The importance of body language

There is no question of the importance of body language, it says all sorts of things about how we are feeling, (moods, stress levels) in conveys our engagement and reflects our EQ. Many of these non verbal clues might actually be messages we do not want to share..

“You make an impression in less than seven seconds”

Carol Kinsey Goman

This article provides analysis of a series of stories from various writers on the topic, explaining the mistakes people make and ways to correct them.

LeAnne Lagasse writing for The Helm explains how leaders have significant non verbal methods to communicate accessibility or approachability. She looks at three of the biggest mistakes that a leader can make with respect to non verbal communication.

  1. You use an indirect body orientation, closed posture, or increase physical space between you and your employees
  2. You consistently look too stressed or too busy to be bothered
  3. Your office space works against you – if you sit behind a big desk, or your door is always closed (and you spruik an open door policy).

Travis Bradberry writes for the World Economic Forum on Leadership he is President of TalentSmart an HR and Talent based company (with an emphasis on Emotional Intelligence) surveyed more than a million people and found that senior high performing leaders have high emotional intelligence (90%) and are exceptional at monitoring and modifying their own body language. They have provided a list of bad body language to watch out for:

1. Slouching is a clear sign of disrespect, communicating that you are bored and have no desire to be where you are. Maintaining good posture commands respect and demonstrates engagement from both parties of the conversation.

2. Exaggerated gestures can imply that you’re stretching the truth. Aim controlled gestures to indicate leadership and confidence, and open gestures—such as spreading your arms or showing the palms of your hands, which both communicate you have nothing to hide.

3. Watching the clock is a clear sign of disrespect, impatience, and inflated ego. It implies you have better things to do than talk to the person.

4. Turning yourself away from others, or not leaning into your conversation, creates the implication you are uninterested, and potentially distrustful of the speaker.

5. Crossed arms suggest you’re not open to what the other person is saying. Even if you’re smiling or engaged in a pleasant conversation.

6. Facial expressions if there is inconsistency between your words and your facial expression people will sense something isn’t right.

7. Exaggerated nodding signals anxiety about approval. People may perceive your heavy nods as an attempt to show you agree with or understand something that you actually don’t.

8. Fidgeting with or fixing your hair signifies you are anxious, over-energised, self-conscious, and possibly distracted. People will perceive you as overly concerned with your physical appearance.

9. Avoiding eye contact can arouse suspicion you have something to hide or lack confidence and interest. People often look up when they are thinking (historically there was a belief if you looked up and to the left you were telling the truth and if you looked down and to the right you were lying – this has now been thoroughly debunked by science)

10. Eye contact that’s too intense may be perceived as aggressive, or an attempt to dominate.

11. Rolling your eyes – is widely recognised as a fail-proof way to communicate lack of respect.

12. Scowling or any clearly unhappy expression signals you’re upset by those around you. Scowls make people feel they have been judged. By contrast smiling, signals you are open, trustworthy, confident, and friendly. Studies have found that the human brain connects with people who smile and records a lasting positive impression.

13. Weak or overly powerful handshakes are both signs. Weak handshakes signal a lack of authority and confidence, an overly firm handshake can be seen as an aggressive attempt at domination.

14. Clenched fists, much like having crossed arms and legs, implies that you are closed to other people’s points, potentially even argumentative and defensive.

15. Getting too close. When you stand too close to someone it signals that you have no respect for the individuals personal space.

“The most important thing in communication, is hearing what isn’t said.”

Peter Drucker

Nearly 60 million people have watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about body language and it helps to explain all this.

So what does a non-verbal immediate leader look like?

  1. They display a relaxed posture, and have a direct body orientation and open body posture
  2. They use expressive and responsive facial expressions (and they smile and laugh at work)
  3. They use open and expansive gestures
  4. They reduce physical distance and barriers when possible
  5. They make direct and sustained eye contact
  6. They use appropriate touch for the workplace (warm handshakes, “knuckles,” high fives)
  7. They use vocal variety (rate, pitch, intonation, volume)
  8. They create spaces that facilitate communication and collaboration

Lagasse has some practical steps to practice self monitoring and help you work on these to improve your non verbal communication:

  • Record yourself in a meeting. Then watch it back to evaluate your nonverbal immediacy. Ask yourself: Which behaviors are nonverbally immediate? Which are not? Which area needs the most improvement?
  • Ask others for feedback. Choose a member or two on your team who you trust and ask them for insight and feedback. Often times, it’s the nonverbal behaviors you have no awareness of that send the strongest messages.
  • Focus on improving one area at a time. Try focusing on using a direct body orientation for an entire week, once you have mastered that, then you can start on a different area.

Key Takeaways

  • Positive body language requires ongoing review and practice. It is easy to slip back to any of the bad practices.
  • Bad practices can directly impact your personal success and the motivation and engagement of your team.
  • Best practice involves continually self monitoring, seeking feedback and working optimise non verbal communications.
A DIGEST of articles on Body Language for Leaders.
from World Economic Forum
15 body language secrets of successful leaders
By Travis Bradberry
Published: 18th March 2015 

and The Helm
3 Body Language Mistakes Leaders Make
By LeAnne Lagasse
Published: 13th February 2019

and TED
Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are
By Amy Cuddy
Published: 2012

and The Enterprisers Project
Soft skills: 10 body language tips for leaders: Body language matters when leaders communicate – even one-on-one
By Carla Rudder
Published: 18th March 2019

and Forbes
5 Ways Body Language Impacts Leadership Results
by Carol Kinsey Goman
Published: 26th August 2018

Leave a Reply