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It’s Not about You: Working Effectively for Managers Series

I have a vivid memory from a challenging and highly valuable workshop on speaking and presentation skills. I stood in front of the group and was coached on how to stand. Seriously, on how to “just stand there.” Apparently, I was unconsciously taking a stance (hands on hips) that came across as “intimidating.” (Really? Warm-and-fuzzy me, “intimidating”?)

Other students agreed with the instructor that, indeed, my stance could be interpreted that way.

I teach managers and teams how to understand each other better and communicate more effectively for a living. It is just not helpful, even counterproductive, for me to come across as intimidating. With additional data points from other students, I decided I had to consider the instructor’s feedback and at least give his suggestions a try.

So, trying to be open-minded, I stood as he directed, with arms simply hanging at my sides.

I cannot describe how awkward and uncomfortable it felt. Class members chimed in that my new stance actually looked calm, confident and open. All good things for me to convey in a professional setting.

Still, it felt incredibly awkward.

I finally could not hold back any longer and said to the instructor, “I cannot tell you how awkward and uncomfortable this feels.”

He nodded calmly and gently said, “I hear you. . . . It’s not about you.”

I have never, ever forgotten that moment. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s not about being better or worse. It’s about what we are conveying, consciously or unconsciously, to others in any given situation. To use the right-or-wrong lens in such a situation is not very productive.

It’s more productive and helpful to ask, “Is this the effect I want to have on others?” As a manager, the question to ask is “What effect am I having on my team and is that effect helping them be capable, competent, and successful as a team?”

Yes, getting out of your comfort zone and shifting from your own perspective of “what feels natural” to the perspective of “what impact is my action having on others” can be inconvenient and feel awkward, perhaps very awkward at times. But if we take seriously that our impact—conscious or not—may determine whether we succeed with others or just plain miss the mark, then getting that “it’s not about you” may make all the difference in the world.

Do you want to be comfortable, or do you want to be effective? It’s your choice.

Coaching Question for Managers:  Was the last person who left my office more likely or less likely to succeed, based on this interaction with me?

Written by Carol A. Linden of Effective With People, LLC and originally posted on
Playing well with others is good business.™