‘Move talk’ – winning the asshole-style

Do you remember the last time you gave a presentation and someone in the room made an inadequate, non-content-related comment? Everyone laughed and you felt overwhelmed. Somehow you got out of concept and your presentation was weakened. Afterwards you were frustrated and you would have loved to say or do anything.

In literature you can find this concept being named ‘high talk’ (content related talk) that was hit by a smalltalk comment. It is done by people in the room who cannot challenge your content but who know how to discredit you as a person or in your role – and if you are not prepared, you lose your technical point to a simple joke. You can answer this type of interference either by a smalltalk comment yourself – or you use ‘move talk’, e.g. walking slowly to the respective colleague and look at her/him without saying anything. Once the silence is there, going back to your professional part.

In times of video calls, communication changes. Due to muted microphones, the classical ‘jokes’ that should intimidate the presenter are vastly eliminated. This is deliberating for all people who are afraid of these comments in the room. I believe, our communication culture gets more inclusive in a way. Even people who are not well trained in public speaking, will be less interrupted when speaking up in video calls.

But when it comes to ‘move talk’, many aspects are still working. This is relevant to know because in classical settings, you could answer ‘small talk’ with small talk or even go to the more intense ‘move talk’. But if the first interference already is in ‘move talk’, the classical communication guidelines and ideas don’t work anymore.

How does ‘move talk’ look like in video calls?

In a smaller group, when all screens are visible, ‘move talk’ can be seen by people ignoring the camera, e.g. demonstratively using the phone. More intense is leaving the desk while still having the camera on. These examples aren’t ‘move talk’ in itself – but when the discussion is requiring attention or a decision by a leader and that person is acting that way, it is a message.

What do you do when hit by ‘move talk’?

It highly depends on who is hitting you in which moment with ‘move talk’. Let’s look at two constellations.

The opponent

There are people who will profit from you failing, e.g. a colleague wanting your topic or position. Unluckily, there can also be people who just want you to fail – not because they want to step in but just because they don’t like you. When these people start using ‘move talk’, they want to disturb, so that you feel insecure and lose your point. In any case, ignore the ‘move talk’. Concentrate on the people, who need hearing you. You will not change the opponent – especially not when talking to them or calling out their behaviour. Walk on, don’t even bother.

The decider

If the person who needs to decide, confronts you with ‘move talk’, it will depend how well you know that person. If you need their concentration and they don’t give it to you, you might wanna ask: “It seems, it is a bad time to address this topic. Should I postpone and find a new date for talking?” Maybe they are having a bad time and a new date will make it better. If you don’t have the freedom to ask for postponement, make your point and end. If you need a decision, you could propose the next steps, e.g. “if I don’t hear otherwise, I will do x, y, z and give you an update afterwards.” This puts you in a position of movement – and the decider would need to get active if she/he really doesn’t like it. From my experience, leaders who are bored and don’t feel entertained enough, will act with ‘move talk’. Although the behaviour is quite annoying, those leaders are easy to play as you have a lot of freedom doing your style. Just don’t expect them to help, support or appreciate you. Just keep moving.

On your own journey of becoming a leader, you can decide how do you want to use those techniques in your communication style. It is good to know them when presenting and being ‘attacked’. Using these methods to discredit others in the first place, should be deeply considered as you are destroying trust in yourself. People will not like working with you, when they are not sure whether you will ‘attack’ them with communication methods.

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