We know this. We heard these words in grade school. It is like the Golden Rule, the simple “truths” in life that we understand. When you say “I love you” but then don’t make me a martini, super clear cut… Action does not support the words used. Obvious example. I think when they taught us this in school is what to install a social consciousness, don’t just say you help people but actually help people, and you also don’t need to tell people you do…
But what about the more subtle nuances of communication. People’s facial expressions and body language can speak volumes. “I really want to hear what you think about XYZ” with a grimace on my face that would say they opposite. Or when you ask for my opinion and then continuously disregard it, I will quickly learn I am either a fool whose opinion is lame, or that you never really wanted to know. Either way the action will ensure I do not believe the words when said next time. And likely will translate that to other areas where I do not trust your words.
So much to think about when communicating….and a lot left open for interpretation. Little of it is the actual words used. Do you lean in? Are you distracted? Do you actual believe what you are saying? What are your eyes saying? Studies show that 70-93% of all communication is non-verbal (Mehrabian and Wiener, 1967). Actions are way louder than words, and no words can be deafening!
I am contemplating that “actions speak louder than words” is more about finding your authentic voice. There are many leaders who read a million books on “how to be an awesome leader” or books on “what makes a successful team”. They can conceptualize what they need to do to foster employee engagement, but in their heart of hearts they don’t believe it. They do not actually buy into garnering ideas from the team warrants a grander result, or when people are recognized they are more invested in doing great work. Some leaders know the studies, and will say “I appreciate you” or “tell me what you think about…”, but it is clear to the person receiving the message they are mechanically doing what they know they “should”. People are so much more in tune with emotional cues and reading through BS than we give each other credit for. This is one reason (of many) why emotional intelligence is vital for leaders – and well any human interacting with other humans.
Does it do more harm to ask the fake question and pretend you are being an inclusive leader and continuously disregard their responses? Or is it better not to ask? I say it is better not to ask. Don’t pretend you want to know. I think the greatest way to show up as a leader is to be your authentic self. To say what you mean, when you mean it, and don’t say what you don’t believe. We are all works in progress, so for example if finding your way in asking others their opinions and working toward incorporating those ideas may be not your usual go to approach, but you want it to be, share that with your team! Hold each other accountable. Let them know you want this for yourself and your team. Being authentic and brave in letting your team know what you are working on will build a trusting and cohesive team beyond the actual behavior you want to improve. At the end of the day how you act is what people will hear.