In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with coach and communications expert Ulrike Seminati on how to improve our leadership communication skills, in the office or for remote work.
Ulrike shares her insights and experience in...
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Russel Lolacher: And on the show today, we have Ulrike Seminati and here is why she is awesome. She is a communication and leadership expert, helping leaders to build credibility and trust through effective communication through her consultancy as a communication nerd. Super excited to dig into this. She is a CCA certified coach who has worked in corporate communications for more than 20 years in a variety of industries, including as a member of the executive committee of an international pharmaceutical company out of Zurich.
She is a fellow podcaster as a founder and host of the Empowering Female Leaders podcast, and she is here. Hello, Ulrike. How are you?
Ulrike Seminati: Hello. I'm very pleased to have you be here today. It's amazing. What a great energy to start this podcast with.
Russel Lolacher: Thank you. And we've got some serious time differences between us right now. So I am, seriously fueled by coffee. So this is where I'm pushing my energy. So thanks so much for being here. I have to ask you the question, Ulrike, that I ask all of my guests, which is what's your best or worst employee experience?
Ulrike Seminati: I will go with my best actually. So my best experience was early on in my career. I worked for the company smart, you know, these little, cute cars. It was when it was launched to market in Europe. One of these nearly a scandal that a car can be small like that by back by then. And I was doing the communication for that, the external communication.
And it was such such an enthusiasm and such a high engagement level. Because I was doing the communication for the production side and we had a particularly young verse workforce, 28 years in average. Really young. And it felt like everything came from the bottom of my heart and communicating about that product and about how it's produced and its quality.
I had the feeling I'm doing something that is somehow on purpose for me, at least back then, because it was just fully engaged. I don't know if it was because also I was young and it was easier to be enthusiastic about work and your first great job, let's say. Or my first leadership position, at least, but that was a wonderful experience and I loved it.
And never I had such a feeling of belonging and engagement again.
Russel Lolacher: Was it, I always find it interesting when it's a matter of connecting to values and purpose. In that leadership can even be okay, or, you know, a little better than average, but if you, as an employee have that connection to values and purpose, you could be doing almost anything and love your job a little bit more as an employee experience because it feels like it matters.
Ulrike Seminati: That's exactly it. And I think it's very important to understand how you relate to these values and how you relate to that purpose. If it's not coming naturally, like it was by that best experience in the past for me, then I think you need to, really find out what can I find in there? What's in it for me?
Even if at first glance doesn't, because it's not natural that we love all the four values of our company. Obviously not. We are expected to, but we don't. I mean, let's be honest. Nobody is. So we need to find that out.
Russel Lolacher: So that's, that leads me to ask the question though as, you said, it was earlier in your in your employee journey, a lot of people at that point in their careers don't know their values. They don't necessarily have taken the time, gone through the exercise or even had a lot of life experience to understand what their values were.
Did you know yours or did it just organically feel... or did you discover them being in that organization?
Ulrike Seminati: No, I didn't. I, by that time, it was, when was that? Over 20 years ago. You know, by that time, people even didn't speak much about company values yet. This was one of these new things and some modern companies started doing this. So it was not even about that. It came completely organically. I think I just loved the product and the style, how it was communicated.
And it was so different and it was so fun as well in a certain way. And especially in the beginning, in the first years, it was a very, particular environment. And so it just came organically for me, but it didn't feel like work. You know? This is the best feeling probably you can get at work, that it doesn't feel like work.
Because you love to go there, and you do what you really love, and you're so happy about doing this. So it was totally organic. Did I learn something? No, not in these early years. In these early years, I didn't search for any deeper level of self awareness or these kind of things what I did now very intensively over the past years.
And I wonder why the heck haven't I done that in my early years? Everything would have flown so much smoother, certainly, knowing that. And like you say, knowing your values, for example. Being clear about what's really important to you, or what's a no go area. You know what do you really want to do and what do you really not want to do?
And somewhere in between is where you are probably right now, but you're hitting these boundaries here and there. And if you're not aware, then you go over the boundaries here and there, and this is where you start really feeling unhappy.
Russel Lolacher: Fair. Fair. I've always noticed in any organization, I think I said this recently in another podcast where anything good or anything bad can generally be tracked back to communications. Whether it's good or bad... context, being looped in... Communications as a whole, as an employee is so key to your employee experience. So today we're talking about leadership communications. Communicating as a leader.
So maybe before we go down that path, we should clarify what we're talking about when we mean leader. Is it executive? Is it a leadership role? Is it just somebody with influence? How do you see it when it comes to leadership communications?
Ulrike Seminati: I would for, this discussion, I would rather see it in the sense of leader role. Because many leaders who have leader roles, so I'm the head of this department, these kind of roles know that they have to communicate, but they don't see it as something really important for their role. And I think this is where employees suffer a lot.
