Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speaking Body Language

Before a critical meeting with your boss, an important customer; or your teenage son or daughter, do you spend time mentally roughing out and revising what you are going to say? If so, you are misdirecting your energy. Spend time instead practicing how to walk, stand, sit and quickly grasp how other people are moving their bodies.

When it comes to research on power, there is plenty of evidence on the importance of body posture and tone of voice.  That research indicates that it isn’t the quality of an argument that will persuade people. It is rather how the protagonist conveys it. Our status is determined by physical attributes and nonverbal cues. People decide if we are competent in less than 100 milliseconds.

Neither is intelligence a strong predictor of leadership. The pitch, volume and pace of your voice affect what people think you said about five times as much as the actual words you use. We are, however, impressed with our own arguments. So, it sometimes pays to repeat back to someone you are trying to impress, what he or she said.

In order to prepare for authority issues in the job market; MBA students now team up with drama teachers, who help them practice. Actors, it turns out, are exceptionally good at paying attention to other actors. The idea is that MBA graduates avoid getting into professional or personal trouble later in their careers, because they don’t know how to be deferential to other people when it is appropriate. Or, not knowing how to take charge when that is called for.

There are times, when you want to play 'low' status'; which means you are making the relationship work and not necessarily giving anything important away. 'Playing low' can lift others up and make them feel good about themselves. For 'high-status' people in an organization, telling a self deprecating joke can make you more approachable. 

Many of us know the boss who says: “My door is always open,” but their body language adds “but really, don’t come in here.” In facing a subordinate who doesn’t know he or she is a subordinate, a few extra moments of silence can send the right signal.

Your posture affects you as well as other people. Try this: sit down, press your knees together, hold your elbows close to the sides and lean forward. While in that position say: "I am totally in charge." You will probably find it incongruous and won't believe your own words. But, if you were to lower your shoulders, drape an outstretched arm over the back of a chair and spread your legs wide; taking up more space - now that would feel different.

High-status people generally let their bodies take more space than low-status people. That alone makes them both appear and feel relaxed. Like others, you probably know this on your gut level. There is a body language of power, and we know it. But, we don't know we know it.

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