The Toby of it all. How to boost your team's performance using micro-communication

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The Toby of it all. If you hold a leadership position as a coach, teacher or manager, your goal is likely to bring out the best in your team. As leaders, a challenge we face is living in a like culture because it takes up a lot of energy. In our society it’s not ok to just not like someone. Sometimes people just rub us the wrong way. The kids we work with can even rub us the wrong way! We’re expected to be nice – to fake it. Sometimes we have to fake it day in and day out. It’s exhausting and honestly, how well do any of us really fake it? Which leads to the question if we don’t do a good job of faking it and the person senses our feelings, how does that knowledge impact them? You guessed it – a sub-optimal performance leading to a self-fulling prophecy with you liking them even less. 

My all-time fav TV show The Office did a brilliant job of creating a character who just doesn’t bother with all the faking it stuff. He is Michael Scott - the boss. He leads a team of diverse characters, probably not unlike the team you lead - even a youth sports team. There’s the uptight perfectionist, the lovable but not too bright chubby guy, the know-it-all nerd, the most-popular-guy-in-school and his girlfriend the-most-popular-girl-in-school, the drama queen, the swinger. They’re all there. But one of the team is just not as colourful as the rest. Toby. He seems like a nice enough guy and is generally well-liked by everyone else. He’s invites comradeship with his colleagues by putting cute pics of his daughter on the wall but Michael Scott’s never gotten to know him and can’t stand him. He takes any possible occasion to let everyone know how he feels, including Toby himself. 

So what happens to poor Toby and the team? His work in unexceptional. We know very little about him. He becomes a bit of an office outcast, less popular even than the know it all, insufferable Dwight. Toby seems like a smart enough guy but his ideas get shut down and he lacks the confidence to produce anything of substance for the team. 

Why does this matter on your team and what can be done? Vanessa Van Edwards was a researcher for the tv show Lie to Me. She’s studied non-verbal communication identifying what she calls micro-positives and micro-negatives. They are the subconscious behaviours that we exhibit when we’re around people that we either like or dislike. Micro negative behaviours include crossing our arms, not making eye contact or changing our tone when we’re with someone that rubs us the wrong way. The flip side is the micro-positive. Someone who we admire may see us making eye contact, smiling and casually touching their arm. 

It’s easy for us the viewer -- and everyone else in the office--to hear Michael Scott’s sarcastic, clipped tone when he’s talking to Toby. To see him angle his body away from him in meetings or to see his eye-rolls. But for Michael and ourselves it’s not as simple to recognise subconscious behaviors that we often aren’t aware are happening.. 

Thinking about your own team for a minute and about those who you just haven’t connected with. What do they see you doing? And when they see it, what’s the impact?

According to Van Edwards the impact is likely a performance not unlike Toby’s - mediocre. Non-memorable. Fortunately, as leaders and coaches we’re able to turn this around. Three steps that you can take to reverse the Toby of it all effect on your team are:

1.    Self-awareness. The next time you’re on the phone, video record yourself. After you hang up - play it back (I know this is painful - sorry). Count the micro-expressions you see and hear. Don’t forget to include tone of voice but not words in this. Compile a negative and positive list. Micro expressions use muscle memory. The more you can visualise how you are behaving, the easier it is to change.

2.    Once you’ve determined your micro-negatives, amp up the micro-positives. 

3.    Get to know your Tobys. Try to find some common ground. A good technique is to challenge yourself in every conversation to find that me as well moment where you find one thing that sparks something in you that you share and can talk about. Your conversation may sound something like this. You see your Toby eating a mango at lunch one day…

You: I see you eating a mango. Ya know what’s weird? I love salt on my mangos… 

Toby: Me as well! Everyone thinks it’s weird but I had it one with salt one time in Mexico and am addicted. 

You: I did too! Where did you visit in Mexico?... 

And just like that liking Toby isn’t so much work. Good luck and here’s to all of the Tobys in our lives who we might one day call friend

Nadia KybaComment