When the leader thinks, as long as I inform my people about what they have to do and about what's really important to know, they will just come with me. They will just be engaged. Why shouldn't they? They are paid for it. They know why they should do it. So what's the problem? And I think this is the biggest problem we have in organizations, that a majority of leaders thinks that this is enough and just communicate like they normally do without really thinking how they can do that better.
Or they don't communicate at all, or cannot communicate at all. We always communicate, but they don't communicate well. And so they don't connect and they don't create engagement. They don't create trust. And for themselves, this is really something that is a big, disadvantage because they have much more work, not communicating better.
And this is why I want to speak about this leadership level, which is often a middle management level where people are in between, squeezed a bit in between the senior executives and their teams, and they have to bring all these measures top down, bottom up. It's a very critical role. It's a vital role, really.
I mean, even physically in the organic org chart, for example, it's a high vital role of communication, and this is where things often get stuck in organizations because they don't flow from the top to the bottom, from the bottom to the top.
Russel Lolacher: I think one of the biggest challenges, a lot of people in leadership positions have that I've seen is there is an understanding or a belief that they're already good at communications because they write an email because they've been talking since they were two. So it's not an understanding that it is an actual discipline.
It is something you go to school for many years at to be effective in a strategy. It's more of, it's almost like a. Oh yeah, I wrote an email. I communicated. Did anybody read your email? Did they remember you? Like there's so many more facets to it, but a lot of people in those leadership positions just think it's a, it's an automatic thing.
So that leads me to my first question, which is how do you know you're effective? What is effectiveness when it comes to leadership communications?
Ulrike Seminati: I think effectiveness is. If you have a proactive team, if you see that your team is coming up with ideas spontaneously, because they are so much into the topic that they can come up with ideas or with the famous out of the box thinking that leaders or organizations want, if they do that, I think you have done already quite a bit, quite a good job because that means that they're embracing the goals, that they're understanding the goals and that they have a wish to contribute to that. And that is also called motivation at the end. I think when they come up with something and you feel my team is proactive, you know, they're not just reacting after the third reminder email that I send out, but they come even with suggestions. They with red flags about things that I might have not seen as a leader or something, you know, which you might miss out on, then I think you have already done quite a good job because then there's also this interaction that is happening automatically or naturally.
Russel Lolacher: What is that extra layer that makes it leadership communications? Because everybody communicates in an organization, frontline staff, executive, everybody at every level has to communicate in some way, but we're differentiating it by calling it leadership communications. So how is it different?
Ulrike Seminati: When you, communicate from colleague to colleague or from peer to peer, usually you communicate on, I don't know, your project, your worries right now, the stress you might have, or these kind of things. You don't have an extra task on why you have to communicate. A leader has this extra task that is, we have certain goals that we have to achieve.
And it's not only about the team goals, our little world within an organization. Let's say it's a big organization... it's the whole thing around that. It's the bigger picture. It is what is coming from the top, translating that. I think it's really a role of translating and making it relevant for the team members.
That's the main communication role of a leader for me. That they help people to embrace the goals, to understand their own positioning towards these goals, or the values of the company, for example, same situation. It's about translating it into something where they can have the right emotion, not just something in their mind, which they understand, but really the right emotion, and that is an art and that is obviously a different ambition than just informing them in an email, hey, these are the goals and we have to achieve them in the next six months. And this is the long term goals. And this is why we are doing this. There's no emotion in that, apart from maybe frustration, anger, or, oh no, another thing that we have to do. That's the difference.
Russel Lolacher: Is that the line between manager and leader is that the manager seems to be a little bit more about the checkbox while the leader's a lot more about the why and the connection and the vision? Is that what leaders need to be really focusing on is the differential?
Ulrike Seminati: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, manager are managing tasks by the help of people, by the help of the people in their team, but leaders are inspiring human beings. And this is the difference. It's really about, and in many organizations we are still managing tasks mostly. And we put a team on a task and we see the result and we look at the result in an Excel sheet.
So it's also completely not human. Whereas I think we need to switch to, hey, we are humans. And the younger the human is, the more they want you to be treated like a human at work as well. And not only in their private life. So you really have to take this into account. And for everybody, this would change the whole paradigm in the office.
But most of the time you're quite far away from that because there are a lot of behavioral stereotypes which we have there, which are well, which are avoiding everything that is human. And it stays very task, very result oriented. All the discussions stay like that. The whole communication is around that because it feels like a safe zone.
You know, you can obviously... it's tangible in a certain way. Whereas this more human thing is like, Oh God, human, that means emotions. Do I not have to cry at the office? No, you don't have to cry at the office, but it would be nice if potentially you could put some words on sometimes how you feel. Also as a leader, you're sharing more of your human being and not only of your role as being the head of global procurement or something like that.
