How often do you reflect on the impact of your energy on others? Did you energise your team today or leave them feeling drained? Paolo Moscuzza looks at how energy can impact our relationships at work and what HR can do to help positively charge their people.
We can all think of people who leave us feeling energised after meeting them. Likewise we all know people who can leave us feeling flat and drained after even a short encounter.
Take David. Despite being a successful partner in a professional services firm, at events with strangers it was a very different story. It wasn’t just that the words didn’t flow, but his style simply destroyed any energy, momentum or conversation. What’s more, he did the same when he was under pressure at work.
So why is it that people like David practically suck the energy out of others rather than leaving them feeling better? The answer lies in their personal level of residual energy.
The science behind the theory
Residual energy is about feeling energised after spending time with someone. So for executives who need to generate day-to-day momentum – a ‘buzz’ – among those they work with, it is pretty essential.
Think of residual energy like the fuel in an engine. Often during change an organisation will put the machinery together (the processes and structure) but forget to put in the fuel (the energy) to make the new engine work. In worst case scenarios they take away all the fuel and then wonder why things grind to a halt.
So residual energy plays a critical role in a range of situations, from the first point of contact with a stranger through to moving forward a difficult discussion.
Positive thinking lays the foundations for creating residual energy. It involves taking the thinking and doing the right thing with it. But it’s not always the best strategy for increasing residual energy levels. Positive thinking is a good strategy when the cost of failure is low, but not when the cost of failure is high as the examples here below illustrate.
Low cost of failure = positive thinking strategy
Imagine you are a sales person and you have had 35 rejections today and are about to make another cold call. The cost of failure is low because the worst thing that can happen is that the other person puts the phone down on you. Being positive is probably a good strategy, because if you are not, you may well talk yourself out of making call number 36.
High cost of failure = negative thinking strategy
Imagine you are carrying out safety checks on an aircraft and you suspect that there is be a problem. Are you going to be positive and think, ‘It will be okay, let’s take to the sky?’ Let’s hope not! In that situation you want some negative thinking, because you want to focus on what can go wrong. The cost of failure here is extremely high.
Yet most of us tend to veer naturally to either positive or negative thinking rather than considering how to get the best outcome from a situation.
The actual art of increasing residual energy
Positive thinking is also what lays the foundations for residual energy. Imagine that you are preparing for a board meeting on a sensitive subject. It might well require a lengthy negative thinking stage as you are preparing for it during which you need to consider all the difficult questions you might be asked. But this should then be followed by a focus on solutions to those negative thoughts.
When you walk into that meeting, however, it’s vital that you adopt a positive approach. You have done the negative bit during your preparation and have moved on to focus on what you can do to improve the situation.
The type of energy you release depends on three things: the words you use; the way you speak; and your body language. The three combine to either generate residual energy or drain one of energy.
So how can someone like David learn to develop increased levels of residual energy? The first step is to carry out a 360-degree feedback. In David’s case, his direct reports wrote about how they respected his technical excellence, his reliability and helpfulness. But there were negative points, too. He avoided marketing, found first meetings with new people awkward and did not make much effort with people outside completing projects.
One direct report commented that David could find everything wrong with something and leave you feeling completely flat – but without realising it.
Although sceptical about spending time with a business psychologist, David acknowledged that he was losing commercial opportunities and killing creativity. With some reluctance he agreed to one-to-one coaching.
I coached David over a period of three months, profiled him and watched him in action. We focused on two key areas of development:
David was excellent at delivering to existing clients but messed up introductions to new clients. As a result, colleagues avoided introducing him to their clients. The firm was losing commercial opportunities.
David would destroy creativity by destroying the ideas and sapping the energy out of the person with the idea.
We identified four key factors that were holding him back. The first three relate to meeting people and the fourth related to destroying creativity.
1. Preparation – David’s preparation was to focus on all the things that could go wrong. He had no concept of preparation for a human interaction.
2. Mental dialogue – he was having very negative conversations in his head and that was affecting his manner e.g. looking away rather than engaging.
3. Conversation dynamics – he simply did not know how to make a conversation flow, even when the other person was giving him lots of opportunities.
4. When thinking about ideas or innovation he would purely focus on the detail and look for errors. He never packaged this with anything positive nor did he consider his voice and facial expressions.
Through a series of one-to-one coaching sessions over three months colleagues are noticing a difference and so are clients. The number of introductions to new clients from colleagues has increased and he is converting a greater percentage of business leads into sales.
While David recognises that words like ‘charismatic’ and ‘energetic’ will never be used to describe him, he is happy to have reduced his negative impact on people and is profiting from the increased results.
Focusing on the energy of individuals like David through coaching can achieve great organisational outcomes. If you are finding it challenging to energise your team and colleagues, one-to-one coaching can make a considerable difference.
Are you guilty of sapping the energy of your colleagues and team? Here are five common warning signs to watch out for:
1. You wake up thinking of excuses to not speak with people.
2. You feel a sense of envy as you notice people, who are normally nervous and reserved in your company, relaxed and interactive in the company of others.
3. You put difficult conversations off, hoping nobody will notice there is a problem.
4. Your direct reports hardly speak at meetings that you are chairing.
5. You notice people are happier to see you leave the room, than they were to see you enter.