A Nova Guide to Executive Presence: Thoughtfulness

One of the biggest barriers facing women leaders today is a perceived lack of “executive presence.” This phrase is often used – and often misunderstood, even by the people using it! Intelligent, capable and talented women are being held back in their careers because they don’t meet an ambiguous standard for what an executive should look like. Over the course of our nine week executive presence series, Kathleen, Lisa and Priscilla will be sharing nine traits that every woman can develop to improve her executive presence and bring value to the organization.

Thoughtfulness, in executive presence terms, means having thought something through before you respond. This is trickier than it sounds, because to think something through and provide a thoughtful response to someone, you have to listen to what they are really asking for.

Listening, truly listening, is a lost art. Mid-conversation, you may realize that instead of giving the other person your energy and paying attention to what he or she has to say, you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. Or about something that happened this morning. Or about what groceries you need to pick up after work. Or you’re looking at your phone. Or listening for your name in the coffee line. Or any of a million other things that are constantly running through your mind instead of what your conversation partner is really saying. 

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”  – Rachel Naomi Remen

It’s almost impossible to build a connection with someone else if you aren’t really listening to what they have to say. Active listening, when you are engaged and attentive, is the number one thing you can do to build relationships and improve your personal and work life. When you really hear what the other person is saying, you can think through and give yourself time to respond. Thoughtfulness before responding makes you considerably more likely to give the right answer, and not blunder your words to give a careless response.

The first step to being an active listener: Stop Talking. (It’s the hardest part for me.) Don’t interrupt and don’t finish sentences. Give your conversational partner the opportunity to say what they want to say.

Prepare yourself to listen. Relax and concentrate on what the other person is saying. Don’t run through your to-do list in your head or think about your answer – just focus on what they’re saying. This will put the speaker at ease, and that makes everyone more comfortable and more likely to speak freely.

Don’t jump to conclusions about what the other person means. If you have questions, seek clarification – don’t make assumptions. Empathy, an open mind, and patience are key elements to a thoughtful response, and a connection through conversation.

Before you respond, think carefully about what you want to express. There is a poster in my son’s preschool classroom, and I think it’s very valid for adult speech too.

Is it:

True?

Helpful?

Inspiring?

Necessary?

Kind?

Using THINK to review your response can make your criticisms truly constructive, your emails careful and well thought out, and your day to day conversations inspirational. Putting thought and care into your speech and writing and using active listening will lead people to seek you out for your wise advice and sage counsel.

Tina Schweiger