And that makes a difference in the communication, in the style, how you connect with the team members.
Russel Lolacher: What are some specific ways you feel people leaders can be more impactful in how they communicate?
Ulrike Seminati: I think for me, it's important. What I always teach also in my classes. First thing is really that they understand very basic personality styles. Very basic ones, because as soon its more complicated, they won't apply it. It's too complex. So very basic inner drivers. And there are many models around this.
I use also one with just four different differentiators. Let's say very simple. Four different types. And to understand what is their main motivational driver in there and what are the ones in their team members and their mixed types and their sometimes very clear types and so on but that they have an idea and that they start really seriously thinking before they communicate by who do I actually speak to. And stop communicating out of their perspective because we all do that.
We permanently communicate out of our perspective. We think what we see as reality, is the reality. It's not true because eight other people have eight different realities of exactly the same situation. And just acknowledging that. You cannot expect that these eight other people have the same view on, the project for example. Have the same view on what is risky or uncomfortable for them, for example. Changes the whole paradigm. If you want to motivate someone... let's say there's a big change project, that's what's happening in organizations all the time. We have another huge change thing. Okay. And depending on the profile, you might have one out of 10 who's really excited about the change.
Who thinks, wow, change is always cool because there's something new and it's exciting. We don't know where we're going. I love that. And you have seven usually in such a team. It's just a really average. Yeah. Who hate change. They hate it. They even feel threatened about it. They get overly stressed about it. They're already overly stressed because they need to change after change, for 10, 15, 20 years. And you come up with something else where you want to create motivation because you tell them why this change is great, why this is again a wonderful growth opportunity. And they just think with their heart, they think, and so what? I don't bother. I give a shit about that. Yeah. Because that's not what I'm interested in. I want to have safety. I want to be sure that I still have that role in two, five, or even 10 years sometimes. Those who are really very strongly in that, area. And I don't care if it's a growth opportunity.
What do you want from me? I can't be motivated by that. And I think it's very important to rephrase the thing. If you're someone who loves to the growth opportunity and, you come up with this whole energy around why this is so amazing, but you're speaking to people who, for them, it's a threat. Then you will stress them even more because you have not made that effort to think of who am I speaking to?
It's, like in marketing, actually who are you? What's your audience? Very simple. And just really phrasing your message differently. And when you have particular people in your, team who are really standing out from the rest of the group, it makes sense to go into a one on one discussion around some things and to explain it to them in their words. In what they need to hear. In what is in it for them, or maybe even finding out together with them what is in it for them by acknowledging their difference. We never do that. You know, we just, those who are different, they have to come with us somehow. And it's very hard. And this is how we kill diversity as well.
I mean, you want diversity and we kill it exactly with doing this, with trying to smoothening everything out because there's one message. Everybody needs to understand that it's, like, you know, I work in corporate communications for 20 years. You do FAQs for leaders every now and then for every big project, for every change, you send them 20 questions, the 20 standard answers they have to give. Now, will they give it? First thing, you don't know, but let's say they do that, but it's really stupid actually, because it's sure there's an informational part in there for sure, but how you position it is totally needs totally be customized for to the individual you are speaking to, you know, somebody who wants to have a great career, you need to give them visibility. If you cannot give them the next higher role, for example, think about what is the carrot? What is the thing that is interesting for them that you want to have? And, that is not the one that you have in mind for yourself usually. And that's an effort. And a learning. And I think it's another way of communicating to making this effort again and again, every single day again and again, especially when it comes to important topics.
Russel Lolacher: And I think that's a key for a lot of leaders because it's a confusion between broadcasting and actual communication. Broadcasting is don't care who the audience is. I have a microphone, I have an email, I talk at people, but that difference of talking with... Which involves that diversity and equity thing we love talking about so very much. We put it on the posters. We put it at the bottom of every email, but to actually know who your audience is, especially in the diverse workforce. So you talk about having one on ones, but as a leader, you may not have the time to have those one on one conversations depending on the scope of your communications.
So how? I want to dig a little deeper into that understanding your audience. How do you take those steps to better understand who you're trying to talk to, to personalize it? Without having to write 1700 separate emails?
Ulrike Seminati: Yes, that's right. So I mean, there are different angles to it. There's different situations as well. If you're in a meeting, for example, and you speak to your, to a group of people and you have four different. Types of personality in there, all four types, let's say, then you need to address your message in a way that, that it's a mix of this and you can really look at it for, all of those who are pretty rational.
Nice thing. You can look at it in a mathematical way. You have 70 percent of one time. Then you put about 70 percent of weight. In this type of messaging, if you have something special and if you have a trusted group, you can even address it during the meeting. If there's just one person who is really different, say, I know for you, this is not compelling, but for you, it could be this.
