You are sitting with a group of senior managers in a meeting. It's not going well. Your ideas seem to be misunderstood. Your comments are interrupted. You feel undervalued and sidelined.
This does not bode well. If you fail to earn respect, the chances are that you will accomplish very little. Your department will lose out on the real contribution you could have made, if only you had won hearts and minds. So how do you create impact and win respect?
Having the right ideas is not enough. If you can’t put your points and personality across with clarity, confidence and conviction, you are wasting your time and energy. You have to present your message and your competence in such a way that people not only sit up and take notice, but act on your recommendations.
Creating personal impact is vital. This is particularly true if you lack grey hairs and a spectacular track record. The appearance of confidence and control are the necessary precursors to respect. You need to show those around you that you are pleased to be there and have much to offer. At the same time, you need to read the situation and personalities so that you can adapt your approach.
This means you need to understand the nature of the beast.
Each of us has a mix of characteristics, creating the unique individuals we all are. Nonetheless, we also have dominant traits that can be categorised into four groups. At Speak First, we use an entertaining yet useful ‘animals’ model, which you may already be familiar with. We call these groups, or behavioural styles monkeys, lions, horses and owls.
Consider the people you work with and report to. Based on the descriptions of the characteristics below, you should be able to find the animal that best fits their nature and approach. No animal is better or worse than any other – but they are very different. You can also work out your animal type, or that of someone you know, by using our quick online quiz
tend to be autocratic, independent and strong willed. Authoritative and goal-oriented, Lions leap to challenges, take decisive action and seek to dominate the problem-solving process. Able to cut to the chase, at their most extreme, Lions are intolerant of other people’s advice and feelings, wanting immediate results and failing to co-operate.Best at
: Being in ControlWorst social feature
: DictatorialResponse to stressful situation
: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
are caring creatures, at the other end of the scale to the Lion. They value close personal relationships and actively listen to the opinion of others. Horses are steady, calm and supportive, working slowly and cohesively while avoiding conflict. Qualities of patience, loyalty and consideration are the flipside of passivity, dependency and indecision.Best at
: Supporting othersWorst social feature
: Submissive Response to stressful situation
: “OK, if that’s the way you must have it, we’ll try it.”
are sociable and spontaneous beasts, jumping rapidly between activities. Intuitive and emotional, monkeys love to be involved. They
tend to dream the dramatic, taking risks and persuading others to follow the rainbow. At best they are open and enthusiastic visionaries: at worst impulsive and inconsistent time wasters.Best at:
SocialisingWorst social feature
: Confrontational Response to stressful situation
: “Listen you idiot, I’m fed up with the way you’re treating me.”
attend to detail and tend to have serious personalities. Persistence is more important than imagination or deadlines. Driven by data,
owls are intellectual, structured and organised animals, devoted to ‘getting it right’. Cautious and compliant with authority, they like to work methodically through objective tasks in a controlled environment. This can make them resentful in the face of change.Best at:
Processes and SystemsWorst social feature
: Withdrawn Response to stressful situation
: “I can’t help you any further - do what you want.”
The tailored approach
Understanding animal types can make it much easier to manage a business encounter or your message. For instance there is no point chatting about the weather to a lion: get to the point. Don’t confront a horse: talk through the problem.
If you know your own characteristics, you can accentuate strengths and minimise weaknesses. If you are a horse, be more assertive and really work on the eye contact; if a lion, show that you are listening. Owls should try to be open-minded and demonstrate attentive body language. Monkeys need to concentrate and appear businesslike.
Understanding the animal-type within allows you to play to colleagues’ and clients’ strengths and avoid their vulnerabilities. The benefits are obvious. By understanding how people tick you can put your points across with greater impact and get things done. Your reputation within the company will grow – as will your confidence.
Animals bring theory to life
Thinking of your colleagues and clients within such fun groupings may seem irreverent, but it is a wonderful way of making the principles of communication work to your benefit.
For example, monkeys usually understand that it is essential to start a presentation well, but often forget theory in the heat of reality. Yet it is relatively easy to generate enthusiasm if you think you are addressing a group of monkeys. If you are faced by a group of owls, build rapport with them by promising, then delivering, facts in a logical sequence.
Planning and tailoring
Preparation and anticipation are essential when it comes to shaping your message and delivery. In advance – or in the meeting itself – your objective is to win over your audience. This means tailoring your message to the dominant animal type.
If your client/boss is an owl, don’t overdo the vision in a presentation – instead, concentrate on building a watertight case. Lions like to make decisions, so lead the dominant king of the jungle towards a conclusion, rather than prescribe a solution. When you encounter a horse, concentrate on how proposals will affect people within the business. As for monkeys, find out in advance what makes them enthusiastic and angle your message accordingly. If you hit the right buttons, they will prove evangelical in your support.
If you find yourself in a room full of owls or horses, the energy level will be significantly different from that of a gathering of lions and monkeys. Act accordingly. If owls look distracted, engage them. If the lions are taking over, bring in the views of the overwhelmed horse. When the monkeys get over-excited, be wary of denigrating their ideas. Bring them to earth with praise and balanced suggestions.
Stand up to your colleagues
If you are a horse, you need to be prepared to deal with the potentially abrasive lion. If you are to make rather than break your reputation, deal with interruptions and aggression with exaggerated calm. Ease on the surface may mask a pounding heart, but no one knows this but you.
Such adaptation also applies to your vocal delivery. Match your energy to the audience. If you are a horse addressing lions, cut out the tentative phrases and the semi-apologetic delivery. Speak up, speak out and be firm. If you are a monkey talking to an owl, slow it down. Cut out the extravagant hyperbole and show how things will work in the real world.
Such adaptable behaviour conveys more than an impression of empathy: by speaking to the concerns and interests of the recipient, the perception will be that you are in control, in harmony with your audience and heading in the right direction.
This positive impression can be fostered by your response to questions. Give short structured answers which refer to – and build on – the points which have been raised. Feed their phrases back to them, mirroring the appropriate animal language. Restate a difficult question, giving you time to think through a response.
Questions are also useful devices for involving colleagues. Play to the lion’s pride with a rhetorical question. Get a horse involved in writing up points on a flipchart. Energise your owl into suggesting a possible course of action or capture the monkey’s enthusiasm working out a calculation.
Speak in their animal language
No one minds sharing a meeting with different animal types, so long as a common language is spoken. Whatever you do, use the language of those you are talking to, not jargon specific to your function. Irrespective of their animal type, few senior personnel will feel confident with internal theory – and most will want to understand benefits and results rather than features and processes. Relate your points and initiatives to practical outputs and the bottom line – especially when there are owls and lions present.
If making an impact demands confidence and skills, it follows that such confidence has to be built and specific techniques learned. We need to do more than understand animal life: we need to engineer productive situations.
Training and practice can pave the way – and perhaps herald a brand new scenario, along the following lines…
Once again you are in a meeting, but this time you are speaking with new-found confidence. Your ideas are being listened to – and challenged constructively. As you reply, you sound credible. No one interrupts.
You have tamed the animals.
Speak First’s Developing Personal Impact course
is highly interactive, designed to build confidence and productive relationships and unlock career development potential.