Trusting is a Leader's Best Asset — Part Three — Locating the Subtext

This month, we are focusing on intuitive skills you can develop to grow your leadership and management abilities. Last week, we looked at tracking incongruence and noticing when something feels ‘off’ or out of sorts in your workspace, with a staff member or customer, and learning how to trust your inner radar to get more information.

This week, we’re exploring locating the subtext.

You see, there are often two conversations going on at the same time. There’s the conversation people are having on the outside, and then there’s often another conversation underneath. I call this the subtext.

The subtext is like the cartoon bubbles in a comic strip that reveal what an animated character is really thinking in a dialogue versus what they are saying.

An example of this is when everyone at the dinner table says that they are “fine” but you can feel the tension in the space. The subtext never lies. It’s often the deeper emotions, feelings, and truths that may be difficult to share. Revealing this takes art and skill, and is the quickest path to getting into a more authentic and deeper relationship with those around you.

The best way to notice the subtext is when the words don’t match someone’s micro-expressions, movements, tone or cadence, or you just feel that there is more to what’s being shared.

Locating the subtext is invaluable in the workspace as you can train yourself and your team to start paying attention to the subtext of sales conversations, customer feedback, department or company-wide meetings, and basically anywhere where there is a crucial conversation happening in the business.

For example, let’s say that you are selling management consulting services and you ask your prospect what they are hoping to accomplish in working with you. They look down and then they hesitate and say they have a hard time finding good people. The content may be true, but it doesn’t really tell you anything and you can sense that there is far more going on here that’s not being shared.

You can’t feel their pain, hopes, dreams from this place. Obviously, there is more to the story. And if you brush this under the carpet, you are losing an opportunity to get into a real relationship with them.

Too many times, I’ll see salespeople roll into their next questions on their checklist versus stopping everything for a moment, listening to their gut on anything that feels off, out of place, or an area they are wanting more information about, and address the subtext of what’s not yet being said.

Instead of saying, “Oh, ok. Got it. That’s why a lot of people look for our services,” there’s an opportunity to trust your gut and let it guide you toward the next questions to ask to take the relationship deeper.

Some examples might be: “I noticed you looked down and hesitated when you answered the question. Why is that?” or “What do you mean you can’t find good people? Can you give me a specific example of that?”

When you elicit specific details from a person about their frustrations or challenges, you bring them into a more personal and relational exchange. When people stay high-level, they can hide in generalities and you can’t actually feel what it’s like for them.

Trust your curiosity and your intuition on follow-up questions until you can really feel what it’s like walking in their shoes and getting what they are up against. The more specifics you get into, the more you will get their world in a more personal and tangible way.

One of the most powerful approaches that can unearth the subtext is to start listening to what the person or the group is not saying or not asking about.

For example, if you are having a team meeting and your normally lively group is dead-silent and you can cut the tension with a knife, you can most likely feel through your intuition that there’s something going on that’s not being addressed.

Perhaps an employee was let go and the rest of the group is worried about their own jobs. Or there was a conflict between staff that is still not settled. Maybe it’s just really early in the morning and they are still waking up! The point is that unless you speak to the subtext you won’t get at the conversation underneath the conversation and guide your team or an individual to the heart of the issue.

You can ask open and unassuming questions that point to what your intuition is picking up on, like:

  • Hey, I feel like there’s something you are not saying. If so, what could it be?
  • I feel like there’s a question underneath your question. What is it?
  • Did you say everything? Somehow, I feel like there’s more.

So, what is the conversation underneath the conversation? What’s happening underneath their words? Practice noticing and listening to the subtext of a conversation this next week. Learning to tap into the subtext and trust your intuition is the most important skill in revealing this, which will deepen your relationships in business and get to the heart of the matter before things fall off track.

For more articles and videos on using your intuition in the workspace, follow us HERE. For information on coaching and training opportunities for building intuitive intelligence on your teams for better decision-making, contact [email protected].