You can do that in a trust, in a trusting group. In a non trusting group, you might do it a little bit more in a more subtle way. Yeah. So you might want to put this person very quickly aside, or you might want to just bring one sentence in that might be compelling for that person. Just really shaping it to that audience.
And if you are in a setting where it's about an email, it's exactly the same thing. You might come up with, you know, why this is great. What's in it for us in here? What is, really exciting about the future here? And you might want to say things that is really, inspiring for people, what I call stimulants profiles.
Stimulants means people who are, love the new things. And, you know, they love to go for new things, but then you have all these profiles, which I call the balance profiles, which are the security type people, who love stability and hate change and are very reliable people. And, you might want to address to them in a different way.
Okay. There's this exciting part of growth, but we really put an effort into maintaining a stable process to get there or in, in using a safer method, for example, or in having stability in the project team, whatever, it's very hard today to find stability, but that's most of the times the biggest issue for leaders, and they have to communicate in this targeted way to find something for the people who want stability.
And this is usually the majority. It's usually around 67%. If you're not working for an advertising company, for example, we have a lot of creatives. So it's, it's something you really need to think of. And it often makes sense as well to work with them on how can we bring more stability into the process of this change, because that helps them also to evacuate a little bit, their fear. Yeah. And because they can work on that, they have an influence somehow to make it safer. It's just a very subjective feeling at the end. But it's all about that. Can we create this emotion of safety for them? At least in a certain way will never be fully safe in a change project. Never ever.
But you can heighten that level of feeling of change at least, and that helps that people get on board with you, you will have less resistance and coming to your point, you just don't have the time they don't have the time in the beginning because they never care and they have all this resistance. So you have to do three meetings instead of one, you have to send five emails instead of one, you can just get rid of that over time.
Not in one week, but if you start at one point, you need to do the double work. You know you, have a maybe disengaged team. You need to really put work into engaging with them and learn to do this customized thing. It takes longer. You might have to do some one in ones with some particular people. It takes longer, but it pays off. After a few months you will see that. Whoa, I'm getting out of the tunnel. Suddenly there's more engagement and I can feel that there's more productivity and less mistakes and less things that we are missing and it's getting better. So yeah, great. And this is when you feel the curve, you know, you see the end of the tunnel and you really get out into, something that's just more joyful as well.
And not just more effective.
Russel Lolacher: Now, I'm so glad you talked about time and connection because that's something I struggle with a lot is when you see leaders, and this tends to be more the higher hierarchical levels because their time is so not their own because they don't have any control over their own calendar... but you'll have a lot of those leaders in their communications outsourcing that communications, i. e. other people write their emails for them. Other people are putting their presentations together for them, that they only look at five seconds before they go on to a stage to present. It's, to me, it always felt like such a missed opportunity to create, provide connection by outsourcing to your administrator, to, to anyone around you to do that work for you. What would you say to that person that says, I just don't have the time so that's why I do what I do?
Ulrike Seminati: I would say the same thing then to the level below. Yeah, because they also don't have the time, but for other reasons and that is paying off. You know, if you're a CEO for a bigger organization and you're so, I mean, that's why people have the feeling that the CEO or the executive committee is in kind of ivory tower, where they don't have any sense of reality anymore.
That's exactly what is happening. The total disconnection is the worst. The worst case, your organization will not thrive. You will miss your financial goals. And that is, your role as a CEO. You have to do that. So I think finding the motivation also in the numbers, if that is what is motivating you at the very end, because that's what you're paid for.
Let's be in that area, which is a very cold area. That's where most CEOs are, in reality. They have this pressure from the board or from shareholders and it's, really about, okay, what kind of CEO do I want to be? You know, do I really want to be the guy who is just managing for numbers? And even if I am, how can I get the best result and the best result you only get when your people give their best, because then this is the productivity, which you want, this is a KPI.
I mean, this is again, tangible at the end, so tangible, how much your personal email or your personal video or your personal town hall appearance or whatever, you cannot measure that what impact it has, but you can measure the connection that people have with the company. It starts always on the top, because how do you want your middle management leaders to be wonderful and engaging and inspiring communicators if you are not? If you don't show anything personal? The famous vulnerability is one of these things, sometimes very simple things, especially when people have a lot of power and are perceived as very powerful, because they're at the top of a huge organization, for example, when they show vulnerability, and that just means that they say a little sentence like, Hey, guys, I'm on stage here for this great dealership event, but you know what, I was really nervous coming up today.
It's little things admitting some little weakness, you know, that you're not perfect, the perfect speaker, the perfect CEO, the perfect whatever business leader that makes immediately a difference and creates this more human feeling, even if someone else has done your slides. I mean, they're very different types, obviously out there.
