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
  • July 2014
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    Body Language and the Double-Bind Paradox

    Posted By on July 1, 2014

    He’s the boss. You’ve become bossy. He’s assertive and confident. You’re seen as aggressive and domineering. He’s successful and liked. You were better liked before you got promoted.

    Enter the Double-Bind paradox, which states that as males rise in rank and status at work, they retain (and often increase) their perceived likeability – so they can be both powerful and likeable. Women, on the other hand, are more likeable when their behavior conforms to the stereotypes we hold of them as nurturing, empathetic, and collaborative. Catalyst, an organization that studies women in leadership, calls this the “dammed if you do, doomed if don’t” dilemma. When women project status and authority in order to advance in the business world, the more powerful they appear and the less they are liked.

    A frequently cited Stanford Graduate School of Business study, the Heidi/Howard case, backs this up. When the same highly assertive and successful leader is described to grad students (of both genders), that person is seen as far more appealing when given a male name instead of a female one.

    But another – much more encouraging study from Stanford — found that businesswomen who are assertive and confident, but who can turn these traits on and off depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either other females or males in their organizations.

    And here’s where body language can help.
    In the workplace, your nonverbal signals are continuously and unconsciously being assessed for warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status). Knowing how specific body language cues are most likely to be perceived by others can be the first step in successfully from transitioning from one impression to another.

    Sometimes it’s as simple as shifting the tilt of your head. Tilting your head to one side is a signal that you are listening and involved. As such, head tilts can be very empathetic and warm. But they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. (Dogs tilt their heads to expose their necks, as a way to show deference to the dominant animal.)

    Use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and confidence — asking for a job promotion or giving a presentation to senior management — keep your head straight up in a more neutral (and authoritative) position.

    Hand gestures also say a lot: Warmth and candor are displayed by open arm gestures and by rotating your palms up at about a 45-degree angle.

    Projecting status and certainty, however, is achieved by using controlled gestures between your waist and your shoulders, “steepling” (touching your finger tips together while your palms are separated) or rotating your hands palms-down. All of these gestures indicate that you are absolutely sure of your position.

    Of course, posture signals also send their own messages.

    I invite you to try this: Sit in a chair with your legs crossed, bring your elbows into your waist, clasp your hands together and place them on your lap while slightly rounding your shoulders. Now say, “I am confident and powerful.”

    Do you know that most people would evaluate that posture as submissive and powerless – regardless of the words spoken? Would it surprise you to know that some version of this posture is the way most of us women sit?

    Status and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through claiming height and space. When you want to project confidence, remember to sit tall, pull your shoulders back, bring your elbows away from your body, place your hands on the table and uncross your legs, placing your feet solidly on the floor. If standing, widen your stance so that your feet are about hip distance apart. BTW: If you are seated around a conference table, stand when you speak and you’ll gain instant status by becoming — for the moment – the tallest person in the room.

    On the other hand, when you want to display empathy, you’d be wise to replace status cues with warmer ones — sitting so that you are the same height as everyone else, leaning forward, nodding your head in encouragement, smiling, pointing your torso and feet toward whomever is speaking and giving that person your full attention.
    Women who want to advance in their organizations can beat the Double-Bind Paradox and gain a nonverbal advantage by knowing when and how to display body language signals of competence and power, and when to switch signals in order to be perceived as warm, empathetic and inclusive.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., gives keynote speeches on “Body Language for Women Who Lead.” She’s a leadership communication coach and author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” Carol can reached by email:, phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website:

    The Impact of Emotions on Leadership Effectiveness

    Posted By on June 22, 2014

    I once asked the CEO of a technology company how his employees were dealing with a proposed change. “We’ve presented all the facts,” he replied. “But it would be much easier if people weren’t so emotional!” In the business world, we are taught to approach organizational challenges objectively and logically.

    We quantify everything we can and guard against emotions that would highjack our objectivity. But, according to neurologist and author Antonio Damasio, the center of our conscious thought (the prefrontal cortex) is so tightly connected to the emotion-generating amygdala, that no one makes decisions based on pure logic – despite the belief that we do. Brain science makes it clear that mental processes we’re not conscious of drive our decision making, and logical reasoning is often no more than a way to justify emotional choices.

    Nowhere is this link more evident than in leading organizational change efforts, and most leaders are aware of the need to present change in ways that resonate both logically and emotionally. Fewer leaders, however, realize how much their own emotional state influences a team’s (or an organization’s) attitude and productivity.

    From “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead,” here are five things a leader should know about the link between emotion and leadership results.

