for a response with the tone lifting.  However, also use an open hand and either place your palm up in front of you or lift your hand like you were asking a person to raise their hand.  As you complete this, the combination of the verbal and the non-verbal encourages a response from others.  Try this a couple of times.

          Repeat the same phrase as above.  This time, the tone of your voice will drop at the end of the phrase to use a command style or sometimes called credible style.  At the same time, your palm will face down in front of you.  This combination is best used for sending information.  The intent is not to receive information rather to tell others information with no response needed.  One quick note about this style, you may be uncomfortable with this style.  However, understand what it sounds and feels like for you so.  Recognize that there are times you will need to use this style, and times where you should not.

Body Posture – lean in versus remain still

          This skill is a listening skill and requires a partner who is willing to chat with you.  I would suggest you alert your partner as to what you are doing rather than trying this on them without their knowledge for the health of the relationship.

          You may do this seated or standing.  Your partner will begin to talk to you about any particular topic.  You will lean in, nod your head, make eye contact, and verbally acknowledge that you are listening by responding with simple phrases such as “uh huh”, “yes”, “I see”, and other common phrases.  A short amount of time is all that is needed to practice this.  Repeat this, with a willing partner, and exchange roles.  Discuss how you felt.  Were you listened to?  Did you feel like the person listening valued you?  Share your feelings about this experience.  This is an approachable pattern of listening and acknowledging the other person.  They should feel valued and listened to.

          Repeat this practice again having a discussion.  However, this time, sit or stand with a straight back.  Listen and make eye contact.  Do not respond or acknowledge the conversation unless asked a question.  Again, repeat this with the other person.  Discuss your experience with the other person.  The feelings should be different this time.  This is a credible pattern of listening and really one that does not encourage response.  The other person may not feel listened to or that you heard what they had to say.  It may be very uncomfortable for both the speaker and the listener. 

What to do with this

          The intent is for us to recognize what we are doing.  We need to recognize our own patterns of behavior and communication.  Whether you are approachable or more credible, it is okay.  We need to recognize our patterns and know when to shift from one style to another. 

          As the leader, you need to be aware and acknowledge that your non-verbals and verbals may be out of sync.  You may be asking for responses with one or both palms down and your voice tone dropping at the end of the phrase.  You are not seeking information, you may appear angry to your group or simply indicating you don’t actually want responses.   

          My suggestion is that you practice this during the summer.  Look for these patterns of behavior in other people.  See if you can identify simple patterns as described above.  Also, practice these patterns and consider when you would use them in your setting.  Knowing when to use one pattern over another is critical.  Knowing how to shift from one to another is a key piece of communicating consistently and effectively.  With practice, this can become and effective set of tools in your toolkit.

What Next?

          The logical next step is practice.  Work on your communication skills of connecting verbal and non-verbal communication.  If you have people who believe you are not approachable, work on becoming more approachable.  Practice lowering the tone of your voice at the end of the sentence.  Practice speaking with your palms up and perhaps also gesturing back and forth with the person.

          If you want to move forward in your practice, I would encourage you to check out Michael Grinder and Associates and consider the purchase of the book ENVoY, or review Michael Grinder’s YouTube Channel where a wealth of videos are currently housed.  If you are in Asia, I would suggest you look for a course by Kendall Zoller on Adaptive Schools where he presents this information and more for leaders.

          If you have additional questions about this information, feel free to contact us through the website.  Please add your thoughts in the comment section below to help guide our thoughts on future blog posts for leaders.

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