And there are CEOs who, even if the PowerPoint has been made by their team or their assistant at the end and they just had a quick look. That the main thing is not the slide, if they're really good in engaging, it's about them putting heart and emotions in and the belief, and the excitement about the goals that they are really connected to that.
They, believe also, and this is important that they believe that they can engage others. It's not like anyway, they will never be really excited about that goal. If you come with that attitude on stage, everybody will feel it. And they want to be engaged. So you need to first inner inside of you change something.
And that doesn't really take so much time. It's just creating some awareness of, Hey, am I feeling good about what I will say now? And if not, why not? You know, and can I shift something in my head, in my way of looking at this thing to feel more engaged myself, to really feel genuinely authentically engaged in what I am telling the guys to do now or to embrace if we restructure for the third time in five years, how can I bring this across? How can I be just more human? And for many CEOs, this demands a lot of courage because they came into this position because oftentimes they were not human. They were just very fact based, very result oriented, very performance oriented.
This is the typical leader persona that people still have in mind. And it's very hard for them after 20, 30 years of a certain behavioral pattern to switch to something more open, to be a bit more relaxed about themselves, even about the whole thing, you know, taking it a little bit easier instead of what is pushy, it has to work thing and I'm the best and I have to show it.
And I think this, we need to move away from that. Nobody wants that. Nobody's impressed by that really anymore.
Russel Lolacher: And there is a lot of diversity in that leadership at all levels. Not everybody's an extrovert. Not everybody is neurotypical. A lot of people come from different cultures. So that self awareness piece. And that impact on the rest of the organization has to be paramount because I love what you're saying is that a lot of leaders get into positions without being leaders.
They do it because they're results oriented, not because they actually have any human skills, but so there's a lot of, is that a professional development thing? Is that just a mindfulness thing? Like what does that person that is an introvert that is more technical than soft skill, how did they get to be better at communicating?
Ulrike Seminati: The first thing I, for me, always the first thing that I tell them is that it's not a bad thing to be an introvert. I think that is the very, very first thing that you don't think an introvert is always less good than an extrovert or an introvert can never be an inspiring person or an engaging leader.
That's absolutely not true because it's not about this. It's not about a big rah and, these are the greatest guys. And moving away from that first thing. So like being an introvert, great thing, being someone who loves stability. Yeah. Doesn't maybe sound very sexy in a world of change, but that's the majority of human beings.
So you have like a two thirds or three quarters of people who really understand you actually,. You know, you. They really feel the same, but nobody wants to admit it because it's not very, it's very sexy in the workplace. So, so I think that's the first thing, understanding it's not something that is bad.
No, it's something that you, it's also an advantage. That's why so many people are like that. It's, you know, humanity continues to exist because we have these profiles. It's, because we're there. So that's a good thing. And then I think it's really about addressing it and learning to do that.
And it's obviously a step for an introvert to do that. Yeah. I give you an example. Imagine there is a, there's a leader on stage and I say he can be a she as well. It doesn't matter. And. And people see that he's a shy person, you know, you might be typically the financial leader who is safe with the numbers on a screen, but not that. If something like someone like that, for example, and usually they don't laugh also, usually they don't smile very much, for example, but if that person says, okay, so I'm set. It's just being human and open and says something like, Hey, By the way, I was told and have learned that I have to look you in the eyes. And that's what I will try. Even for me, it's a little bit difficult, you know, admitting something or saying, I don't know. Ah, I was also told that I should not look at my slides, but look really into the audience.
So I will take all my courage, making a joke, maybe my courage to come up now on stage, because in addressing the fact that you are an introvert and when people... When I tell that to people, they always think like yeah, But then it's really odd because nobody does that ever. And I say 70 percent of the audience will feel with you.
They will love you for admitting. They will love you and they will really listen then. And they will admire you for your courage. And people don't get that most of the time, but that is what's actually happening. And you have such a connection then. And I bet that people come in the break to speak to you and say, Hey, that was really, great. I feel so often the same. I was never able to admit that. It's so good to know that you are also like that. I would never have thought that, or, you know, often people hide that away very well. This makes a difference. And that's what I mean by being more human, being more authentic, and admitting things when you are also an introvert.
If you address it, you don't have that stress that you have to hide it all the time, and they have to play the extrovert.
Russel Lolacher: How has technology impacted leadership communications? Cause it's changed a lot in what we're using or to be honest, a lot of these tools had always been around for a long time, but now it's been a lot more forced upon people at every level to get used to Zoom calls, TEAMS, Slack, and all these tools that are now how we communicate.
How has that impacted the effectiveness of leadership communication?
Ulrike Seminati: I think for many, it was very, difficult, because already communicating to a group in an effective way, and connecting with them in a room is, especially for introverts, often very difficult. Now, when they're behind a computer screen, they certainly feel much, much safer. Yeah. Because you're, it's a shield, so you feel safe, but connecting with the team is even more difficult.
