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How Buying into Body Language Myths Limits Collaborative Leadership

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - 09:00
How Buying into Body Language Myths Limits Collaborative Leadership

Per the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 4 Million U.S. employees (about three percent of the total U.S. workforce) work from home at least half of the time. While a few percentage points may not sound like a sizeable proportion of working Americans, ponder these facts for perspective:

  • The percentage of people working from home increased 115 percent during the period 2005 to 2015.
  • The Census Bureau data is not accounting for the larger population of “remote” workers – i.e., people operating from cafes, hotel rooms, libraries and other places where they can connect, concentrate and be productive.
  • What some call the “mobile revolution” – i.e., a combination of advances in battery life, increases in bandwidth, commensurate expansion of WIFI networks, and the growing cohort of Millennials that prefers to work from anywhere at any time – is making video conferencing for important business interactions – e.g., job interviews – an increasingly prevalent and effective means of communication.

In short, the trend toward remote work shows no signs of slowing, and all of us in business should expect to spend more time talking to each other face to face through the cameras and screens of mobile devices.

Body Language is Critical in Business Interactions, Especially in Virtual Settings

To say that body language becomes more important when fewer and fewer of us will be holding business conversations in the same room may sound counterintuitive. But consider this paradox of mobile video communications: Even as our ability to connect with others visually across great distances almost instantaneously expands to encompass the world, our perspective is narrowed in virtual settings.

Why? Because we can see only what the boundaries of our screens and the acuity of our tiny cameras enable us to see. Our point of view is further limited by the actions of the people on the other side of the discussion. We can see only where the others aim their devices. Of course, we have the same targeting power on our end, but the net effect remains the same – a virtual setting provides a restricted view to both parties.

Now, cynical observers may call this paradox a disadvantage. But in past posts we have established our penchant for optimistic thinking in collaborative leadership. So, we prefer to see the tightening of viewpoint in virtual settings as focusing, not diminishing. In this type of situation, the more attention to detail one pays, the greater advantage one reaps.

Collaborative Leaders Pay Close Attention to Body Language in Virtual Settings

“You control your body, but your body also controls you. Simple gestures, simple postures—each makes a dramatic impact on how you think, feel, and perform,” writes Jeff Haden, a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, in a post to LinkedIn Pulse.

We agree, which is why we advise collaborative leaders to pay as much care with body language as they do verbal language.

TalentSmart, the consulting firm led by emotional intelligence guru Travis Bradberry, tested more than a million people and discovered “upper echelons of top performance are filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90 percent of top performers, to be exact).”

“These people know the power that unspoken signals have in communication and they monitor their own body language accordingly,” Bradberry writes in a post for the Ladders newsletter.

Debunking 3 Body Language Myths that Limit Collaborative Leadership

Like any important aspect of business, the topic of body language is as prone to misperception as it is to usefulness. So, in the spirit of sharpening focus, we reviewed the latest research to help our readers avoid buying into three popular myths about body language and business:

  • Myth 1: Controlling your body language is inauthentic

“In any business interaction you are communicating over two channels – verbal and nonverbal – resulting in two distinct conversations going on at the same time,” explains communication coach Carol Kinsey Goman in a recent column for Forbes. “While a well-written speech or well-designed bargaining strategy is obviously important, it’s not the only important message you send. In a thirty-minute business discussion, two people can send over eight hundred different nonverbal signals. And it is no more (or less) inauthentic to prepare for this second conversation than it is to prepare for the first.

  • Myth 2: More than 90 percent of communication is body language

Goman says this myth springs from the misinterpretation of some seminal study into body language. In short, researchers found that body language provides many clues about how a person may be feeling but not about why they feel that way during a discussion. Only way to discover this insight is by asking – i.e., using words.

  • Myth 3: The “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” pose changes your body chemistry

How body language may affect body chemistry is controversial and debated by members of the scientific community. We may never know definitively how posture influences chemicals in our bodies like hormones. But what we do know is expressed succinctly by Goman: “Good posture (standing or sitting tall with head held high, both feet firmly on the floor, and shoulders back) makes you look and feel more confident.”

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