Last week, CBS News interviewed Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, for its series Work In Progress. Backed with data provided by LinkedIn, Weiner told viewers that American workers lack interpersonal skills. My exposure to business in Silicon Valley and New York City reveals that people focus on mastering technology. Systematizing and optimizing technology to manage workflow and clients. But, the LinkedIn data shows that people lack something so essential and elemental as interpersonal skills. I am a longtime proponent of developing interpersonal skills, and deeply believe that effective style improves relationships.
Weiner talks about a kind of leadership centered around alleviating others’ stress. Leading compassionately shows care and concern for others and helps to improve relationships with subordinates and even among peers. “We’re talking about communication, reasoning, team coordination. Jobs in customer service, sales development, business development, education all require those kinds of skills,” he said. People in these and in leadership roles share a common thread. These people spend big blocks of time with other people.
If you fill one of these roles, you know very well how much your work depends on relationships. The strength of your relationships has a lot less to do with harnessing the power of any technology or program. It has a lot more to do with your actual interactions and, therefore, how you show up. This is why I believe that effective style improves relationships.
My clients receive so much advice and coaching from me about this very issue. How does a top leader or a person in a client-facing role enhance how they interact with others? I contend that effective style improves relationships because you embody the best of yourself and enhance how you communicate.
In the end, I think that communication is the key to everything in relationships. It’s verbal with the actual choice of words. It’s vocal with the way the words sound. At the same time, it’s also visual with body language, eye contact, and physical appearance. Do you show up looking like the words you say and how you sound when you say them? Using fashion to authenticate an effective style improves communication because it aligns all of these elements. On top of that, planning what to wear also helps to strategize exactly what to say when it matters most.
I think this is what it means to lead compassionately, as Weiner advocates. So often, I catch clients off their guard when I ask them their communication strategies for one-on-one and group meetings. Quite often, I think people set up meetings, prepare their data, and wing the rest of it. Some planning took place, but not so much strategy. So, when we talk about what to wear to show up with an effective style, the conversation activates the strategy. No matter the scenario, alleviating someone else’s stress, or helping them to do their best work, requires a strategy.
Do you know if the person or group you plan to meet with is friendly or hostile? How might you take a curious, suspicious, or doubtful meeting partner and easily convince that person of your idea? We live in work environments that require that others buy in to what we offer. That means that we have something conceptually to sell. So, using an effective style of dress is a surefire way of diffusing the hard sell. This makes it a lot easier to communicate through a more natural dialogue and conversation which negates the selling aspect.
Most people don’t think of using fashion this way. And that’s why I end up talking about it with clients and writing about it in my blog so often. We should pay attention to Jeff Weiner, a top Silicon Valley CEO, proclaiming the value of soft skills. Showing up is perhaps the softest skill of all. Most of us don’t even give our visibility a thought. But it ends up translating into how others feel and experience their interactions with us.
If you don’t fully believe me, test out my theory. Do your best to put together a look that you think will help you communicate better. I am sure that you will find that effective style improves relationships with those who encounter you.