And so even though there was this effect of, yes, we can see in people's living rooms and we see something of their private life, we saw their kids and their cats and their dogs and whatever. Yeah. So it connected a bit on a different level, at least in the beginning, that was quite fun. And then it became normal as well.
I think what many just still totally underestimate is how important it is to be physically present on screen. And I see so many people who look away or who look at their second screen, so they never look towards the camera. So people feel like, they feel like really, you know not valued at all, even if they know why the people person is looking away.
But instinctively we feel like, Hey, they're just rejecting me actually listening. And these little mistakes create such disconnect often, or when especially when you're the speaker, no matter if you're a leader or not, but you're the person who wants to be listened to, you need to show up with your full face. Means not sitting in front of a window where it's just a big shadow. People need to see the mimics of your face as much as possible, because that's all what's left. Or in most programs, unfortunately, as soon as you put up a PowerPoint, it takes like 80 percent of the screen. Wonderful. So you have no human connection anymore apart from the voice.
So really working on these things, when you know that the PowerPoint takes away a lot of the screen when a discussion starts and you keep that slide up for 10 minutes, whereas everybody has really seen it now, we'll close the PowerPoint, stop sharing and have a discussion face to face and put it up again when it's really necessary.
Another thing when really only your voice is heard. Stand up, because it's a different way of speaking. You will have more power in the voice and people feel that. They will not think, wow, the voice is different than yesterday. No, obviously not. They will feel that there is more energy, more conviction, more power in what you're saying, because you stand, because you have, you know, you put your shoulders back, work on your posture, even in your, when you're in front of a screen.
Because the energy goes very quick flat, because there is this lack of energy exchange, like you have it in a group when you're in a room, which is much, much stronger. And I think we all know the difference now. We're not aware how strong an energy can be in a room until we had no energy in a room for one or two years.
And we came back and it was really shocking, you know, how much information nonverbal cues you suddenly get. It's like nearly overwhelming. But making something out of that, it's important in understanding online. I have to do much, much more to send more energy across and to connect. I have to look into this camera, not into the little hole.
That's a really necessary, but look at the middle of the screen. At least that your face is in front of the screen and your shoulders as well. You really there. Need to show that.
Russel Lolacher: So I'm going to ask a controversial question, I think for a lot of people, which is webcam on webcam off. So as a, leader, I hear you saying that you have to model behavior. You have to, even if their cameras are off, you have to be present and human. Is that what I'm hearing?
Ulrike Seminati: Yes. And I know they hate it. I know they hate it, but it's horrible to speak to a black little window with a name on it or with a photo that you have now seen for two years and you know inside out. So it's really, not nice. We feel super insecure when we speak to something that has no face. Where we have zero non-verbal cues sending us any signal of is that person listening? Are they still there? Did they went to go to the toilet? Are they writing? You know, you have no clue. It's it's very hard to be the one who is speaking or presenting something when you have absolutely no feedback from the audience in terms of something visual, something that you can see on screen, at least, you know. And I think we all know these poker faces that you have 10 people, 10 little vignettes on your screen and all sit there with a poker face. And many people like you do now, you're nodding. That's fantastic. I see. Wow. He's listening to me, you know, but most people don't do that. They don't do these little signs of nodding or doing something with the head, something where the person sees, Hey they're, awake. They're alive, listening to me. Sometimes people are so static that you wonder if their screen is frozen. It's horrible. So becoming just a little bit more lively, more interactive with these little nonverbal cues, also as the person who's listening, it's very helpful. And you will see that the speaker will change, their voice will change.
They will, from insecurity, they might go to more enthusiasm and suddenly the engagement rate is much higher in the whole group just because one or two out of the ten are nodding. And it's such a difference. So I think it's important to have to sit the thing on. I mean, I know my husband, for example, is one of these senior leaders and he sometimes in one day he just cannot even go to the washroom because there's zero breaks between end to end calls all the time. So at some point, yes, you need maybe to go to the washroom, you might need to put a camera off.
You're not in the meeting room. It just looks like that. And you go. That's happening. I agree. But having it, you know, for a full meeting or even longer, 10, 15 minutes, you at least should excuse yourself that you're not there because if you are, show up with your face. There's no reason why you shouldn't do that.
Russel Lolacher: I think you've touched on a really key point here too, because there's a difference between an established leader and an emerging leader, or at least someone wanting to be in a leadership role. So, when we're talking about remote work, I'd love to get your input on this. We talk about you know, there's different circumstances and reasons why somebody will have a camera off.
