• Alena Bennett

How to read the room when there's no 'room' (Women in finance are perfectly placed!)


Anyone else feeling a bit underdone?!

Photo by Oz Seyrek on Unsplash


I don’t know about you, but at the moment I’m having days where I’m back to back zoom calls, then some days that I just have my head down and get to the work. But every day there are things that I realise ‘jar’ with me: whether it be what someone says, or how they say it: whether it be ‘in person’ or ‘email’. I think, ‘huh - really? They think that?’. Or it might even be emails I’m copied into, where I might say to myself, ‘ooh, I wouldn’t have said it that way.’.  I’m finding that certain behaviours and characteristics of each other are coming to the fore in our new way of working. As someone who is highly affective in their communication style, being able to read body language, facial expressions and other non-verbals is an important factor in how I understand the context input into my communication equation in addition to what's being said. I know this is also the case for many of the women in finance that I work with and they are also now finding it very difficult to gauge. Is that the case for you? In an effort to reduce the meeting mania, emails are being sent, Microsoft teams is being used and WhatsApp chats are going off the charts. I’m seeing that a certain layer of ‘corporate gloss’ is being lifted. We’re getting a glimpse into our colleagues’ and clients homes, their ‘home clothes’, what their hair does without the usual maintenance and with that, have you noticed some of their language shifting? Are they sharing more about what’s going on at home? We’re getting real This provides us with an opportunity to connect in a more genuine way that provides cut-through and improves our ability to do our jobs.  In order to seize that opportunity, however, we need to know how to ‘read the room’ in this new world and know how to take action. How to read the room when you’re not in the room together The inputs we have are the language people use, their facial expressions and the volume and tone of their voice. Next time you are in a meeting, be aware of what happens when someone gets hung up on a certain issue or doesn’t understand a part of the conversation. Ask yourself:

  • What is their reference point? Do they focus on what has happened in the past, or what’s going on now, or how it aligns with the future plan?

  • Do they survey the room for their perspectives? Or do they dig in their heels and continue to drive their perspective?

  • Does it hold up the meeting, while they sit and ponder an issue before the conversation can move on?

  • Do they struggle to keep up with the conversation, continually asking the group to slow down and backtrack?


Scenario Consider a leadership team who is meeting with their CFO, Alex. They are having a conversation about the reforecast and the CFO, puts a halt on the discussion. “Hang on”, Alex says. “I don’t understand this. This won’t help us achieve the FY20 UPAT number in our budget. I don’t think we can move from our plan.” The team explains that with the unexpected shift in context, but with an expectation we can still meet our UPAT target, that we need to make certain changes. “Hang on”, Alex interrupts. I need to think this through. The team waits, while they watch Alex think. After a few minutes of silence, Alex says, “I still don’t understand why we need to change things so much. We’ve been short on our UPAT target before and we’ve successfully overcome it. We need to do this….” Alex proceeds to explain what needs to happen to meet the UPAT number.


Observations and how to collect more data for success


The key is to be intentionally aware for behaviours to prompt you to ask the right question, the answer to which will give you greater insight into how to solve a problem, or speed up a solution.

  1. Alex hasn’t appreciated the new context. Question: what did Alex need prior to this conversation in order to understand the context?

  2. Alex is fixated on the past. Question: how can we use Alex’s natural reference point (the past) to explain what is going on and needs to happen now?

  3. Alex needs time to process. Question: what can we do to allow Alex this processing time, whilst not making the rest of the team sit and wait while Alex processes?

  4. Alex has not asked for specific input from the members of the team. Alex is adopting a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. Question: how does the team provide their input in a way that Alex will ‘hear’ them?

  5. Alex doesn’t appear to like change. Question: what does the team need to provide Alex in order to influence change?

How can the team work effectively with Alex to move forward with the reforecast? The solution is in the answer to these questions.


Better outcomes rely on the answers to these questions


However, you need to be able to ask them first. And I think women are perfectly placed to do this work, as I find that we are generally more attuned to reading and interpreting 'what's not said' and are generally more interested and empathetic about what's going on with the people we work with. In fact, many of the female finance leaders I support say that this is the part of the job they love! So now is the time to put that superpower to work!


Be aware of what’s being said and how it’s being said. Use those inputs to create meaning beyond the words and use the additional data set now available to you to inform future actions and better outcomes.


Creating meaning beyond the obvious is a skill. It’s a bit like being able to interpret a set of financial statements and not see them simply as a spreadsheet of numbers. 


If you think it would be useful to have an additional data set available to you to make meaning of your team’s performance in order to elevate it, get in touch. I’d be happy to have a chat with you about what’s possible.

​© 2020 Alena Bennett Pty Ltd.

  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon