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
  • May 2015
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    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.

    Why We Suck at Spotting Liars

    Posted By on February 28, 2015

    Dianna Booher could have begun her insighful book (“What More Can I Say?”) with an example of the positive application of her nine principles of persuasive communication. But, instead, she tells the story of how some of these same persuasive strategies were used to by two con artists — and ended up costing her $25,000.

    Reading her account of a Hollywood producer who lied about presenting Dianna’s reality TV show proposal to a major studio, reminded me of just how easy it is to be deceived. And how smart, savvy, normally skeptical people like Dianna (and you and I) find it so difficult to spot a liar.

    Recognizing that we are being lied to is an important social and business skill. But surprisingly small factors – where we meet someone, what they wear, what their voices sound like, whether their posture mimics ours, if they mention the names of people we know or admire – can enhance their credibility to the extent that it actually nullifies our ability to make sound judgments about them. Our own unconscious biases, vanities, self-deceptions and desires only add to the hijacking of our reason. When we put our faith in a co-worker we don’t really know or hire someone we haven’t properly investigated, (or give $25,000 to a seemingly influential man), we almost always do so for reasons of which we are completely unaware.

    Based on content from “The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them,” here are six reasons why we suck at spotting liars:

    1. We trust people just because they remind us of ourselves.

    There is a well-known principle in social psychology that people define themselves in terms of social groupings: Any group that people feel part of is an “in-group” and any group that excludes them an “out-group.” (You know, it’s the “us” and “them” division.)

    Similarities make us feel comfortable. We assume we know what in-group people are like – they’re good people, like we are! Differences, on the other hand, make us a little wary. When we see people as part of an out-group, we are more likely to judge them as untrustworthy. Deceivers with whom we have things in common are much more likely to gain our trust – regardless of how little they may deserve it.

    2. We disbelieve people who act “inappropriately.”

    We have a tendency to make judgments about another person’s integrity based on our ideas of appropriate behavior. This shows up in lie detection when we believe that we know how we’d act if we were telling the truth – and that other truthful people would/should behave the same way. In reality, there is no universal behavior that signals deception or honesty. People are individuals with their own unique set of verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Which is why establishing a person’s baseline (their normal body language and speech patterns under relatively stress-free circumstances) is so important when trying to separate truthfulness from deceit.

    3. We are far less skeptical of attractive, charming people.

    Unfair though it may be, and even if we proclaim otherwise, we judge people by their appearance. And we automatically assign favorable traits to good-looking people, judging them to be more likeable, competent, and honest than unattractive people.

    The term “halo effect,” coined by psychologist E. L. Thorndike, is a cognitive bias in which our perception of one desirable trait in a person can cause us to judge that person more positively overall. When a con artist is charming (and most of them are), we tend automatically to believe that he/she is also perceptive, candid, and totally on our side.

    4. We instinctively distrust people with low eyebrows.

    By studying people’s reactions to a range of artificially generated faces, researchers in Princeton’s psychology department found that faces with high inner eyebrows, pronounced cheekbones, and a wide chin struck people as trustworthy. Conversely, faces with low inner brows, shallow cheekbones and a thin chin were deemed untrustworthy.

    Of course, you and I realize that eyebrow shapes and cheekbone prominence has no relationship with truth or deception, but unconsciously we override our rational minds to make this instant and instinctive judgment.

    5. We look for inaccurate body language “tells.”

    The biggest body language myth about liars is that they avoid eye contact. While some liars find it difficult to lie while looking you in the eyes, many liars, especial the most brazen, actually overcompensate to “prove” that they are not lying by making strong, direct eye contact and holding it steadily.

    Another popular misconception is that looking to the right indicates lying, while looking left suggests truthfulness. The University of Edinburgh, completed three different studies to show that there was no correlation between the direction of eye movement and whether the subject was telling the truth or lying.

    Rapid eye blinks can be mistaken for a sign of deception. And it’s true that when nervous, people blink their eyes more often. But deceivers blink less under the increased mental effort of creating a lie, remembering the lie, inhibiting the truth, and preparing for follow-up questions. A study at Portsmouth University shows that a person’s blink rate slows down as he/she decides to lie and stays low through the lie. Then it increases rapidly (sometimes up to eight times normal rate) after the lie.

    We also tend to suspect people who squirm or fidget, believing that their nervousness is a sign of deceit. We forget that he first physical reaction to stress (before the urge to fight or flee) is to freeze – which means that liars may actually reduce movement and gestures – not increase them.

    6. We want to believe some lies and liars.

    Invest with me and get rich.”

    “This project will give you the experience and exposure you need for that next promotion.”


    Or maybe it’s just a less-than-truthful come-on from people who understand that when they tell us exactly what we want to hear, we are more likely to believe them.

