All communication has three components:

  1. The words you say;
  2. The tone of voice (e.g., vocal inflections, cadence, pitch, speed, pauses);
  3. Your body language (e.g., facial expression, cross of arms or legs, posture, eye movements, breathing patterns).

In general, for very simple interaction with no emotional significance between two people, most people communicate literally. That is, they say what they actually mean.

If you asks someone, “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”

If they say, “2 pm,” there’s a pretty good chance that they actually mean it’s 2 pm and they aren’t conveying any additional meaning.

However, when the emotional stakes of a conversation increase, much of the communication shifts from the literal to the non-verbal.

If you’re giving a direct report a negative performance review, there’s a very high chance that at least some portion of your employee’s communication is not being conveyed by the literal words he’s saying.

If you’re having marital tension with your spouse, that too is another “high stakes” situation where the non-verbal communication is screaming to be noticed.

If you’re asking your boss for a raise, if she says anything other than an immediate “yes,” there’s a high likelihood that she will be sending out all kinds of non-verbal messages to you.

If you’re trying to close a $200,000 deal with a prospect and they haven’t said “yes,” your prospect is sending out all kinds of non-verbal information begging for you to notice.

If you’re asking a colleague to follow through on a commitment he made to you, but he hasn’t, that too is another situation where he is likely to be sending you all kinds of non-verbal information.

Much of our career includes a handful of pivotal, game-changing moments.

These high-stakes moments encompass only a few hours or days out of the year, but have dramatic changes on the outcome of our lives.

How many minutes in a lifetime do you spend asking for a raise, promotion, or a stretch assignment?

How much of your lifetime success and income depends on whether you get what you ask for in these pivotal minutes?

Those are high-stakes conversations.

To succeed in a high-stakes conversation, you need to pick up on everything the other person is “saying.”

And it is precisely in these high-stakes situations that people routinely do not say what they actually mean.

This confuses people.

This especially confuses engineers, scientists, and high IQ individuals who tend to think and operate in the world of the literal.

When you only notice the literal, you miss out on the most significant information you need to navigate high-stakes career moments.

The solution to this is to develop your emotional intelligence to become fluent in “hearing” that which is meant, but not actually said out loud.

If you’d like to improve your skills in this area, I invite you to learn more about my program on How to Develop Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to Advance Your Career.

The program will be available for a limited time later this month. To be notified about its release and receive other emails about developing your EQ, just submit the form below.

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