Can you make others feel good simply by merit of your presence? You know you can—we have all had the experience of walking in a room on one of our particularly good days, and having the mood shift because we triggered the change. A more easily recalled memory for us, unfortunately, may be when it happened on one of our bad days.
Scientists have given that a name; they call it “affective presence.”
Read: The Personality Trait That Makes People Feel Comfortable Around You, The Atlantic. People with positive “affective presence” are easy to be around and oil the gears of social interactions.
This is crucial learning for managers.
We know that our emotions can be highly contagious. Turns out, our own ‘way of being’ gives our personality an emotional signature. One example of a person’s ‘way of being’ is their tendency to look up.
Look up, never down.
“Look up, never down” was the short and sweet, highly effective way my father taught me and my siblings about Ha‘aha‘a, humility. He meant it both spiritually and humanly, teaching us to look to God with nourishing our spirit, because “there is always a higher power than yours alone,” and teaching us to treat everyone with dignity and respect (Aloha and Ho‘ohanohano) because “when you look up to them, they end up looking up to you.”
No one likes being looked down upon, and practically speaking, it just doesn’t work well in our human interactions. Lowliness is a concept I wish I could strike from our collective consciousness. The best partnerships start on equal footing, and are mutually engaging. Then, they accelerate and progress with synergy, or because of mentorship—which also must be mutually engaging and beneficial.
This is one of those areas in which we all tend to agree intellectually. Unfortunately, we don’t practice collaborative synergy that well or that instinctively; we have to deliberately work on it.
Working against us, is the control and direct tendency inherent in most organizational structure, where there is an assumed, albeit badly assumed, hierarchy to who’s in charge. People begin to feel they paid their dues for the privilege of whatever perch they occupy, and they display much more assertiveness as a mark of their confidence gained via tenure. It’s okay if it stops there, however not when that confidence tips into arrogance and condescension.
“I’m in charge” doesn’t mean “I’m better.”
Those in positions of power really aren’t better than anyone else; they just advanced earlier. Yes, they may have worked very hard and very well to get there, but so can everyone else (and so can you).
When we look up to people, we open ourselves to learning from them; we’ve talked about that quite a bit within much of Managing with Aloha, and in our humility immersions with Ha‘aha‘a. Looking up to others is imbued with positive expectancy; we expect to learn from them.
Archive Aloha to revisit: Sunday Mālama: We Learn Best From Other People
My dad’s key point, was that when we look up to people, they open themselves to being with us, and engaging with us eagerly, happily, and never regrettably, or because they have to—that’s what he meant by “and they’ll end up looking up to you.” Thankfully, he kept saying it to me with each managerial promotion I gained so I would get it completely, understanding that what worked really well for our family dynamics worked very well in the workplace too.
What my dad knew!
“Often, its just when you are getting tired of saying the same thing that the message starts to take hold. Keep repeating an important message until you start hearing it back from those you wanted to hear it back from…communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.”
—author Bob Nelson
When we get new positions, we’re often counseled to be humble, and to “listen first, insert yourself later,” especially in regard to our decision-making (advice which can actually backfire). Actively practicing humility when engaging with others shouldn’t be so circumstantial and occasional—it’s not just for learning the ropes and getting introduced into workplaces. It should be an always kind of thing, and our habit as great managers.
Sure, looking down on others and being dismissive of their worth is overbearing, offensive, and just plain rude. However, if you’ve somehow justified that by letting your confidence and assertiveness dip into any condescension at all, you’re simply not managing very well. No one likes a know-it-all, and they hate it in managers.
“Affective presence” is going to be a valuable add-in with the coaching I do for managers on their management style. Time to revisit this: Management Style by Habit (May 2013).
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