Body Talk

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D
  • .: Welcome to Body Talk :.

    Body language is the management of time, space, appearance, posture, gesture, vocal prosody, touch, smell, facial expression, and eye contact. Based on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology we can now prove that body language is crucial to leadership effectiveness in negotiating, managing change, building trust, projecting charisma, and promoting collaboration. To be on Carol's mailing list for free monthly articles on change, leadership, collaboration and body language at work, click here
  • December 2015
    M T W T F S S
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    Why You Are More Successful in Face-to-Face Meetings

    Posted By on October 26, 2015

    Recent research by imago and Loughborough University School of Business and Economics examined the favored forms of communication for learning new skills, retaining important information and enhancing business success.

    A total of 779 respondents made up of conference and meeting organizers, conference and meeting attendees, undergraduate and post-graduate students, academics and lecturers participated in the interviews. Findings from the research showed that meeting planners and students shared the same preferences.

    · 97% of meetings attendees cited small face-to-face meetings of fewer than 10 participants as their preferred form of communication.
    · 81%% of students echoed this preferences for smaller meetings.
    · Group interaction and discussion is considered the top benefit of face-to-face communications by 78.4% of delegates and 69.4% of students.
    · On a scale of 0 to 100, delegates ranked engagement during face-to-face meetings at an average of 85%, with students at 73%.

    From a body language perspective, here’s why you have more impact in face-to-face encounters:

    In face-to-face meetings, our brains process the continual cascade of nonverbal cues that we use as the basis for building trust and professional intimacy. Face-to-face interaction is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us only partially from the words they use. We get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and body language. And we rely on immediate feedback – the instantaneous responses of others – to help us gauge how well our ideas are being accepted.

    People in face-to-face exchanges watch each others’ expressions to monitor reactions to what’s being said and heard. Even when some words are missed, observing the expression on a speaker’s face can help the listener follow a conversation. People remember much more of what they see than what they hear — which is one reason why you tend to be more persuasive when you are both seen and heard. So potent is this nonverbal link between individuals that, when we are in genuine rapport with someone, we subconsciously match our body positions, movements, and even our breathing rhythms with theirs. Most interesting, in face-to-face encounters the brain’s ”mirror neurons” (the neural mechanism that fires when we perform an act or see another perform that same action) mimic not just behaviors, but sensations and feelings as well.

    Human beings are born with this innate capability. In fact our brains need and expect these more primitive and significant channels of information. When we are denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles and communication suffers.

    Another nonverbal component that comes solely with face-to-face encounters is touch. Usually considered to be the most primitive and essential form of communication, touch is so powerful and effective that clinical studies at Mayo Clinic show that premature babies who are stroked grow 40 percent faster than those who do not receive the same amount of touching.

    And touch retains its power — even with adults in business settings. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them.
    We are programmed to feel closer to someone who’s touched us. The person who touches also feels more connected. It’s a compelling force and even momentary touching can create a human bond. A touch on the forearm that lasts a mere 1/40 of a second can make the receiver not only feel better but also see the giver as being kinder and warmer.

    This is crucial to your business success. If you want to be optimally persuasive, effective and memorable, make that meeting face-to-face.

    Confessions of a Posture Addict

    Posted By on July 21, 2015

    I should have known I was in trouble when I started showing pictures of my underwear to strangers. But, by then, it was too late. I was hooked.

    My name is Carol and I’m a posture junkie.

    It all began with the reaction I saw when I was introduced as a speaker who writes and lectures about body language. I watched as people automatically, changed their posture. They held their heads higher, pulled their shoulders back and tightened their abdominal muscles. In doing so, they became transformed — instantly looking more powerful, confident, and energized.

    And they remained that way . . . for about 60 seconds. That’s how long it took before most people began to relax back into their usual way of sitting or standing. I knew that “usual” for too many of us is the result of old injuries or current bad habits from activities like sitting hunched over at the computer with shoulders rounded and head pushed forward — which over time makes it feel normal to hold our bodies improperly. So I began to think more intently about my own posture.

    Research validated everything I suspected and drew me deeper into the “posture culture.”

