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Walk fast and look worried

Thumbnail image for Pierre Battah (2013)

Body Language @ Work

I was given advice on my first day as a grocery packer by a wily veteran - "always walk fast and frown so you look worried about something important." Although the advice may have been faulty the underlying sentiment was spot on. As Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy said "Our non verbals govern how people think and feel about us".

Cuddy's widely viewed Ted Talks video "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are" teaches us that our body language not only conveys meaning to others it in fact changes our body chemistry and enables us to feel differently about ourselves. Her two minute power posing techniques of making ourselves big by occupying lots of space (arms in the air, chin up as if you have just won a race) actually makes a person feel more powerful and confident.

Body language has significant impact in the workplace. Author Carol Kinsey Gamon in her book the Silent Language of Leaders reminds us that how we carry ourselves has enormous influence on how we are perceived and how being mindful of our hands, face, arms and even our feet is important.

There are of course inherent dangers in reading too much into body language given that sometime a yawn is a sign of a late night and not boredom with the topic in a meeting. Crossing your arms can be about comfort and being cold and not about defiance and resistance. Reading body language is fraught with bias, cultural norms (how close people stand, touching, eye contact etc.) and gender differences so it needs to be practiced with care but the cues can be insightful and serve to confirm our interpretations of people's words and intent.

Although power posing and generally taking up more space with bodies has its place, people judge us on how we express trust worthiness long before they judge our competence and power. Being mindful of our body language and how it conveys caring, empathy and likability (especially for leaders) will go a long way. Remember you convey emotion with much more than your words and your facial expressions. All those nonverbal active listening techniques can come in handy.

So my advice: be mindful of your body language, walk in such a way that is inviting and confident (shoulders back please) as opposed to so fast that people don't approach you and wear a smile instead of that worried look. Much more powerful in the long run.

Listen to Pierre on Information Morning with Jonna Brewer:

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Pierre Battah appears on Information Morning Moncton every Monday morning after the 7:30 news and sports. You can follow his blog at pierrebattah.tumblr.com

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