By Kimberly Schneiderman, CLTMC, NCRW, CEIC
City Career Services
Our body language reveals so much about what we are feeling – no matter what words are coming out of our mouth. That is why I was so interested in speaking to Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., author of The Silent Language of Leaders. As a body language expert, Goman knows a thing or two about the things we say with our arms and faces.
In this Q&A, we learn a lot about controlling our messages through body language – what we can do, what we can’t fake, and how to look at others’ behavior for insights into what they are “really” saying.
City Career Services: What are some mistakes people make that they think are helping them?
Carol Kinsey Goman: The biggest mistake people make is thinking that if they just learn certain cues that they will be able to control things. True body language training needs to go beyond that. Body language over time reveals character. You can’t fool people over the long term.
I’ve watched executives and other body language experts do things like put their fingers together [for emphasis]. An entire interview with this gesture is phony. Nobody keeps their hands in that position. You do it automatically when real emphasis is being made and then it will be done.
CCS: What are some examples of real-life body language blunders?
CKG: Two of the most famous mistakes come from our country’s presidents. Bill Clinton’s habit of pointing with bent finger is seen as a negative body language signal under most circumstances.
President Richard Nixon’s televised debate with John Kennedy is the other most widely-recognized blunder. So much went wrong here: Nixon refused to wear make up, he wore a suit that blended in to the background, and he was pale from being ill. The body language problems came through when he was mopping perspiration from his brow and making eye contact with the interviewer – but not the camera. Body language for TV is unique because it is such an intimate medium. By not making eye contact with the viewers, the audience just couldn’t believe what he said.
CCS: How has body language changed over the years?
CKG: It really hasn’t changed, although the interpretation of it has. The rules for body language cues are imbedded in our pre-history – the idea of someone approaching you with their hands behind their back meant there was danger. Perhaps they had a rock hidden, ready to attack you with it.
While there is no longer much danger of that in the workplace we do think someone has something to hide if they approach us with their hands behind their back. The context has changed, yet it still makes an impression. In a public speaking situation, most people in your audience will make ancient prehistoric assumptions that will impact the way they will believe and trust you based on your body language.
On the other hand, interpretation of behavior will also depend on the relationship you have developed with your listeners. If they like you, they will give you that halo effect. They will find reason for this otherwise negative body language. They might dismiss it because it isn’t in alignment with how they think of you. Now, if they don’t like you they will use all these things as confirmation of reasons to hate you!
CCS: What are 5 basic body language tips you can share for readers at the management and senior-management levels?
CKG: If you think about it, body language is the management of time, space expression, touch, and feel. The most effective use of that really depends on the goal of the person. It also is influenced by how the body and mind link together. You can trick your psyche by changing your body pose.
- Under certain circumstances, if you want to feel more confident as you head into a meeting, try a power pose in a private space for 2 minutes. Hold your body with legs apart and your arms wide with hands clasped behind your head. This pose stimulates certain hormones that increase power and decrease stress. .. linking the body’s bigger-than-life pose with the mind’s thoughts. There is a correlation – you can trick your psyche by changing your body.
- Want to encourage participation? Look like you are listening. Don’t move your eyes from your team member that is speaking. Open your body – uncross your arms and legs, and nod your head. Never check your email / texts / phone calls while listening to someone.
- To build collaboration you will want to take down the physical barriers between you and your audience so you can have as much of a face-to-face and full body view as possible. Physical barriers include crossed arms, briefcases, purses, laptops, all sorts of artifacts and body parts. The barrier pulls you away from the team and / or blocks your view. Increase collaboration by having nothing there. With a desk, don’t have the person sit across from you but rather at the side of the desk.
- In our culture we shake hands to greet someone or show our agreement to something. There is a compliance effect. This simple touch allows us to connect with the other person. A touch that lasts even a 40th of a second makes someone more likely to say yes to your requests. It has to be appropriate, of course!
- Activating your smile power will build trust with others. A sincere smile says you are approachable and the mind-body connection stimulates feelings of happiness and sense of well being. It works for both the person smiling and the person they are smiling at. And, if the person you are smiling at returns the smile – those positive feelings will increase for both of you! A well-placed smile is good to show you are trustworthy and open.
There is so much more to talk about with Carol Kinsey Goman. We didn’t even get to talk about other body language – mirroring behavior, tilting your head and looking up at someone, smiling to take the sting out of a criticism, and touching your face while talking – that is so influential in the way to communicate without saying a word! Here is a link to her book in case you want to learn more.