    Harvard and Columbia Business Schools researchers looked at the physical and emotional effects of holding both high and low power poses, and found that high power posers (like the “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” posture with legs apart, shoulders back, and hands on hips) made people not only looked more powerful, but feel more powerful – the result of higher levels of testosterone (the power and dominance hormone) and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). This neuroendocrine profile of High testosterone and Low cortisol has been consistently linked to such outcomes as disease resistance and leadership abilities. Low power posers, on the other hand, experienced significant drops in testosterone and increases in cortisol – which left them looking and feeling less powerful and more vulnerable.

    A joint study by the USC Marshall School of Business, and J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that by simply adopting more dominant poses (open and expansive posture), people felt in control and were able to tolerate more physical pain and emotional distress.

    An Ohio State University study found that people who were slumped over their desks were less likely to believe the positive comments they wrote about their qualifications for a job. Those who sat up straight were more likely to accept their own statements as valid.

    In research from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, it was consistently found across three studies that posture mattered more than one’s rank in an organization’s hierarchy in making a person think and act in a more powerful way.

    A study at Queens University in which subjects walked on a treadmill found that those who were encouraged to walk with a more slumped body posture remembered more negative words on a follow-up test. Those who walked with an upright posture recalled more positive words. To the researchers, this was evidence that assuming a “happier” posture helped create happier people.

    This aligned with findings from experiments at Ohio State University and San Francisco State University found that assessed how posture affected an individual’s ability to generate positive and negative thoughts. When sitting up straight, it was discovered, participants found it easier to conjure up positive thoughts and memories. When sitting in a collapsed position and looking downward, participants found it much easier to recall hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories.
    One study at the Indiana University  even suggested that babies’ learning ability could be affected by their postures. It looked how “objects of cognition, like words or memories are linked to the body’s posture or position – and found that having a straight spine actually improved an infant’s ability to map new experiences and remember things.

    I knew I was getting pulled in deeper and deeper, but my addiction didn’t come into full manifestation until I tried on an AlignMed PostureShirt – a spandex garment with controlled stretch neuro-bands that gently adjusted my posture by rolling my shoulders back and down.

    By then I knew that posture affected energy level and productivity – but I wasn’t aware of just how much. A month-long study of 95 computer users who wore PostureShirts under their normal work clothes in a call center at Colorado Springs Utilities gave me the answer: For the garment wearers, postural fatigue and muscular fatigue decreased by 21% and 29%, respectively, and energy level and productivity increased by 20% and 13%, respectively.

    After that, there was no turning back.

    Now I do exercises to improve my posture, I stay aware of it throughout the day and I wear a PostureShirt whenever I’m sitting at the computer or when I work out at the gym. I also wear it whenever I travel – especially internationally – to increase comfort, restore energy, and reduce jet lag. And I show pictures of my underwear (I especially favor AlignMed’s website with models wearing their garments) to whomever is sitting next to me on the airplane.

    My name is Carol and I’m a posture junkie – and proud of it!

    A Smile Can Change Your Brain. Can a Smiley Face Do The Same?

    Posted By on July 13, 2015

    Whenever I give a presentation on the impact of body language in the workplace, I always include a section on the power of a smile.

    That’s because research shows that facial expressions send feedback from your face to your left frontal cortex, which in turn triggers the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine into your brain. These “happiness” chemicals begin to improve your mood.

    In addition, smiling increases your charisma. University of California’s psychology professor Howard Friedman has conducted extensive research on the role that body language and nonverbal cues play in our perception of charisma. According to Friedman’s research, charismatic people tend to smile more than the average person, with a distinct crinkling around the eyes that demonstrates the genuine intent of the smile.

    And smiles are universally evaluated as friendly. Genuine smiling (that eye-crinkling kind) is a universal human indicator of acceptance, inclusion, and friendliness — regardless of where in the world you are doing business.

    Beyond the workplace, smiles retain their positive influence. A 2001 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women flashing bright, warm smiles in their college yearbook photos reported experiencing less anxiety, sadness and despair 30 years later. In comparison to their more sober-looking classmates, these smiling women had more social connections and more fulfilling lives.

    Perhaps best of all, when we smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back can also change that person’s brain chemistry and emotional state in a positive way.

    Very powerful consequences for one small facial expression!

    But what about those emoticon smiley faces? Could those possibly have a similar effect?

