Leadership Tips From An Acting Coach
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have probably never heard of it, but one of the best leadership books
I’ve read recently is "Acting: Face to Face" by John Sudol. Although
written for the television and motion picture actors that John coaches,
his advice is surprisingly applicable for business leaders. So I was
delighted when John agreed to this interview.
While reading your book, I found so many similarities between the
actors you work with and the executives I coach. For example, in an
acting audition or job interview, your emotions (and subsequently your
performance) can get high-jacked by the way others react to you.
John: For actor and business professionals
alike, one of the things that can throw you off a well-prepared game
plan might surprise you. It’s the interviewer’s face. Your brain
quickly assesses and makes some snap judgments about what you read on
another’s face. We’ve all met people, that for some unknown reason, we
immediately have warm feelings toward. They tend to make us smile and
draw us to them. We’ve also all encountered people we instantly felt
were potentially hostile, arrogant, bored or aloof. In an interview or
audition, what you read on the interviewer’s face can provoke a variety
of unwanted feelings and thoughts, such as: anxiety, self-doubt, and
insecurity. If enough stress is produced it can trigger a limbic
response and put you into a freeze-fight-or-flee state.
It’s amazing how powerful those first few seconds can be. You are
reading the interviewer’s facial expressions and body language as
he/she is reading yours. You are both making instantaneous assessments
that can make or break the entire meeting.
John: Depending on how you handle the
unexpected rush of emotion, in a blink of an eye, you can be on your
way down the proverbial rabbit hole. Your thoughts become scattered.
You can’t remember the interviewer’s name, your own name, your breath
quickens, your voice goes weak and before you know it, you’ve forgotten
what you planned to do and start saying and doing things you never
intended to say or do.
Since this emotional response to someone’s face
is hardwired in our brain and can come on quickly, I tell my actors
they need to be prepared for it to happen. By this I mean, they need to
be mindful of the game-throwing changes occurring in their bodies that
seem to happen for no apparent reason during those first few moments of
the initial greeting.
Good advice. I worked with a client recently who said that she took
immediately felt rejected – and the interview hadn’t even started. For
both the actor and the business professional, having an ability to read
emotional expressions on people's faces and not
react to them can be a powerful advantage.
John: By spotting the emotional patterns ahead
of time you can prepare yourself for the feelings that will surely
arise. I believe that when we view another’s face from a place of
(inner) security, we know that what’s on their face is about them. When
we read it from our own insecurities we tend to think that what is on
their face is about us.
In my own life I’ve adopted the mantra “What’s
on their face is not about me!” These words have saved me numerous of
times when speaking in large rooms looking out and seeing facial
billboards flashing judgment, criticism, boredom, doubt, suspicion.
Most often, and ironically, those are the very same people who will
approach, contact or email me after the lecture thanking me for my work
and their favorable experience in the audience that day! Again, “what’s
on their face is not about me!”
We are in the midst of a visual technology revolution, and more and
more professionals are meeting “face-to-face” through Facetime, Skype,
Google Hangouts, or video-conferencing. I tell executives that when
their verbal messages are out of alignment with their nonverbal
signals, audiences are forced to choose between the two. And almost
always, the viewer will consciously or unconsciously (a “gut feeling”)
believe what they see and not what you say. There must be a lot that
business professionals can learn from actors who have been using visual
mediums their entire careers. How do audiences "read" an actor's facial
expressions -- and what does that mean to people in the business world?
John: According to the work of Dr. Paul Ekman
and many other leading researchers in the field of emotions, there are
7 Universal Emotions: Surprise, Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and
Contempt. (There are far more emotions than these 7, however these 7
have been confirmed by Ekman’s research to be the only ones that are
universally recognized.) What makes them recognizable is, each emotion
has its own set of muscle groups or muscle patterns unique to that
When an audience watches a talented actor, they
pick up both the overt and subtle muscle changes in the actor’s face,
as well as changes in the body and the voice. If the muscle changes
they see are associated with one or more of the universal emotions, the
audience, whether knowing of these emotions, consciously or not, senses
them. If these changes fit the context of the movie, meaning the
situation the character is in or the characters’ history, they make
sense to the viewer and they continue to watch with ease. However, if
they are not contextually fitting or distracting, the viewer begins to
question the actor’s skill level or character consistency.
The same conditions also apply to business
communication. During a video conference, a participant’s face is
usually the center of attention and as a result it is under sharp
scrutiny. The person viewing may not consciously pick up the subtle
changes in somone's face, however more often than not they are
influenced by them. That’s because our eyes are usually taking in more
information than we are aware of, and we are responding to this input.
For the actor or the business professional, understanding emotions and
what they feel and look like on your face can open the door to greater
personal and professional results, more engaging interactions, and
successful collaborations with others.
How do audiences spot a "lie" in an actor's performance -- and how does
this same process make it difficult for leaders to convince an employee
An actor’s goal is to achieve deception. He lives in an imagined world
and passes it off to the viewer as the real one. To bring his audience
into his imagined world with the hopes of achieving deception, he must
understand, relate and be emotionally inspired by his imagine world as
well as be emotionally available with a keen eye and hand for detail.
Although a business presenter’s world is real, there are similarities
with the actor’s world. If a presenter doesn’t understand, relate or is
emotionally inspired by what he’s talking about, motivating and
inspiring others may be very difficult.
Whether an actor or presenter, the goal for both is
truthful. To be believed, all actions, reactions, and the words
expressed must appear to be real, recognizable, and appropriate for
whatever topic being expressed or the situation taking place. However,
neither will appear to be truthful, if the actions, reactions, and
words are not expressed with the appropriate: timing, intensity and
duration. If an action or reaction starts to soon or too late, it will
either appear to be a lie or have a different meaning. If the emotion
intensity too strong or too weak, we will be unsure of how he really
feels if he feels anything at all. If the emotion starts to soon or
ends to quick, the truth of what he’s feeling will be questioned. And
if the audience doesn’t recognize what’s on the actor’s or presenter’s
face, or if it doesn’t seem appropriate for the situation, or if the
timing in which emotion appears or disappears is off in any way, they
are less likely to embrace what either the actor or presenter has to
You also talk about “emotional distortions” and how they interfere with
good acting. I see a direct link to effective leadership communication.
John: I define distortions as anything that
interferes with the creating or the revealing of what we intend. For an
actor or a business leader, there are many reasons why an intended
communication breaks down. Sometimes we have an awareness of it,
however, most of the time we don’t. In my book, I outlined seven
distortions including: your own face, how you are wired to express,
your culture, family idiosyncrasies, your psychology, inappropriate
emotional triggers, and how you listen.
John: Your face may be speaking to others in
ways that can become a distortion in two ways, which I will refer to as
“static” or “default.”
How your face is structured (the static face)
can be responsible for the appearance of emotion even when you’re not
particularly feeling anything at all. For some people, their face
resembles an emotion. For example, a low brow, deep-set eyes or thin
lips may look like anger. The pulling down of the corners of the lips
might make a person appear to be sad. Arched eyebrows may be
responsible for the skeptical look on your face. Or, the deep folds on
the side of your nose makes you appear to be disapproving. Your static
face is often the result of your age, ethnicity, and emotional history.
If people often ask you if you’re upset about something or if they
think you may not like them, I suggest looking at your static face.
Your “static face” is about the structure of your face that you may or
may not have much control over.
The face you go to for comfort or security is
what I call the default face. It’s a face most of us learned a long
time ago. For one reason or another, the face you learned to put on
makes you feel differently about yourself. For example, if you didn’t
want everyone to know you were frightened, you might’ve covered it by
displaying some of the muscles groups in the anger family. Or maybe in
an attempt to hide your insecurities, you learned to bring in the
muscle group for contempt so you would feel that you were above it all.
Although your default face may bring you comfort or security, others
are defining you by it... intolerant, bitch, victim, sarcastic,
With corporate clients, I tell them that in an initial meeting, they
have less than seven seconds to make a first (and surprisingly lasting)
impression – and much of that impression will depend on how people
react to their face. I also find that most business leaders have no
idea of how their static and default faces are interpreted by others.
John: With actors, the first thing I do with
them is a face reading. Knowing what your face is saying to others is
powerful information. If people consistently misinterpret, what you
feel, your intentions or even your intelligence, the first distortion I
would investigate is what your face is saying.
John, this has been great. Thank you so much!
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2014-02-26 12:08:20 in Personal Articles