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My best advice for managing perceptions – just be yourself

Apr 18, 2011 Business Daily, Success

“Executive coach Elizabeth Kuhnke offers some simple tips that can make the difference between being perceived as powerful or merely part of the pack.

1. Consider your stance. Place your hands facing each other and steeple your fingers. This forces your palms apart and, whether you are sitting or standing, your arms will take up more space. This is a highly effective negotiating posture; watch how CEOs, politicians and solicitors use it.

2. Delay your introduction. When you first meet a person, engage them person in conversation for a few seconds before giving your name. By then he or she will have a reason to remember it.

3. When talking, keep your head upright, evenly balanced on your neck. Relax your shoulders, keeping your upper chest softly opened like a book. This position will give you a look of authority and influence.

4. Practise speaking with a lower, more even delivery. A lower voice has more credibility, which is why most commercial voiceovers are done by men.

4. Don’t allow others to interrupt you. If co-workers try to interrupt you, increase the volume of your voice and keep speaking.”

The Guardian (26 February 2011)

Executive coach Elizabeth Kuhnke’s tips on how to be perceived better in the office were highlighted recently in The Guardian. I looked on aghast.

This, apparently, is how you get ahead in life: by improving the way you stand and speak. If you can follow these simple tips, you will be perceived as confident, powerful and worth listening to. You just have to stand with your fingers steepled together in front of you; deepen your voice; balance your head evenly on your neck; and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I am afraid advice like this pervades the world of management and leadership, and way too many promising leaders line up to receive it. Do you know what it’s telling you? That the way you are just isn’t good enough. To succeed, you have to become like someone else altogether – someone who knows how to walk and talk better than you.

I’m trying to picture the various people I’ve met who have imbibed tips like these unquestioningly and acted on them. They all come across as complete fakers: smooth-talking charlatans who are so completely self-conscious all the time that they are unable to do or say anything without being intensely aware of the image they are supposed to project. Their supposed impact lasts no more than a few minutes, after which it becomes painfully evident that they are hollow drums.

I would give every leader the opposite advice: just be yourself. Don’t worry unduly about your posture and mannerisms – they are your signatures and your trademarks. Spend more time thinking about the quality of your message than how it is packaged. Have strong values and beliefs, and speak about them with conviction and vigour. The rest will take care of itself.

Think about the personalities who have truly had a lasting impact on you. Gandhi, Mandela, King, Yew, anyone? Now, who on earth coached these people, or gave them lessons in posture and elocution? They would have laughed off any such advice. They walked how they walked, and talked how they talked. But because they believed in what they said, we listened. Because they lived (and in some cases died) by their beliefs, we believed them too.

If you want real success in life, you can only get it by being yourself, not by becoming a faded photocopy of someone else. Work on your weaknesses, by all means; but worrying unduly about how people perceive you will merely turn you into a super-self-conscious phony who is all empty wrapping. Passion and belief produces the success that really matters, not inauthentic posturing.

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