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The body language of leadership

The body language of leadership

There is plenty of research on body language and all of the non-verbal ways that we communicate, intentionally and unintentionally. In fact, studies have shown that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal, and specifically, 55 percent of communication is visual – what you do with your body. Things like eye contact, facial expression, arm and leg movements, dress, and grooming all send messages to others about how you are feeling, what you are thinking, how receptive you are, and how credible you are.

Simple adjustments to your non-verbal cues will help you to connect better with others. The smiley face is a universal symbol that conveys happiness, positive attitude, and caring. And a smile on your face can convey the same things and helps to attract people toward you rather than push them away from you. We’ve all heard that folding your arms tells others that you are closed off. I often fold my arms because I tend to feel cold in air-conditioned meeting rooms. However, it is important for me to be aware that even if my intention is to keep myself warm, the message I may be conveying is that I am not open to hearing what another person has to say. I can either choose to not fold my arms, or at least let the other person know that I’m folding them because I’m cold. Either way, I stand a better chance of connecting more fully with those around me.

A recent psychology study out of Harvard University finds that not only does your body language communicate to others, it also communicates directly to you. The study found that “power posing,” practicing a strong, open stance like Wonder Woman – head up, shoulders back, arms akimbo, and legs shoulder-width apart – sends messages to your brain that increases testosterone and decreases cortisol. The result is greater confidence and dominance from the increase in testosterone, and lower anxiety and stress from the decrease in cortisol.

Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard Business School, shared the findings in a blog post that focused on how this research is particularly relevant to women, although certainly applicable to men as well. Women often face greater stress and anxiety in the workplace. They may feel they have to prove themselves to get ahead and work twice as hard as their male counterparts to get equal recognition. Cuddy suggests that “power posing” is a tool that helps people “bring their strongest, most resilient and confident selves to stressful or uncomfortable situations.” Spending two minutes in a power pose before a stressful situation like a difficult conversation, high-stakes presentation, or a meeting with your boss’s boss, will lower your anxiety and increase your confidence, so that you can be the calm and assertive leader you want to be.

The next time you are facing a difficult situation at work, take inventory of your body language and think about what non-verbal cues you are sending to yourself and others. Then hold your head high, smile, and jump back in.

Let us know how body language has helped or hurt you. Please leave a comment.

For help in using power posing and other approaches for greater confidence and assertiveness, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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What People Are Saying

gary johnson   |   11 October 2013
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Reply

How do you fake body language?? Isn’t it a natural extension of who you are and how you feel?

Robyn McLeod   |   14 October 2013
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Reply

Thank you for your question, Gary. I see it as being aware of your body language and taking action to ensure that your gestures, facial expressions, etc. enhance rather than hinder your interactions with others. Body language — while it is a natural expression of what we are feeling — can be modified and controlled. And in the case of “power posing,” purposeful body language actually impacts how we feel about ourselves.