The most frustrating thing about communication is that it is never good enough. There is always someone who will get the wrong end of the stick; they will choose to interpret what you’re saying in a completely different way than what you intend, or they simply won’t take a hint.  It’s all about below conscious motivation and once you know what to look for you can become even more effective.
Expert communicators will always take responsibility for what they are saying and what gets understood or not. A helpful mindset they keep is to consider that "the meaning of your communication is evident in the response you get" and “Seek first to understand before trying to be understood”.  For example, if you are communicating to your team about some changes in targets, and you give the reasons from your perspective, you may later find out that they took away a completely different message.  But by really listening to their interpretation of the message and taking the time to investigate why they think like that, it will help you to adjust what you say and how you say it so they are able to understand what you really meant.

In a previous blog Do you have Inspired Working Relationships? Do you have Inspired Working Relationships? I mentioned four levels of relationship; Physical = all the non-verbal communication and body language stuff; Emotional = the ability of both parties to empathise and understand how the other feels; Mental = being articulate and intellectually stimulated and Purpose = clarity of shared values and the purpose of the relationship. 

Good relationships are still possible with only two or three levels working well, but it’s very interesting to diagnose on what levels the misunderstandings occur. The Language and Behaviour Profile (LAB Profile) gives us some interesting ways of diagnosing the motivational preferences of the people we are communicating with.  In this blog we will be looking at the ‘Physical’ level. 

Proximity – vs. – Availability
The ‘Physical’ level takes into consideration the physical working environment, as well as non-verbal communication. It is important to recognise how some people need time to themselves in order to be effective and productive.  As workloads increase and the demands on our time become more acute, it is important to consider that some people don’t mind minor interruptions and can still be productive, while others need to focus on what they are doing and avoid distractions at all costs. 

I’ve recently spoken to a number of clients who need to train their managers not to constantly interrupt them for answers to minor questions just because they happen to be in an open plan office. On a physical level, some people see proximity as availability. This needs to be managed carefully, so people can understand and respect the needs of others. There is a fine balance between being available for people as a manager or director, and ensuring they respect and use your time effectively.

So . . . what rules do you need to explain and set in place for your people to ensure that these issues are addressed?

Why some people can’t take a hint
In the 1980s Rodger Bailey used the LAB Profile to do extensive research on people in the workplace and he found that about 7% of the working population are not able to make much sense of body language or non-verbal communication.  These people do not show many emotions and have little variation in their facial expressions. The focus of their attention is on their own feelings, rather than on what others are feeling. They can only tell how well the communication is going based on their own feelings, and they are only convinced by the content of what someone is saying, not by how it is being said. They actually miss many of the clues which are available in body language and voice tonality, and don’t pick up the hints that people often provide through tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.

What’s the problem?
In LAB Profile terms this is referred to as a ‘Self’ pattern – the direction of their attention is focused on themselves and their own feelings. It’s not that they don’t have feelings (in fact they often have very strong feelings) it is just that they don’t express them in normal day to day interactions.  People with this pattern tend to be attracted to work in areas of technical expertise where inter-personal skills are not essential. However, there is an increasing need for people with technical expertise to be able to communicate with other departments and directly with clients. This is beginning to cause problems for some businesses because a person with a high ‘Self’ pattern may not recognise that a client is upset from their voice tone or body language. This means clients don’t feel understood and then angrily complain to senior management, often leaving the ‘Self’ people confused about what the problem is.

The rest of the population tends to focus the direction of their attention on ‘Others’. People with a strong ‘Other’ pattern have an automatic reflex response to the body language of others, for example saying "bless you" when someone sneezes (without necessarily knowing the person who sneezed).  When my wife Pam and I are having people over for dinner, Pam is the perfect hostess because she is good at anticipating what our guests need before they even have to ask for it; she has a high ‘Other’ pattern in this context.  In a work context you want people with this pattern in customer facing roles, they find it easy to build rapport and quickly anticipate or identify customer needs.

Interpreting responses
When managing or trying to influence a person with a high ‘Self’ pattern you need to focus on the content of what you saying.  Formulate your argument very specifically, have plenty of facts and evidence available to state your case.  Don’t be put off by their lack of reaction to what you are saying.  People with a ‘Self’ pattern sometimes have a delay between when they receive information and when they respond to it, and then they only respond in a way that they feel is appropriate. This may not be what you think is appropriate!

It is important to recognise that while only 7% of the population has a high ‘Self’ pattern in a work context, there are probably many more who are borderline – they have some elements of this pattern, so the above will still apply to some degree.  Especially if they don’t ‘get it’ first time round. 

While people with an ‘Other’ pattern are good at building rapport, in extreme cases they can read a lot of stuff which is not even there. They can jump to conclusions about what some body language means. This can also cause problems.  For example, one of the things my wife Pam loves to do in her spare time is sew and amend her clothing – she is an incredibly talented seamstress.  When we first started living together I was very concerned when I saw her frowning while sewing and I thought that she was upset, when I asked what was wrong, she looked at me in surprise and said "nothing".  When I told her that she had a frown on her face and looked really upset she said "That’s weird, I’m just concentrating!"  So just because you can read body language does not mean you always get it right, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions.

For example, I have one client who can easily misinterpret when her fellow director is responding to her suggestion or ideas.  He tends to take a sharp deep breath with a slight click of his tongue and roll his eyes up towards the ceiling when thinking.  She used to take this as being condescending and dismissive of her idea, when in fact all he was doing was giving it some careful thought!  A high ‘Other’ person will tend to feel uncomfortable with a high ‘Self’ person because they are difficult to read – there is not much non-verbal information to go on.  High ‘Self’ people often think high ‘Other’ people are over-emotional.

What is your preference and how can you increase your flexibility to be even more effective?  I invite you to become more observant of others and the patterns in their behaviour.  Do you need to tone down your expressions and become more factual; or do you need to smile or nod your head a little more to show others you agree or at least understand what they are saying (or even shake it to show disagreement!).

A shortcut to more
These patterns are also measured with the iWAM online profiling tool and whenever I see a person with a very high ‘Other’ score (it is called ‘Affective’ in the iWAM) I discuss this issue of misinterpreting body language and the importance of checking with others to verify if they are interpreting things correctly.  For the ‘Self’ (‘Neutral’ in the iWAM) people I discuss the benefits of showing more expression to let others know what they are thinking.

We specialise in facilitating the profiling of individuals and teams to help identify motivational preferences and attitudes.  This can provide valuable insights that help you understand yourself and your colleagues, as well as manage and get the best from your people.  If you are interested in finding out more about how completing an iWAM Profile can make a significant difference to the way you work with people Click Here.

Remember – Stay Curious!

With warm regards

David Klaasen is director and owner of the niche HR consultancy, Inspired Working Ltd.  (
We now have a new website packed full of learning resources for managers for more info see
If you have a communication or performance problem and would like some objective advice drop him a line at
[email protected].

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