    1. Emotions affect people instantly. In a study at the University of Tubingen in Germany, subjects were shown photos of happy or sad faces then asked to questions to gauge their emotional reactions. People reported corresponding emotions to the photos – even when the pictures lasted only fractions of a second. Likewise, those who report to you will instantly and unconsciously pick up your emotional displays, even if you believe you have quickly suppressed them.

    2. Emotions are contagious. A business simulation experiment at Yale University gave two groups of people the assignment of deciding how much of a bonus to give each employee from a set fund of money. Each person in the group was to get as large a bonus as possible for certain employees, while being fair to the entire employee population. In one group, the conflicting agendas led to stress and tension, while in the second group, everyone ended up feeling good about the result. The difference in emotional response was created by the “plants” – actors who had been secretly assigned to manipulate people’s feelings about the project. In the first group, the actor was negative and downbeat, and in the second, positive and upbeat. The emotional tone of the meetings followed the lead of each actor – although none of the group members understood how or why those particular feelings had emerged.

    3. Emotions flow most strongly from the most powerful person in the room to others. Researchers at California State University in Long Beach found that when business leaders were in a good mood, members of their work groups experienced more positive emotions, were more and productive than groups whose leaders were in a bad mood.

    4. The brain pays more attention to emotionally negative messages than to positive ones. Inside the medulla is a vital link to reticular activating system (RAS). RAS sorts the 100 million impulses that assail the brain each second and deflects the trivial, the vital through to alert the mind. This part of brain evolved with an inherent tendency to magnify negative messages and minimize positive ones. Today, RAS still prefers to interpret things negatively and we then react by getting defensive and anxious. That’s why a leader’s body language (frowns, crossed arms, lack of eye contact, etc.) can get amplified into signals of danger — and why mixed messages (when a leader’s verbal content and body language signals are out of alignment) may be evaluated as threatening to our status, relationships, and even to our continued employment.

    5. You can’t (successfully) hide emotions. Stanford University’s research on emotional suppression shows why it’s so difficult to hide our true feelings: The effort required 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 (and for leaders a much more important finding), showed a corresponding blood pressure rise in those who were only listening to the subjects. So when a leader tries to suppress what he or she really feels, the resulting tension isn’t just personal; it is also unconsciously contagious.

    To tap into the power of emotion, savvy leaders understand how feelings (their own and other people’s) impact and influence an organization’s ability to make business decisions, to stay positive and productive, and to embrace change.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is a keynote speaker and leadership coach who can be reached at or through her website at

    Virtual Body Language

    Posted By on June 1, 2014

    Communication technology has completely changed the way we connect with people to conduct business. It has opened global markets and fostered the use of geographically dispersed teams – including multiple site organizations and remote or home working.

    But not all technology is created equal. Lean technologies, like texts and email, offer limited social cues. When you add voice and image you employ much richer sources of communication. We were born with the innate capability to communicate through our postures, gestures, facial expressions, and vocal prosody. In fact, our brains search for and expect these most primitive and significant channels of information. According to Dr. Thomas Lewis (an expert on the psychobiology of emotions and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the university of California San Francisco), when we are denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles and real communication suffers.

    There is no doubt that using a visual medium can be a powerful way to connect with people, but I once watched a Chief Executive Officer give an entire video presentation bent over notes on a table in front of him while the audience (his entire organization, since this was an “all hands” event) viewed the top of his head. Then, because the camera was much too close to him, when he occasionally glanced up, his eye movements looked exaggerated (making him seem agitated) and his hands kept flying in and out of frame as he gestured.

    The effective use of visual technology comes with practice and experience. Here are six techniques to keep in mind for your next videoconference:

    1. Get framed
    The first thing I tell a client is to understand how the camera’s distance affects the way you look to a viewer. If you position the camera too close (as the CEO did) every expression and gesture will be exaggerated. The best results come when the screen-image frame starts a little above your head and ends around waist level. When not using them to gesture, place your hands on the table or desk – 8 to 10 inches in front of your torso so that people can see them. Keep them relaxed and separated. Don’t hang onto the edge of the table, or you will look desperate. Don’t play with your pen or shuffle papers. Make sure to keep a preview window open to check how you look to the remote viewers.