    Surprisingly, research suggests the answer is yes. A study at Australia’s Flinders University found that that the pattern of brain activity triggered by looking at an emoticon smiley face is similar to when someone sees a real smiling human face.

    If you’d like to test this theory – or just want to start making your commute more fun – check out a new product, MotorMood that is currently being funded through Kickstarter. It is designed to make commuting by automobile a happier experience.

    Our faces are directly wired into the emotional center of the brain, and smiling is a form of facial feedback that elevates our moods. I don’t know that flashing a MotorMood at another driver will reduce road rage – but I do know that flashing a genuine smile at a co-worker can brighten up both your days!

    Why First Impressions Stick

    Posted By on May 11, 2015

    Two seconds – thirty seconds, tops – that’s all the time it takes some to assess your confidence, competence, status, likeability, warmth, and trustworthiness. That’s how much time you have to make a first impression.
    In fact, it’s impossible for us not to make these snap judgments about one another. Human beings are wired that way.

    According to the triune brain theory, our grey matter is actually three brains in one: The reptilian brain controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. The cortical brain handles activities such as language, analysis, and strategizing. (The seat of our conscious thought is here in the prefrontal cortex.) But it is the limbic brain that is most responsible for the value judgments that strongly influence first impressions.

    The limbic system, in particular the amygdala, is the first part of the brain to receive information and react to it. The amgydala takes in all incoming stimuli and decides instantly whether or not it is threatening. Before the conscious mind has had time to logically evaluate someone, the limbic brain has already made a decision. And, because these decisions are made without a logical process of deliberation, they impact us with the immediacy and power of an old-brain survival imperative – unconsidered, unannounced, and in most cases, impossible to resist.

    We are psychologically programmed to see what we expect to see. So, once this unconscious evaluation has labeled you as trustworthy or deceptive, powerful or submissive, friend or foe, people will go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to hang onto their initial judgment: They will seek out information that confirms what they believe to be true, they will look for and take note of your behaviors that reinforce that opinion and ignore or downplay behaviors that are contradictory.

    The television show 60 Minutes dramatized confirmation bias on a show with polygraph examiners. The show’s staff set up a mock situation in which four polygraph examiners chosen at random were asked to administer polygraph examinations to four different employees regarding the theft of camera equipment. (In fact, no theft had occurred.)

    Each of the four examiners was subtly led to believe that one particular person was the likely thief. And so they found the identified candidates – a different one in each case — to be guilty, simply because that’s what they expected to see.

    If the initial impression you make is negative, it can have devastating long-term consequences for your business dealings – and even your career. While you can’t control other people’s biases or past experience, you can use your body language to send the right signals. Here are seven body language tips for making a positive first impression:

    1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. A study at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging that discovered it takes the brain just 200 milliseconds to gather most of the information it needs from a facial expression to determine a person’s emotional state. That’s why you can’t wait until you’re in the meeting room to “warm up.” You’ve got to walk in, already expressing the emotions you want to project.

    2. Stand tall. Pull your shoulders back and hold your head high. This is a posture of confidence and self-esteem.

    3. Smile slowly. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.” A slow onset smile leads to even more positive reactions. So, begin with a slight smile and let it grow organically.

    4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness.

    5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

    6. Lower your pitch. You’ll have them at “Hello” if your voice sounds warm and inviting. Don’t let nervousness take your voice into its higher range. Before speaking, take a deep breath and exhale through your mouth. (If you are unobserved, make a soft “ahh” sound.)
    Doing so releases the tension in your throat and helps to keep your vocal tone relaxed and lower.

    7. Shake hands. Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. People react to a great handshake (palm to palm, web to web, firm, but not bone-crushing) by judging you as open and friendly.
    Remember – first impressions stick. That can work in your favor if you make sure yours is a good one!

    Why You Can’t Fake Your Feelings

    Posted By on March 19, 2015

    I was once asked by the Senior Vice President of Human Resources to work with a leader whose micro-management was limiting her team’s effectiveness.  When I met with the client, (let’s call her Judith), she was effusive with her praise – going on and on about how much she had heard about me and how delighted she was to have me as her coach. Soon, I noticed that her smiles, however bright, were seldom genuine.

