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
  • November 2014
    M T W T F S S
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    Is Your Body Language Killing Collaboration?

    Posted By on September 24, 2014

    Most leaders today are aware of the need to look confident, powerful, and assertive, but fewer understand the impact of empathy and warmth. And this may be more of a career-limiting factor than they know.

    As organizations move toward more collaborative cultures, your success as a leader increasing depends on your ability to make team members feel valued, respected, and included.

    While power and confidence are non-verbally displayed by expanding into height and space, when you want to encourage collaboration, you’d be wise to replace those status cues with warmer ones – and that starts by keeping your body relaxed and open.

    In open and receptive postures, legs are uncrossed, and arms are held away from your body, with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table. Studies show that leaders with open body language are perceived more positively and are more persuasive.

    Leaning is another way your body makes a statement. Leaning backward usually signals feelings of dislike or negativity, as we subconsciously try to distance ourselves from anyone we don’t like or trust.

    On the other hand, liking and trust is often displayed by leaning forward – especially when sitting down. But if you are using forward leans as a means to build positive relationships, be aware that early leans can make people uncomfortable and decrease their perception of you as likeable. So wait until you’ve developed a level of interpersonal comfort. Then make your move.

    When it comes to the body language of inclusion, facing people directly when they’re talking is crucial. Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest and makes the speaker shut down.

    Mirroring is another nonverbal sign of empathy and inclusion. You may not realize it, but when you are dealing with people you genuinely like or agree with, you’ll begin to match their stance, arm positions and facial expressions. It’s a way of signaling that you are connected and engaged.

    You can also use your head. The next time you are in a conversation where you’re trying to encourage someone to continue speaking, try nodding your head using clusters of three nods. Research shows that people will talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods in this manner.

    Head tilting is another signal that you are interested and involved. So head tilts can be very positive cues when you want to send messages of empathy and understanding. But a tilted head may also be subconsciously processed as a submission signal. (Dogs will tilt to show their necks in deference to a more dominant animal.) So don’t overuse this signal.

    Of course, paying attention when someone else is speaking is one of the warmest signals you can send. So at your next meeting, avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on whoever is speaking to make sure that he or she feels valued, respected, and included.

    Carol Kinsey Goman. Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker who specializes in the link between body language and leadership effectiveness. Contact Carol at 510-526-1727,, or through her website:

    Eye Contact is Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears

    Posted By on August 22, 2014

    Did you know that eye contact is like Goldilocks and the three bears?

    It’s true.

    Too much eye contact is instinctively felt to be rude, hostile and condescending; and in a business context, it may also be perceived as a deliberate intent to dominate, intimidate, belittle, or make “the other” feel at a disadvantage. (Which was how Goldilocks felt when the bears caught her eating their porridge). So unless you have in mind doing one of those things, it’s better to avoid too much eye contact.

    Too little, on the other hand, can make you appear uneasy, unprepared, and insincere. In its analysis of patients’ complaints, for example, one large county hospital found, that 9-out-of-10 letters included mention of poor doctor-patient eye contact; a failure which was generally interpreted as “lack of caring.”

    “Just the right” amount of eye contact – the amount that produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness – will vary with situations, settings, personality types, gender and cultural differences. As a general rule, though, direct eye contact ranging from 30% to 60% of the time during a conversation – more when you are listening, less when you are speaking – should make for a comfortable productive atmosphere.

    And did you know these other facts about eye contact?

    • Eye contact produces a powerful, subconscious sense of connection that extends even to drawn or photographed eyes; a fact demonstrated by Researchers at Cornell University who manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on several Trix cereal boxes, asked a panel of adults to choose one, and discovered, as they expected, that the box most frequently chosen was the one on which the rabbit was looking directly at them, rather than away.

    • We reduce eye contact when we are talking about something shameful or embarrassing, when we are sad or depressed, and when we are accessing internal thoughts or emotions.

    • We increase eye contact when dealing with people we like, admire, or who have power over us. In more intense or intimate conversations we naturally look at each another more often and hold that gaze for longer periods of time. In fact, we judge relationships by the amount of eye contact exchanged: the greater the eye contact, the closer the relationship.

    • Females look more at those they are talking to than do males. That’s one of the reasons women prefer a face-to-face conversation, while men are content to talk standing side-by-side.

