Do you know what your body just said
Personal Business Skills Articles
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Issued 15 June 2010
Recently I addressed a leadership group about the importance of nonverbal
communication in business. All of the senior managers actively participated in
the session, asking questions and volunteering for various demonstrations.
Everyone seemed genuinely interested in the topic. Everyone, that is, except one
woman who sat for the entire time with her shoulders rounded, chin tucked in,
and torso twisted slightly toward the exit. At the end of the program she said,
“I really didn’t want to be here today.” But of course, I already knew that. And
so did everyone else in the room. The woman’s body had been shouting out her
discomfort all morning.
We reveal a lot about our attitudes, emotions and motives by the way we hold our
bodies, especially when using closed or open postures.
In the ultimate closed body posture, arms are folded, legs are crossed and the
torso or legs are turned away. Rounding the upper body and hiding hands are
closed signals that may also represent feelings of vulnerability or depression.
More predictably than their male counterparts, women -- when sitting -- adopt an
open-arm posture in the presence of someone they like, and tend to fold their
arms across their chest when they feel indifferent to or dislike the other
In open and receptive body postures, legs are uncrossed, and arms are open with
palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table. If the
arms are relaxed at the sides of the body while standing, this is also generally
a sign of openness, accessibility, and an overall willingness to interact.
Two things I know for sure about open and closed postures: 1) Individuals with
open body positions are perceived more positively than those with closed body
positions. And 2) Individuals with open body positions are more persuasive than
those with closed body positions.
But see for yourself. Compare the body language of your co-workers. Watch the
people who are the most convincing and successful. I bet you’ll find that they
typically use open body positions when interacting with colleagues and
presenting their ideas.
Physical posture can also show someone’s status in a group. I’ve seen meetings
where all subordinates slumped, while the leader assumed a more erect posture
that indicated her dominance. I’ve also watched two executives of similar
heights meeting for the first time, and saw both men straighten their postures
and stretch their bodies to increase the perception of “tallness.”
These positions were taken without any of the participants being aware of doing
so. But sometimes awareness does play a role. People of equal status tend to
mirror one another (unconsciously assuming similar or identical postures), but
people who want to emphasize their higher status may deliberately adopt a
different posture or stance to show they are not just “one of the gang.”
Leaning is another way your body indicates your emotions. Leaning backward
usually signals feelings of dislike or negativity. It’s a hardwired response
from the limbic brain; we subconsciously try to distance ourselves from anyone
or anything that is unpleasant, disagreeable, or dangerous.
In a seated conversation, leaning backward can also communicate dominance.
Someone feeling confident or superior will often sit leaning back with his
fingers interlocked, hands behind his head and crossing one leg so that it rests
on the other thigh and the knee opens up. This is a very masculine position that
takes up a great deal of room and signals that the person is very sure of
himself and of his place in the group.
Positive attitudes toward others tend to be accompanied by leaning forward –
especially when sitting down. When two people like each other, you’ll see them
both lean in. Research also shows that individuals who lean forward tend to
increase the verbal output of the person they’re speaking with.
By the way, if you are using forward leans as a means to build positive
relationships, be aware that leaning toward a person in the early stages of a
conversation will generally be perceived as encroaching on his or her territory.
Early leans can make people uncomfortable and decrease their perception of you
as likeable. So wait until you’ve developed a level of rapport and interpersonal
comfort. Then make your move.
You know that the way you feel affects your body. (If you are reluctant or
depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look down. If you are
upbeat you tend to hold yourself erect and expand your chest.) But did you know
that the reverse is also true? Your choice of posture has a powerful impact on
your emotions. So the next time you go into a situation in which you want to
project your most confident self, start by standing up straight, pulling your
shoulders back and holding your head high. Just by assuming this physical
posture, you will begin to feel surer of yourself.
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 2010-07-13 23:28:17 in Personal Articles