Read The Room – If You See Something, Say Something

Interpersonal communication – it’s probably the #1 issue I work on when coaching executives. When there is a breakdown in communication, it wrecks havoc on relationships.

say something

The last time I checked, relationships make the world go around … in business and in our personal lives.

Let me ask you this. Have you ever walked into a meeting in progress and felt tension in the air? Had a discussion with an employee to set expectations and left with the sense that you were going to be disappointed because you didn’t think the employee was “all in?”

Let me tell you it’s your spidey-senses at work and it would serve you well to pay attention to it! Something was going on and you didn’t acknowledge it. It would be a bit uncomfortable to say something, so you pretend everything is OK.

Body language is a critical component in communication. It speaks volumes, even though you can’t “hear” it. I know it’s harder if you’re communicating by phone, but there are other signals – tone of voice, heavy sighs, long stretches of silence. All signals that the person on the other end of the conversation is not a happy camper.

I’ve written before about the power of your own body language, but my message here is about reading other’s body language and considering it as another data point in the communication.

Others are sending you a message and you need to be aware of the message and respond to it, just as if they used words to describe the message their body language is sending.

Verbalizing what you see is a short cut to the heart of the issue and getting those unspoken words on the table so the real communication can begin.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You are giving an employee a new project, outlining your expectations and notice the employee is not taking any notes, is slumped in her chair and has a look on her face that reminds you of the look you got from your son when you told him he had to clean his room before going out with friends.
  2. Rather than pretending it will be “fine” and she’ll come through for you, STOP!
  3. The next words from your mouth should be something like, “Bridget, based on the look on your face, I feel that you are not on board with this. What’s going on?”Asking her this question opens up a dialogue. She now has the opportunity to tell you what she’s thinking. You can get out of the mind-reading business and engage in the real conversation to uncover what is getting in the way of her meeting your expectations.


  1. You walk into the meeting in progress and the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife.
  2. Look around – what do you see? Pay attention to the crossed arms, rolling eyes, pissed-off looks.
  3. Acknowledge the tension, say something about what you’re observing and start asking questions to shift into a productive discussion. “When I walked in I could feel the tension in the room and based on what I’m seeing, I don’t think everyone is on the same page here. Tell me what you’re thinking/feeling.”

Yes, it may take a bit of courage to say something, but think of how much time, energy and angst you’ll save for everyone involved!

You can remove the need for “the meeting after the meeting.”

You’ll be known for open, honest communication and will save tons of time by getting to the root cause of an issue by acknowledging that something is not right. It’s the first step in initiating dialogue so that real problem solving and communication can begin.

Stop pretending and, “if you see something, say something!”

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or via email at