In Machiavelli’s classic, The Prince, he weighs the relative importance of being loved or being feared as the best motivator of one’s “subjects.” In today’s workplace, those are not typically viewed as the default “either-or” choice regarding the most important qualities in a leader, but research shows that there are other, less intuitive factors that have been shown to inspire trust in leadership and cultivate a willingness to follow.
A recent study indicated that at the heart of all relationships, both professional and personal, are two factors: whether you are “competent,” and whether you are “warm”. “Warmth” is important because it implies a lack of intentional threat. And “competence” balances warmth because it indicates that you won’t accidentally cause someone harm either. The combination of both allows people to trust in someone’s potential as a leader. To me, it poses an interestingly defense-oriented approach to the perception of leadership.
But it’s more than whether or not you are warm and competent: the other half of the equation is whether other people believe that you have both of these qualities. If this is true, it begs the question of how these broad definitions of warmth and competence are recognized. This is where the ability to speak like a leader comes in becomes of critical importance.
What does warmth sound like? What about competence? We tend to think of warmth in terms of feelings and behaviors, and competence in terms of skills, but based on the above explanation of what warmth and competence represent, the way you communicate your intentions and executions will drastically influence your credibility on both fronts.
Let’s look at a few influential factors, to ensure that your communication style allows your warmth and competence to shine through.
Of course your message needs to be factually accurate and true, but it goes beyond that. When you explain something, do you give more jargon-laden detail than the listener wants, needs or can understand? Does it seem like you are avoiding answering certain questions or omitting other details? These habits can undermine the perception of warmth because it seems like you don’t really understand or trust me, and if you don’t trust me, why would I trust you?
Alternatively, if you use lots of fillers like um, you know, I mean, or sort of, it seems like you lack confidence in what you’re saying, which erodes the perception of competence.
Using relatable anecdotes and clear organization, on the other hand, make it much easier for the listener to understand your meaning. This transparency allows them to see you as a more trustworthy leader.
Once you know what you want to say, the way the words roll – or stumble – off the tongue, will either help propel the listener along with you, or make them hit the brakes. Do you speak at a volume that is easy for everyone to hear, and at a speed that is easy to follow? Does your inflection highlight important words, indicating your personal interest in the topic and adding vocal interest for the listener? If so, all of these practices will reinforce your image of warmth and competence because it shows you are considering and prioritizing the needs of the audience. Mumbling, rushing, and monotonous, run-on sentences will all have the opposite effect.
Tying it all up, your physical communication is, ironically, the strongest of the three communication modes when it comes to your appearance of credibility. No matter how much expertise you demonstrate in your content, and how strong or clear your voice is, facial expressions such as occasional eye-rolling, unintentional frowning when concentrating, eye contact (or lack thereof), or chewing on your lip can signal your deeper, underlying negative feelings about what you are saying, from arrogance and contempt to insecurity. Remember to smile when appropriate, make eye contact with everyone without staring them down, and keep a neutral listening face in order to reassure the audience of the sincerity of your intentions.
Regardless of the seniority of your position, bearing these points in mind will help you reinforce the impression of being both warm and competent, and come across as a natural leader.
Do you have other questions or feedback about effective leadership communication? If so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!
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