    • We avoid eye contact in elevators, subways, crowded buses or trains – in elevators we face the door, in the others we stare at our Smartphones – because it helps us manage the insecurity of having our personal space invaded. Waiters may avoid eye contact to send customers the signal, “I’m too busy to deal with you right now.” Employees often keep their eyes down when the boss appears with a tricky question or looks like he’s going to ask for volunteers.

    • The biggest body language myth about liars is that they avoid eye contact. While some liars (most often, children) find it difficult to lie while looking directly at you, many liars, especial the most brazen, actually overcompensate to “prove” that they are not lying by making too much eye contact and holding it too long.

    • If a speaker actively seeks out eye contact when talking, he or she is judged to be more believable, confident and competent.

    Eye contact is so powerful a force because it is connected with humans’ earliest  survival patterns. Children who could attract and maintain eye contact, and therefore increase attention, had the best chance of being fed and cared for. Today, newborns instinctively lock eyes with their caregivers. And the power of that infantile eye contact still retains its impact on the adult mind. Whether it’s shifty-eyed guilt or wide-eyed innocence, we automatically assign enormous credence to the signals we give and get when we look into each other in the eyes.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker and the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” For more information or to view videos, go to

    Go Ahead – Lie to Me!

    Posted By on August 4, 2014

    In the workplace people boast, conceal, falsify, omit, spread gossip, misinform, or cover-up embarrassing (perhaps even unethical) acts. They lie in order to avoid accepting responsibility, to build status and power, to preserve a sense of autonomy, to keep their jobs, to get out of unwanted work, to get on the good side of the boss, to be perceived as “team players” when their main interest is self-interest. These are the anti-social lies that can damage reputations, derail careers, kill team morale and any hope of collaboration. Lies to cover unethical or illegal activities can even bring down an entire organization.

    But according to Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, there is another type of lies that are actually good for business — and for business relationships. It’s called pro-social lying, although most people refer to it as telling “white lies.” It’s the kind of lie we tell when we want to protect someone or make them feel better.

    To see how these two types of lies affect relationships, Dunbar and a group of researchers with the Aalto University School of Science in Finland devised a complex mathematical model. The model showed how anti-social lies erode bonds over time and how pro-social lies help create stronger bonds in a network.

    When I was doing research for “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace,” I asked people which workplace liars they were most grateful for. Here are a few of their replies:

     I like liars who say, “That’s a nice jacket.” I don’t care it it’s true, it makes me feel good.

    I’m grateful for co-workers who ask me how my project is going, even if they’re just being polite.

    My team leader tells us what a great job we’re doing. We all know it’s not the truth, but we try to live up to her expectations.

    In “Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind,” David Livingstone Smith poses the theory that lying is deeply embedded in our subconscious as a result of evolution. In evolutionary terms, being a successful liar constitutes a “selective advantage” – which means simply that our ancestors who didn’t develop the knack for deception died off, and those who survived by lying passed on stronger and stronger genes for this ability.

    Most of the lies we tell are self-serving deceptions that benefit us. (The job candidate who exaggerates his/her accomplishments does so to look more qualified for the position.) Some, the pro-social kind, are intended to benefit others. (The co-worker who compliments a nervous colleague does so to put him/her at ease.) And some lies are a mixture. (The manager who tells competing candidates that he backs each of them, wants to boost the self-esteem of both people, but also wants to be “on the winning side” regardless of which one gets the job.)

    As we now know, white lies actually preserve the social order and can even be selfless. But this is not to underestimate the kind of lies that seriously damage relationships and organizations. I realize that this distinction can be like the “I know it when I see it” test for pornography, but most human beings are extremely nuanced in gauging another person’s selfishness as a liar. The boss who gives you a false deadline because she knows you procrastinate might actually seem canny and clever to you. The boss who gives you an early deadline so that she can take credit for your work to her supervisor is much harder to forgive. The early deadline might be same in each example, but only one is hurtful and harmful.

    With this distinction in mind, I hate lying. I hate lies from others that are mean-spirited, and I hate telling lies that force me to remember conflicting stories and that I fear will shame or embarrass me if found out. Those lies are too stressful and take too much of my emotional, physical, and mental energy.

    But in an emotionally congenial, high-trust environment, where thinking you have to protect or defend yourself happens less and less frequently, the most destructive kinds of workplace lies diminish with startling rapidity, leaving the kindly, well-intentioned social lies greater and greater scope to do their good work.

    So, I’d love to come to your meeting but I’ll be on an important phone call at that time.

    And, no, those jeans don’t make you look fat.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker who can be reached at 510-526-1727 or through her website:


    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