    2. Look at the lens
    Unless you are using a system like Cisco’s Telepresence (allowing you to maintain actual eye contact with participants), the camera and display screen will be separate components, and each time you look at the screen you shift your eye from the camera. If the camera is above the screen, you’ll always appear to be looking down. And a lack of eye contact reduces trust and viewer satisfaction with the interaction. You might have to raise (if on a laptop where the lens is below your eyes) or lower your monitor height so that the lens hits you at about eye level.
    Occasionally glancing down to read from notes is fine, but If are going to refer to them constantly, try having one set of notes on the table, and then placing sticky notes with short bullet points right below or next to the camera lens. That way you won’t be breaking eye contact so often. It’s also fine to look at the screen when others are speaking. Just remember to move your eyes back to the camera when you reply.

    3. Warm up
    Research has discovered that participants in videoconferences tend to be more influenced by heuristic cues – such as how likeable they perceive the speaker to be – than they are by the quality of the arguments presented by the speaker. This is attributed to the higher cognitive demands that videoconferencing places on viewers.

    When you are the presenter, you will want to guard against looking stilted and emotionless or (as I’ve seen too often) “over-acting,” since distracting mannerisms and facial expressions will all be picked up on camera. Instead, stay relaxed and mentally picture the viewer. Doing so will help you naturally express nonverbal signals of empathy, likeability and warmth – such as leaning forward slightly, smiling, and showing the palms of your hands when you gesture.

    4. Dress for success
    Cameras change the way colors and patterns appear to the viewer. Watch news reporters on television and you’ll notice that they avoid wearing white, because it catches too much light, and that they almost never wear clothing with a pattern, because it has a tendency to “jump” and “zig-zag.” Their better choices – and yours for video – are solid, pastel or bright colors. By the way: Don’t let your hair fall in your face, and don’t wear flashy jewelry.

    5. Watch your posture
    Posture affects how people perceive you. Just as someone with good posture sends nonverbal signals of energy, enthusiasm, and health, a person with poor body posture appears uninterested, uncertain, or lethargic — which is not the impression that any of us want to project in a videoconference. Sit up straight, put both feet on the floor, then take a deep breath and exhale through your mouth to relax your neck and throat. The goal is to look comfortable and confident.

    6. Prepare to be seen
    Above all, always remember that you are visible. (Which is not as easy as it sounds if you are used to teleconferences or online exchanges.) Give your full attention to those who are speaking, as you would if you were in the same room. Don’t be seen getting distracted by email or texts. And no snacking, grooming, or fidgeting. Be aware that  your body language is constantly sending messages. One senior executive was conducting a video conference when he noticed a participant suddenly lean forward to hold his head in his hands. The executive said, “I can see you, you know. If something is bothering you, just tell me.”

    BTW: In June I’m presenting seminars on “The Power of Collaborative Leadership” in Brussels, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and London. These programs include a section on virtual collaboration — and this article is a small part of that topic.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is a keynote speaker, leadership communication coach and author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” Carol can reached by email:, phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website:

    5 Ways to Build Self-Confidence

    Posted By on May 7, 2014

    I’ve been studying confidence (especially as it relates to the ability to deal optimally with change) for the past twenty-five years. Confidence is the personality trait most responsible for an individual’s ability to deal well with organizational transitions. Confident people are self-motivated, have high self-esteem, and are willing to take calculated risks.

    Here are five ways to build your self-confience:

    1. Play to your strengths

    I once gave a speech for the senior management team of a software company in Silicon Valley that was relocating out of state. A few days later the president of the company telephoned me to say, “I have an administrative assistant who is probably the brightest, most creative person I’ve worked with. The problem is, she’s married and can’t move her family. I was wondering if you would see her for a private coaching session, so that when she applies for a new job, she will come across just as terrific as she really is. I’ll gladly pay for the session.”

    Of course, I agreed, and looked forward to meeting this talented woman. When she came into my office I said, “This is a real pleasure. I’ve heard so many terrific things about you. Tell me about yourself. What is it that you do exceptionally well? What would you most want a prospective employer to know about you?” The woman was silent for several seconds. Finally she sighed and said, “I really don’t know. I do a lot of things well, but when I do them, I don’t notice.”

    Competence, strangely enough, bears little relationship to confidence. The fact that you do your job extremely well does not, by itself, insure that you are also confident of your abilities. It is only when you are aware of your competence that you become confident.

    My favorite tip for increasing awareness of your strengths and talents is especially effective right before a job interview or any other important event in which you want to project your most confident self. First, think of a past success that filled you with pride and a high sense of achievement. (This doesn’t have to be taken from your professional life – although I do encourage clients to keep a “success log” so that they can easily find an event.) Then recall the feeling of power and certainty – and remember or imagine how you looked and sounded. Recalling that genuine emotion will help you embody it as you enter the meeting room or walk up to the podium.