I get it. I totally understand it. There is there's demographic issues. There's cost issues. I mean, there's so many different levels of reasons why a camera might be off. However, if your interest is in becoming a leader in your organization, you have to have presence. And if we're not in an office anymore, and there's that proximity bias that happens where employees get opportunities because they're visible... you can't get those opportunities if you're not visible, even remotely. And I think from a communication presence, culture standpoint, having those camera on as much as we might hate it or feel it drains us, it is how we show up now in a lot of organizations in order to get those opportunities. Fair, unfair, as it may be. That feels like if you want to communicate of what a leader looks like, you need to show up, even through a webcam
Ulrike Seminati: Yeah, absolutely. Agree. Absolutely agree. And in a way that, that is a good quality. It doesn't have to be a HD video. That's not the point, but have light in your face. I see so many people who don't have any light in their face and you can't see them, really. It's a shadow. Don't be a shadow. I mean, who wants to have a shadow leader?
Just think about it.
Russel Lolacher: And that's communication. That's not just words. That is the, that's the nonverbal communications that I don't think it's talked about enough. And maybe we should touch on that with technology being so impactful as a leadership when we're communicating nonverbally, what, what are the ways we should be doing it and not doing it?
Ulrike Seminati: When it's remote... oh, let me take it broader. What should we not be doing is we shouldn't fake it. So, you know, when it's about, or just stepping even one step back, I mean, there are many numbers around that, but one is like body language is eight times more powerful than words and tone of voice 5. 4 times more powerful than words. So it's a significant difference between verbal and nonverbal cues. And we all put the effort into the verbal cues. You know, how many times are we fiddling around with a PowerPoint, wordsmithing every single slide. Seriously, nobody cares if the nonverbal cues you send together with that PowerPoint, when you present it, your voice, the way how you say things, the way how you stand, how you look, your face, when all of that is not bringing the message across, you can have whatever PowerPoint slides, it does not matter.
So that's the first thing. So just to position it a bit, and nobody prepares their body language eight times more then their words, nobody does that. And that is the tricky thing here as well, because the nonverbal cues, you can't really prepare like you can do it with the content as such, or with the words that we will use.
So you need to work... I am a big fan of working more on your inner attitude towards what you're doing, because then the nonverbal cues will come out automatically because they anyway do. So and, you can then send a message across that much more powerful because inside of you, you're clear with what is your positioning towards it.
I mentioned that in the beginning. I think it's super important to be really clear what is your positioning towards something when you have to communicate something where you have a problem with that content because you don't believe it or you hate it yourself. It's often happening as a leader. You have to convey messages that you don't like and that you have not invented yourself, that, you know, it wasn't your creation, but you have to implement that.
That's the, that's what's happening all the time. And instead of just rushing into it and saying what it's meant you should, what you should say, or what's written in the FAQ, whatever, it's really about understanding how do I relate to that? Okay, I have a problem with it. Why do I have actually a problem with it?
Which values are potentially hurt? Yeah. But which other things might be a positive thing can always find us always two sides to a meddle. So even negative news, there's something positive. There's some, something in it for you first, not for the team. Don't think immediately team. First of all, understand, can I find something in that as motivating for me?
And it's maybe something that you don't want to, or have to share with the team. Maybe there's a career opportunity for you behind that. Can be. And you might not want to share that with the team. Yeah, but you can feel something positive. And when you feel already better about that project or whatever you have to communicate, you can come up with a different attitude. Your tone will change, your body language will change, your mimics in the and the face will change because even if you, can train your way, how you stand, you can train yourself on how you use your hands. With your feet, it's already much more difficult because they do what they want and we forget them very quickly.
So if you're nervous and the feet are often showing that, yeah, but just little movement and we are not aware as we control our hands and everything else. Yeah. So on screen, no problem. You can do that with your legs. It's very practical. In a room, we have maybe another issue. It's the best is really that you're authentic in the way of how you, what's your emotion towards what you're saying?
You know, you make that clear that you have something that is convincing you first, because only then you can come up as someone who is really standing behind something in a way. And then it's the other thing, you know, what are the emotions of others? But if you speak about body language, coming from the inside, and you cannot fake it, really. You can help yourself to be stronger, to feel stronger by taking a stronger position. It definitely helps. But it's, you can create a positive effect. You know, by standing more tall, you will have a better voice. You will feel better. By feeling better, you stand even taller, by even taller. You know, it's a positive spiral. You can have also a negative spiral. Same thing. But you can change by the positioning of your body, how you feel as well. Not just by your head. That's more work. If you just work with the mind, it's always more work. So I think it's, just important to acknowledge that and not to run to the next meeting with the stress of the first one.
