Good leaders have great communication skills. I’ve been posting recently about how important asking power questions is along with being a power listener for anyone wishing to influence and lead others. But here’s another aspect of communication skills we don’t often think about: using power cues provided by nonverbal, unconscious behaviors.

Most communication is unconscious. You may think you’re delivering clear and consistent messages based on your words and intention, but unconscious nonverbal behaviors are key to power communications.

This is a hard concept to grasp because if something is unconscious, you’re not aware of it. How can you take control of a conversation or presentation when the cues you project are hidden?

Startling advances in brain science have made it possible for us to gather and test evidence as we uncover the unconscious mind’s amazing strengths. While our conscious brains can handle some 40 bits of information per second, the unconscious mind processes an astounding 11 million bits per second.

Evolution has given our unconscious minds the ability to handle most incoming cues automatically and rapidly, thus freeing our conscious minds to make complex decisions. Much of this activity occurs instantaneously, nonverbally and unconsciously.

Your unconscious mind is at work when:

  • You quickly brake or swerve to avoid an object in the road.
  • You physically shift position to mirror a colleague’s posture.
  • You and a friend simultaneously blurt out the same phrase or idea.
  • You have a gut feeling that the person speaking to you is concealing information.

Without the participation of your unconscious mind, you’d react too slowly to avoid danger, would have a hard time relating to others and would be unable to read emotional cues that detect lies or authenticity.

The same holds true for leadership communication. If you rely solely on your words, you’re missing opportunities to inspire others. Studies continue to confirm that listeners perceive a message’s meaning largely through nonverbal, subconscious processing.

Despite all of this research, some of us cling to the notion that we rule our unconscious minds, and not vice versa. In truth, we make most decisions unconsciously, only becoming aware of them when we start to act upon them.

What’s important here is that we can shine a light on many of the communication cues that we don’t pay attention to. We make the unconscious conscious by becoming more aware, more sensitive.

It’s work that few leaders and managers excel at intuitively. Most of us can learn to read unconscious cues better by working with a coach. I’ve seen it happen in my own coaching practice .

If you’re curious, let’s talk. You can contact me here.