    Brain-imaging studies show that when we have a personal stake in the outcome of any event, our brains automatically include our desires and aspirations in our assessments. The process is called motivated reasoning, and it utilizes a different physical pathway in the brain (one that includes parts of the limbic system) than the pathway used when we are objectively analyzing data.

    Subliminally, we are all highly susceptible to the power of self-interest. But, because motivated reasoning is unconscious, we may sincerely believe that we are making unbiased choices when we are really making decisions that are self-serving. So when Dianna heard that she might be getting her own reality TV show — or when any of us accept an attractive lie at face value — it may have as much to do with an unconscious self-interest as it does with the liar’s skill at deception.

    Then there is our susceptibility to flattery, which stems from a simple desire to feel good about ourselves. We can be unduly influenced by liars who first butter us up with compliments about our intellect, taste in clothing, sense of humor, personal charm. After all, we reason, they are right about those things, so they are probably just as accurate about everything else they tell us.

    While honesty may be the best policy (check out The International Honesty Campaign for more on that topic), we will never totally eliminate lying. That doesn’t mean we should be distrustful of everyone we meet. In fact, a study at the University of Toronto found those who are inclined to trust people are less likely to get duped. But we also shouldn’t blindly trust just because someone is attractive, charming, influential, or looks a lot like us. Probably the best advice is the old adage, “trust, but verify.

    Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. Contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman, or through her website:


    Networking Tips for the Office Holiday Party

    Posted By on November 24, 2014

    The holiday office party is a wonderful time to mingle with colleagues in a less pressured setting.

    Which makes it a great time for networking.

    Never thought of an office party as a networking event? Then you are missing a key opportunity to develop or deepen relationships with co-workers, to personally thank those who have been helpful or supportive throughout the year, and to introduce yourself to senior executives.

    But if you have any level of anxiety when it comes to networking (and who doesn’t?), here are a few tips to keep in mind:

    Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Judy Thomson, networking masters and the co-authors, WORK THE POND! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life, advise you to work the room in pairs. The role of each “tag teammate” is to keep an eye on the other person, to make introductions, and to make sure that both of you are comfortably engaged in conversations.

    Another of their networking tips is to give yourself a challenge by seeking out the person who would be considered the ‘host’ of the party. (This is probably the most senior person.) Thank him or her for sponsoring the event. You don’t have to go overboard with praise but acknowledge that you “appreciate the chance to connect with some new people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.” If this senior person is open to continuing the conversation, mention something positive that your team is doing. (Prepare one or two examples ahead of time.)

    They’d also advise you to “create good karma” by rescuing the individual who is standing alone clutching a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other or who is walking around with “the look” – scanning the room to find a friendly face. (This may be a new employee or someone who is more of an introvert.) Approach that person and introduce yourself.

    When it comes to body language tips for networking at the office party, here’s what I’d advise:

    * Develop an inclusive, welcoming attitude. Pretend that your job is to make others feel welcome and at ease. Approaching people with this attitude (and a genuine smile) will immediately resonate in a positive way.

    * Stand tall. When you pull your shoulders back and hold your head high, you assume a posture of confidence and self-esteem.

    * Reach out and touch someone – but don’t go overboard. The way you greet your fellow party-goers can have a huge impact on their perception of you. A warm, but firm handshake is a business skill worth developing, and a light touch on the arm or shoulder can create an instant bond. But if you hang on people or touch them too frequently, you send unintended signals of neediness or flirtation.

    * Let your body show that you are at ease. If you want people to see you as comfortable and approachable, assume an open position with your legs about shoulder width apart and your arms loosely at your side or held waist high. Don’t cross your arms and legs or use objects (your drink or plate of food) as a barrier. It looks as if you are closed off or resistant.

    * Mirror the other person’s gestures and expressions. When we interact with others, subconsciously we scan the other person’s body to see if they move or gesture in a similar way to us. When you subtly mirror the person you are speaking with, it is a way of silently saying, “We have something in common.”

    * Make positive eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (This is a great time to improve your eye contact by making a practice of noticing the eye color of everyone you speak with at the party.)

    * Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested, but also be respectful of other people’s space. Although this varies by culture, in North American business situations, even in a party setting, that means staying at least 18 inches away.

    * Dress for success. Remember, this is a business event not a date. Stylish is fine, but flashy or too revealing looks unprofessional.

    * Leave your smart phone home. Or, at least, keep it out of sight. Don’t text or check email while talking with your fellow party-goers.

    * Limit your alcohol. It will make following these tips so much easier!

    If lucky enough to be invited, you definitely should attend the office holiday party. When you go, don’t pass up this wonderful opportunity to expand your network and build your personal brand.
    Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events, is the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.” To learn more, contact Carol:, 510-526-1727, or

    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: