Why Leaders Should Watch Their Body Language
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executives in my audiences are initially skeptical about hearing a
speaker on “body language” because they suspect that the topic might be
interesting, but not very practical.
the end of my program, they know better. Here’s what they learn . . .
Science has validated the impact of body language.
Body language is the management of
time, space, appearance, posture, gesture, touch, smell, facial
expression, eye contact, and vocal prosody. From the latest research in
neuroscience and psychology we can now prove that body language is
crucial to leadership effectiveness – and we can show exactly how it
impacts a leader’s ability to negotiate, manage change, build trust,
project charisma, and promote collaboration.
For example, research by the MIT
Media Lab shows how subtle nonverbal cues provide powerful signals
about what's really going on in a business interaction. Whether you win
or lose a negotiation is strongly influenced by unconscious factors
such as the way your body postures match the other person, the level of
physical activity as you talk, and the degree to which you set the tone
– literally – of the conversation.
on data from devices (called Sociometers) that monitor and analyze
patterns of unconscious nonverbal signals passing between people,
researchers with no knowledge of a conversation’s content can predict
the outcome of a negotiation, the presentation of a business plan, or a
job interview in two minutes – with over 80% accuracy.
All human beings (that’s every direct report, board
member, customer, contractor, and colleague) have been genetically
programmed to look for facial and behavioral cues and to quickly decode
a species we knew how to win friends and influence people – or
avoid/placate/confront those we couldn’t befriend – long before we knew
how to use words. Our ancestors made survival decisions based solely on
intricate bits of visual information they were picking up from others.
And they did so almost instantly.
We still do.
at New York University found that we make major decisions about one
another – assessing credibility, friendliness, trustworthiness,
confidence, power, status, and competence – within the first seven
seconds of meeting.
In business, these first
impressions are crucial. Once someone mentally labels you as “likeable”
or “un-likeable,” “powerful” or “submissive,” everything else you do
will be viewed through that filter. If someone likes you, she’ll look
for the best in you. If she doesn’t like you, or mistrusts you, she’ll
suspect devious motives in all your actions.
As a leader looking to make a
positive first impression, you’d better know how to instantly project
the nonverbal signals of warmth, candor, credibility, and
People evaluate body language unconsciously.
tricky thing about body language (and one of the reasons it is so
powerful) is its unconscious nature. Co-workers may form a negative
opinion of you because you slouch, don’t make enough eye contact – or
make too much eye contact – or stand too close to them when you speak.
But, because people are unaware of how or why they made the judgment,
they are unable to filter out their biases.
nonverbal communication, it’s not how the sender feels that matters
most; it is how the observer perceives how the sender
feels. And those interpretations are often made deep in the
subconscious mind, triggered by the limbic brain, and based on a
primitive emotional reaction that hasn’t changed much since humans
began interacting with one another.
why your nonverbal signals don’t always convey what you intended them
to. You may be slouching because you’re tired, but people read it as a
sign of disinterest. You may be more comfortable standing with your
arms folded across your chest (or you may be cold), but others see you
as resistant and unapproachable. And keeping your hands stiffly by your
side or stuck in your pockets can give the impression that you’re
insecure – whether you are or not.
Body language is how leaders express emotion.
A classic and often misquoted study
by Dr. Albert Mehabrian at the University of California Los Angeles
stated the total impact of a message is based on: 7% words used; 38%
tone of voice, volume, rate of speech, vocal pitch; 55% facial
expressions, hand gestures, postures and other forms of body
Mehabrian never claimed that you could view a movie in a foreign
language and accurately guess 93 percent of the content by watching
body language. In fact, he was only studying the communication of
feelings – particularly, liking and
nonverbal aspects of communication won’t deliver 93 percent of your
entire message, but it will reveal underlying emotion, motives, and
feelings, In fact, people will evaluate most of the emotional
content of your message, not by what you say
– but by how you say it and how
you look when you say it.
5) When your body language doesn’t
match your words, your verbal message is lost. Neuroscientists at
Colgate University study the effects of gestures by using an
electroencephalograph (EEG) machines to measure “event related
potentials” – brain waves that form peaks and valleys. One of these
valleys, dubbed N400, occurs when subjects are shown gestures that
contradict what’s spoken. This is the same brain wave dip that occurs
when people listen to nonsensical language. So, in a very real way,
when your words say one thing and your gestures indicate another, you
don’t make sense. And if forced to choose between your rhetoric and
your body language, people will believe what they see and not what you
the end of my program, leaders in the audience understand how nonverbal
skills can help them develop positive business relationships, influence
and motivate direct reports, improve productivity, bond with team
members, present ideas with more impact, and authentically project
their personal brand of charisma. They learn that body language is not
only “interesting,” but also imminently practical!
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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