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Workplace Body Language for Leadership

Workplace Body Language for Leadership

You have prepared for product pitch for months and now are finally in front of senior leadership.  The meeting wasn’t going well.  Your team worked through the plan under
your leadership with all the possible alternatives.  Everyone on the team worked hard and all contributed. You were set.  As the leader of the team it is up to you to ensure this goes well so the project is funded.

Now you are looking at a sea of blank stares – and you are full of thoughts.  “What are they thinking?  What am I missing?   Who is on board?  Who are the detractors?  I feel the sweat form.   What do I do?”   It is not like one can ask, “Hey there, what are you all thinking now?”  “Do you like my presentation?”    “We worked really hard on this and now I feel like I am bombing – tell me you really like it!”`

Before you humiliate yourself as a leader in the workplace with the self-effacing questions, get a grip.  Read the room.  Poker is not the only situation where the “tell” of body language works for your success.  Here is a start to understanding what is not being overtly stated through body language.  In leadership, it is important to be able to understand what the listeners are quietly telling you and who is not engaged in what you are saying.

Body Language to watch for in your audience

Body language leadership

Check the face – smiling is one of the easiest body language indicators to see but are there crinkles around the eyes or just the person’s mouth?  Duchenne did a body language study with airline hostesses and found the genuine smile is one that forms around the eyes.  The fake or “Duchenne” smile is formed at the mouth and does not mean anything from the giver to the receiver.  If genuine, you know they are at least friendly.  Even noticing if they are facing you will tell you if they are engaged.  With power point it will be harder to know if they are engaged unless you blacken the screen and get their attention.

Check the eyes – eye contact is direct engagement through body language and can be intimidating at times.  If the topic, content or dissention might be too difficult to stay present, they may cover their eyes even briefly.  When they don’t believe in the content they also may look away briefly if you look at them.  If listening they might have a counter opinion they are not mentioning or they are afraid to say.  Either way they are hiding something.  Shutting eyes or hand covering their eyes – it is as if they wish to be invisible or they do not want to see what they are seeing.  These viewers often feel as though it is too painful to look straight into and engage in the topic, spreadsheet or what is in front of them.

Check the posture – we are animals at our very core and we protect ourselves when we feel threatened, feel repulsed or do not trust someone.  When we protect our vitals such as heart, lungs or guts we will swivel away from a threat or someone, again, that we do not trust.  Another body language “tell” is their relationship with the space around them.  Showing spatial dominance or spreading out equals taking more power from the room leaving you with less.  Leaning back with hands behind head with elbows out is a real show of dominance or disrespect for you, your presentation or the content.

Check the arms – instinctually the arms can be used as weapons, protection, handles or communicators through gestures.  What are the arms in the room telling you?  If their arms are crossed in front of them it could mean closed or protecting them self but either way they are not at ease with the situation.  When the arms are completely stiff without much motion it might mean they are trying to be invisible so as not to be noticed and attacked.  However, in this case they could be horrified for you and your team.

Check the hands – we orchestrate, protect, use as tools, attack and communicate with the hands.  Tapping or fidgeting does not tell you the whole story.  They could be kinesthetic learners so they need to keep moving.  Or they could be annoyed or bored but they are telling you something.  At the very least, they are rude.  Covering the face, eyes or mouth tells you they are trying to stop something.  Covering the face is trying to disappear or move away from the room, topic or you.  Covering (or rubbing) the eyes, is not wanting to see what is in front of them.  If the hand is covering their mouth they may want to say something controversial or are holding those words in their mouth.    Hands on the chin generally indicates they are thinking or contemplating what is being said.

Check the feet – again back to the animal in all of us we count on movement, remember freeze, flight or fight, to save us first and foremost.  Since humans are not the most powerful beast in the jungle, getting out of there is one means of survival.  Sometimes that it true in the workplace boardroom too.  So their feet will often give away whether they are connected and staying with you or wishing they could head out the door.  If they are locked at the ankle it often means they are freezing themselves in place and or protecting themselves from something or someone.

body language leadership

Check multiple body language “tells” or a change in behavior – the one behavior on its own is not enough story to decipher an irrefutable conclusion.  But when they shift what is non-engaged behavior to a more “friendly” behavior you can glean some interesting data from that.  Conversely when you notice a shift from friendly to not-so-friendly behavior take notice and perhaps steer clear or reframe your approach.

Check yourself – did you notice the word “may” was used throughout the article?  The truth is these clues are based on tons of research data and of course logic from human beings as an animal interacting with others.  Do your own research.  What is your body language right now?  Check that against how you feel.  Ask yourself if your emotions mirror any of those suggested body language clues above.  What do you feel?  This might take more than one occasion to check your own messaging and body language.

Now, use your body language insights in leadership

The million dollar question is what will your viewers do next?  You may have insight from their body language as to what they think or feel but what you don’t really know what they are thinking.  And what they do next is really out of your control.   However, since you cannot change that which you are not aware, what you do with those body language clues is entirely up to you.  Simple steps would be slowing down, speeding up or ask questions that will evoke a dialogue that is more honest and productive.  Changing up your next move to ease the resistance or dissention from the topic could be as easy as naming the read from the room in the form of a question.  “I am sensing the content isn’t landing well – what is going on?”  Then let silence do the heavy lifting and see what comes out of the group.  Then, instead of blazing on like you’re riding the wave of your life you and a complete oblivious fool who will miss the opportunity to learn from the group, you could simply ask an open ended question.

Contact US Today to Strengthen Your Leadership Abilities

When you want help reading your work place body language or the group’s body language, coaching can help.  If you need ideas on how to communicate effectively once you see particular body language, contact Pat Weiland, Executive Coach and President at Sage Strategies.

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