    2. Watch your posture

    You know that the way you feel affects your body. If you are feeling insecure or depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look down. If you are upbeat and assured you tend to hold yourself erect and expand your chest. But did you know that the reverse is also true? Your posture has a powerful impact on your emotions and on the way that others perceive you.

    Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools, shows that simply holding your body in expansive, “high-power” poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone – the hormone linked to power and dominance – and lower levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones.

    In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, the researchers found that these powerful postures lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. They also found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying.

    So before you go into a situation in which you want to project your most confident self, start by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back, widening your stance and holding your head high. Then put your hands on your hips ((think “Wonder Woman” or “Superman” pose). Just by holding your body in this posture you will begin to feel surer of yourself and to project self-assuredness.

    3. Choose to be an optimist

    In Chinese, the ideogram for crisis combines two characters: One is the symbol for danger, the other for opportunity. So — is the glass half-empty or half-full? It’s both. The only difference is where you focus your attention.

    Long before Dale Carnegie, the human potential movement, or self-help videos, a positive outlook was acknowledged to be a crucial part of high-level achievement and confidence. In today’s fast-moving, competitive business environment, a positive, upbeat, “can-do” attitude is vital for success.

    Choosing not to dwell on negativity, doesn’t mean you should be oblivious to potential danger. Rather, you can analyze situations for both positive and negative aspects, develop strategies to minimize negatives and optimize positives, and then focus on the upside of the situation. Spending too much time worrying about troublesome aspects or negative outcomes is a waste of mental energy that saps enthusiasm and confidence and makes it more difficult to realize the potential opportunities that are also inherent in the situation.

    4. Loosen up

    At another program, for a utility company on the East Coast, I was asked to speak twice: once in the morning and again in the afternoon. At the first session I had just finished talking about the growing uncertainty that all organizations face when an audience member asked, “If everything is uncertain, what happens to strategic planning? How can you make any plans for an unknown future?”

    It was a good question, and I answered it by using the two sessions as an example:

    “I was hired to put on two identical programs today, but you and I both know that it is impossible for them to be identical even though I will use the same set of Power Point slides for both presentations. The differences will be determined by the makeup of the two audiences — how many attend, what their energy level is, what questions they ask, maybe even what they had for lunch. And, of course, I too will be slightly different depending on my energy level and what I had for lunch, etc. I don’t know how the afternoon session will be different, but I’m certain that the unexpected will happen.

    As you prepare for the future you need to set goals and make plans while taking into account a multitude of contingencies in a volatile environment. And then you have to understand that, despite your best efforts, the future may not play out the way you planned, and you will most probably be required to reorient as conditions change — frequently in ways you never anticipated.”

    Some people are naturally more flexible and better at coping with and adapting to a complex, always changing reality than others. (I call these individuals “change adept.”) They’ve learned that, in chaotic times, the trick is not to brace for change, but to loosen up and learn how to roll with it.

    You can build resilience and confidence by honing your ability to commit to a course of action while, at the same time, staying flexible enough to alter behaviors and attitudes quickly to support a new direction.

    5. Embrace failure

    In a television interview, Whoopie Goldberg described how she got her first one-woman show in New York: Whoopie was performing her nightclub act and (the director) Mike Nichols was in the audience. He came backstage and offered to create a show for her in a Broadway theater. Whoopie said she didn’t know if that was such a good idea. What if she were lousy? Mike asked if she’d ever been lousy before and Whoopie said “Sure!” His response was, “Then it’s no big deal. You’ll just be lousy on Broadway.”

    To me, that reply was brilliant.

    I urge my audiences to appreciate that growth comes as much from failure as it does from success. One project manager I interviewed summed it up when he said, “If this venture fails, it will still be worth all the time and effort I’ve put into it for the past 18 months. Just look at everything I’ve learned.”

    To facilitate this kind of productive thinking, the United States Army developed the After Action Reviews. AARs are now used by organizations around the world to help teams learn from their mistakes, prevent future errors, and find new solutions to problems.

    Basically, the AAR process assembles people who were involved in a planned project and asks them to answer a series of questions. But you can conduct your own private AAR around any important event that didn’t turn out the way you hoped it would.

    1. What was the desired outcome?

    2. What was the actual outcome?

    3. Why were there differences between what I wanted and what I achieved?

    4. What did I learn?

    5. What would I do differently next time?

    Fear of failure is a huge obstacle to developing and projecting self-confidence. But when you know that your failures can’t stop you (if they are learning experiences and “no big deal”), then you increase your confidence that nothing can stop you!