You know, sometimes people just come out of a meeting, which is really stressful. There was a lot of conflict and discussions. And it's really frustrating again for the 10th time, the same topic came up and they never understand it. And with this mindset, you go into, for example, the team meeting where you have to present a new project. And engage them. So if you don't have a little break, and I don't mean that you have to have 20 minutes of walk in a forest, because you don't have that time. It's not realistic, I know. But most people don't even breathe once in between the two halls, they close one and open the other one. Yeah, okay, for the sake of being more present, you might come one minute late, but take one minute.
And just breathe a bit and think about what is my connection again to this topic, which I have thought about it yesterday evening, what was that? Where are my notes? Ah, yeah, I can feel it now. Connect to a good feeling and then go into a meeting where you have to engage others. Because if you're with frustration and anger, forget it.
And you will have even more frustration and anger. So we completely underestimate the emotional states which we have throughout the day because they're different in one meeting we feel great and another one we feel miserable and another one we feel frustrated. And not just carrying this whole package through... and in the evening, in the last meeting you have a backpack of, I don't know. And you have never created any awareness of the whole roller coaster of the day.
So it's really about, at least after a meeting, quickly for you, for yourself, a little resume. How do you feel about that? I was really frustrated. Okay, just acknowledge you don't have to change things. Just acknowledge, be aware. Next meeting. What do I want to achieve here? Am I the person who has to inspire?
Okay. If I have to, then I have to change my mindset right now before I click on the Join The Meeting button. So be aware of what you're feeling before you start doing anything. And that changes the way how we communicate in a nonverbal way, which is much, much, stronger, much more influential, even on screen with the little cues that we send out, even on screen.
It's, it makes the biggest difference.
Russel Lolacher: Okay, so I'm picturing somebody listening right now going, okay, I'm writing way too many things. We've given them a lot of information as to ways to think, ways to approach, look at technology... So if someone is not even sure as a leader how good of a communicator they are, they're not as self aware...
Where do they start? Like, what is the first step you would tell somebody to do going, okay, if you want to be a better communicator as a leader, this is the first thing, first two things you need to do to start down that path of understanding
Ulrike Seminati: I think the first thing is you need to ask for feedback. It's a classic. No surprise, probably. But you really need to ask for feedback, even if you don't want to hear it. You don't need to ask your whole team. You don't need to do a survey for that. Maybe you have some trusted persons you will start with, you know, just asking really for feedback. Because depending totally on our inner wiring, we might see things much more negatively or much more positively. You know, we think we were great at this communication and they say it was super boring and someone, and you might not say it to you like that, but...
Russel Lolacher: Or they might.
Ulrike Seminati: No, I was miserable again because we believe we will never ever be good communicators. I say no, actually, it was really interesting. I like the way that you said honest, for example.
So I think ask really for feedback. It's very important because we can't see ourselves. We can't, do that. Another thing which you can do to create more awareness is if it's online, for example, and if you cannot obviously record the meeting because everybody will also be recorded, yeah, you might want to put your mobile phone in front of you and just film you for a meeting.
How do you speak? How do you look like? Are you concentrated? You know are you, looking like as if you were hating everything that was said? Look at you. I mean that's an opportunity online that you can do that. In a real meeting room, you can't. So finding that out, observing yourself from the outside, either by asking someone else or by filming you when you can, is very interesting because you will get a different view on yourself.
But I think it's important to ask others because when we film yourself, we always find that horrible. We hate our voice. We hate our face. You will hate everything. So it's a filter too. So be decent with yourself and nice and say, Hey, okay. Okay. If something is really. really heavy, like rolling your eyes all the time, you know, these kind of things.
This is something you can probably get a bit of control of. But just because you don't like your face, that's not the problem. Your face is not the problem or your voice is not the problem. It sounds totally normal to everybody on this planet. So no, no worries.
Russel Lolacher: I think if any, if anything, anybody takes away from this episode, it's your face is not the problem. I think that is by far the t shirt that is coming out of this episode.
Ulrike Seminati: Yeah.
Russel Lolacher: Ulrike, thank you so much for this. I want to, wrap us up with the question I love ending with, which is what's one simple action can do right now to improve their relationships at work?
Ulrike Seminati: Super simple LISTENING. It's said in every communication course you can ever do. And people never do it properly. Listening. And if you want, I can distinguish it just a little bit and keep in mind, listen to understand, do not listen to reply. Because that's what we all do. We listen to reply. And in our head, we are already thinking about our response or about the questions we will ask.
And then we don't listen anymore. Have the courage that there might be two or three seconds where you're not ready to say something immediately because you have to think because you have listened. Really. Listening for understanding. I think that would make a huge difference. Everybody did that, we had no misunderstandings anymore.
Russel Lolacher: That is Ulrike Seminati. She is a communication and leadership expert, 20 years of experience. She's a coach. She's an instructor and she has dropped some pretty good truth bombs on us today. Thank you so much today.
Ulrike Seminati: Thank you for having me.