    Smiles are often used as a polite response to cover up other emotions, but these social smiles involve the mouth only. Unless you are expressing genuine pleasure or happiness, it’s hard to produce a real smile – the kind that crinkles the corners of the eyes and lights up the entire face.

    Knowing that, I expected to discover that Judith wasn’t as delighted with me as she claimed, and that she was putting on a show for the HR executive’s sake. As time went on, it became clear that was the case. Judith had no interest in working with me (or any other coach), and no intention of changing her management style.

    The one area of body language that is identical in all cultures is the seven basic emotions that people around the world express, recognize, and relate to in the same way. Discovered and categorized by Paul Ekman and his colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco, the universal emotional expressions are joy, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and contempt. Here is how they can be identified:

    Joy: The muscles of the cheeks raise, eyes narrow, lines appear at the corner of the eyes, the corners of the mouth turn up.

    Surprise: The eyebrows raise, there is a slight raising of upper eyelids and dropping of the lower jaw.

    Sadness: The eyelids droop as the inner corners of the brows raise and (in extreme sorrow) draw together, and the corners of the lips pull down.

    Anger: The eyebrows are pulled together and lowered, the lower eyelid is tensed, the eyes glare, and the lips tightened, appearing thinner.

    Fear: The eyebrows draw together and raise, the upper eyelid raises, the lower eyelid tenses, and the lips stretch horizontally.

    Disgust: The nose wrinkles, the upper lip raises, and the corners of the mouth turn down.

    Contempt: The only unilateral expression. The cheek muscles on one side of
    the face contract, one corner of the mouth turns up.

    Whenever any of these emotions are felt strongly, their display is intense and can last up to four seconds. Subtle expressions are emotions experienced with a lower intensity, or emotions just starting to show. Micro expressions (facial displays lasting less than one-fifth of a second) can also give an astute observer a glimpse into your true emotional state.

    On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a fleeting expression of anger or disgust between colleagues that has spoken volumes about the underlying feelings between the two people. (I tend to watch the eyes. The small muscles around the eyes are often the site of real emotional giveaway – one part of the face that reacts before you even know how you feel about something that’s been said or implied.)

    In general, expressions that are not genuine can be identified by the following behaviors:

    • An expression that does not use all the muscles in the face typically associated with that expression. One case is previous example of Judith’s smile — which included the mouth but didn’t involve the eye muscles.

    • Because all genuine expressions (with the exception of contempt) are symmetrical, any display of other expressions that are asymmetrical, are suspect.

    • An expression held for more than five seconds is typically not genuinely felt. Most real expressions last only for a few seconds.
    It’s also difficult to hide your feelings because many emotional displays are almost impossible to eliminate. The Adam’s-apple jump (especially noticeable in men) is one such emotional cue – an unconscious sign of emotional anxiety, embarrassment, or stress – often displayed when someone hears something he strongly dislikes or disagrees with.

    Even if you are successful masking your emotions, an audience will still know that something is “off.” Stanford University’s research on emotional suppression shows a surprising reason why it’s so difficult to hide your true feelings: The effort required to suppress an emotion takes a physical and psychological toll. Subjects instructed to conceal their emotions reported feeling ill at ease, distracted and preoccupied. And this was validated by a steady rise in their blood pressure.

    But another, quite unexpected finding showed a corresponding blood pressure rise in those who were only listening to the subjects. When you try to suppress what you really feel, the resulting tension is internally registered with your audiences.

    Even babies know when you are faking. In a study recently published in Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, psychology researchers at Concordia University demonstrate that infants – as early as 18 months old — can detect whether a person’s emotions are justifiable given a particular context. In fact, the infants clearly detected when facial expressions did not match the experience. They also showed empathy toward the person only when her sad face was genuine.

    In the workplace, you constantly express emotions — enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence as well as arrogance, indifference, and displeasure — through your facial expressions. My best advice is to always be as transparent and candid as possible. Doing so will help your body language align authentically to reflect that emotional openness. Remember: If you try to fake how you really feel, your audience (team, staff, co-workers, boss) probably won’t buy it.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker and body language coach who helps business executives, politicians, female leaders, and sales teams align their verbal and nonverbal messages for greater impact and professional success.