    Carol Kinsey Goman is an international keynote speaker and a leading expert in how body language impacts leadership effectiveness. She can be reached by phone: 510-526-1727, email:, or through her website:

    Bullies in the Workplace

    Posted By on April 7, 2014

    I met Brenda when she managed a 2,000-person department for a Fortune 500 company. Brought in to help her with an upcoming change initiative, I was impressed by Brenda’s intelligence, creativity, political savvy, and dedication to her job. She had all the qualities of a senior executive – which was her career goal.

    But she was also a bully. One direct report described her as a “kiss-up and slap-down kind of manager.” The targets of the bullying were especially demoralized, but even those on her staff who only witnessed the bad behavior began to devote more energy to protecting themselves than they did to helping the company. Brenda’s dysfunctional management style eventually led to a decline in her department’s performance and, as a result, the change initiative was abandoned. Eventually Brenda’s career was derailed by the increasing number of enemies she made with every nasty glare and mean-spirited remark. She resigned when it became obvious that she would never get the promotion she coveted.

    Stories about bullies don’t always end with them resigning in disgrace. In fact, many bullies thrive. You may even be working for one.

    By definition, workplace bullying is the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of an employee in the form of verbal abuse or behaviors that are threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. Bullies at work practice psychological violence. They yell, insult, throw tantrums, steal credit, spread rumors, withhold crucial information, and/or socially isolate their targets by excluding them. The body language of bullies includes staring, glaring, or totally ignoring the target when he/she speaks. Bullies often engage in aggressive finger pointing, invade personal space and use touch as a measure of control (a bone-crushing handshake) or a means to patronize (a pat on the head).

    • According to a 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute Survey, 13.7 million adults reported being bullied at work.
    • Bullies are typically bosses. In fact, 72% of bullies outrank their “targets.”
    • Bullying is not illegal unless the target is a member of a status-protected group (due to gender, race, age, etc.) and the bully is not a member.
    • The financial damage bullies do to their organizations is often undetected, but can be seen in the cost of increased turnover and absenteeism and in decreased employee engagement and collaboration.

    Some bullies are put into leadership positions because they appear to be smart, ambitious, results-oriented and “take-charge.” All of which may be true (as in Brenda’s case), but in addition to those more positive characteristics, most bullies lack empathy. They seem immune to the suffering of others.

    Dr. A.R. Mohammad, an addiction expert and adjunct professor of addiction medicine at the University of Southern California, offers this perspective:
    “Addicts have some inherent characteristics. They have an inflated self-esteem and a false sense of entitlement. These characteristics may lead to bullying.
    Furthermore, occupation is one of the environmental risk factors of addiction. People who have high-pressured jobs, are under a lot of stress, and have easy access to drugs and alcohol are more prone to develop addiction. Bullying would be another way to cope with that stress.”

    So how can you tell if you’re working for a bully or just a tough boss?

    One way is to realize that tough bosses treat people equitably. They may be hard on everyone, especially during a crunch time, but they tend to ease up when the crisis is over. Bullies target only a few, and their bullying is relentless.

    Another way to gauge whether or not you are being bullied is by monitoring your mental and physical reactions. Targets of constant bullying often become physically ill. Especially prevalent are cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, and a common first sign is hypertension. Targets also suffer emotional distress, including self-doubt, plummeting self-esteem, and depression.

    Worn down mentally and physically, it’s no wonder that when it comes to dealing with bullies in the workplace, a lot of targets don’t even try. They simply quit their jobs.

    If you are being bullied at work, here are few tips:

    1. Realize you are being bullied and it’s not about you and your work. It’s about dominance and control.
    2. Take a stand from the beginning. (This is the most vital tip as targets suffer added pain and shame from not standing up to the bully in the first place.)
    3. Stay professional. Speak calmly and confidently, and make your position clear.
    3. Document and confide in others you trust.
    4. Report it to Human Resources if the bullying continues.

    BTW: I’m the co-author of Every Body’s Talking a new book on body language for children in grades 4-8. The book is filled with tips for projecting self-confidence and for understanding and responding to the nonverbal signals from teachers, parents, and friends. But that’s not the main reason I wrote it. Learning to read body language is also an effective way to develop empathy for others – and in turn, hopefully, reduce the bullying that has become such a problem on grade school campuses.

    In the schoolyard or in the workplace, bullying is a way to exert control over others through intimidation. Without a doubt, children who are bullies on the playground grow up to become bullies in the boardroom.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. ( is an international speaker at corporate, government, and association events.a