A few years ago I was facilitating a presentations skills class. One of the participants in the class (we’ll call him Jeff) was eager to make a better connection with people when he was speaking in front of groups.
During the coaching we’d done in the class, it was immediately obvious that one of the biggest obstacles that was keeping Jeff from making a genuine connection was his lack of any facial expression. He simply never smiled.
As soon as I saw this, I talked with Jeff about changing his facial expressions and he was anxious for me to coach him on this during the next exercise. We agreed I’d coach him and record it on video so he could see the results.
The next exercise he got up and continued to present with zero expression. I jumped in right away and coached him on smiling. Here’s what happened:
Me: Jeff, let’s see that smile we talked about.
Jeff: I already am smiling.
Me: No, you’re not.
Jeff: Yes, I am. I’ve been smiling the whole time.
Me: The problem is that you think you’re smiling, but you’re not.
I went on to coach him to really make his facial expressions come alive and smile in such a way that the audience could see him. He humored me at “overdid” his smile to my satisfaction. He then reviewed his presentation on video tape. After seeing the video, he exclaimed:
“Wow, you were right! I wasn’t smiling. It felt like I was, but I wasn’t. I thought you were pulling my leg.”
Guess what? From that point forward, he made great progress.
I think about this incident often when I’m struggling with a skill or habit that I just can’t seem to get traction on. In my mind, I’m doing things in the best possible way and my brilliance must be obvious to everyone. Of course, when I have the courage to get feedback from others, my obstacles often become painfully clear.
Others can see obstacles to our success that are mysteries to us – if we're willing to ask for help. Of course, most people don't have that courage…and most of us aren't good at coaching ourselves. Jeff knew he wasn't perfect, but he had the courage to solicit feedback – and got a lot better.
What’s something you haven’t been able to get traction on lately? Who have you engaged to give you honest feedback?
If the answer to the second question is nobody, perhaps that is the first action item for your 2013 development plan.