How You Can Tell When People Are For or Against You

Monday, May 18th, 2015


(#11 in The Energy Bar series)

When I talk to clients about the importance of knowing whether their ideas are going over or not, many of my clients agree, but ask, “How can you tell?”

The late Kathie Dannemiller facilitated planning meetings of 500 or more people. She told me that she looked for “the shift”. That’s when the energy in the room shifted from indifferent or hostile to interested and willing. Kathie was a no-nonsense person, so woo-woo was not part of her approach to things. Yet she said that she could always just tell when it happened.

She told me that younger colleagues would often whisper to her, “It just happened, didn’t it?”

That information usually is right in front of us.  But when we are paying attention to our slides, our notes, wondering if the A/V set-up will work like it’s supposed to, or if the guest speaker will make it in time, it’s really hard to pay attention to people’s reactions simultaneously.  (Take a look at my blog post, How Gorillas and Parasols Mess Up Meetings.

Here is an easy way to get better at reading the room.

Start with someone else’s planning meeting. This gives you the luxury of sitting back and watching. Without all the responsibilities that go with running meetings, you’ll start to see things you may never  noticed before. As the eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Note how the audience is reacting. Do they appear engaged — or not?

  • Are they literally or figuratively leaning forward or away?
  • What types of questions are they asking? Are they playing it safe and asking polite questions that won’t rock the boat – or their careers? Are they challenging the leader? Or are they silent?
  • Are they multi-tasking, or even leaving the room?

Think of their energy as a continuum, constantly moving toward either support or resistance.

If you do this a few times, I think you’ll become more attuned to the most subtle movement of energy in groups. And that awareness should make it easier to pay attention to people even when you are trying to juggle a lot of stuff.

If you haven’t seen the 3-minute animated video on The Energy Bar, please take a look. The Energy Bar makes a good lens for looking at what’s going on in meetings of 500, teams of ten, or even that phone call you’ve got with your boss in a few minutes.

I wish you well.