Hello – Bob the BA here! Have you ever wondered why someone would be looking you directly in the eye one minute and then suddenly turn away? Did they lose interest in what you were saying? Had they made up their mind already? Perhaps and perhaps not… It may be that culturally they believe it is a sign of disrespect to look you in the eye. Then again, they may be getting ready to tell you a whopper of a lie! Perhaps they are just naturally submissive to authority figures. Body language – it does a body good to know how to read it and use it.
What about someone that keeps backing away every time you get close? Was that Howie Mandel Syndrome (mysophobia a.k.a. germaphobia) that you just encountered, or did you forget to use deodorant again? It simply may be that they are not ready to take you seriously yet. Distance can make the heart grow fonder, but it can also be a trust barrier. Body language is a very useful social skill and a powerful tool that can really help increase the success of your efforts. I know many people who are able to read and use body language with ease; they have an instinct for it. Conversely, I know people that, unfortunately, are completely unaware that there ever was an issue to be noticed, and that they could have prevented it if they had read it in the body language around them. Think of the power this can give you in the work environment!
I am a notorious people watcher. I love to take a break from shopping at the mall (or wherever I am) and sit down on a bench and just watch people. I look at their body language, and I try to figure out their story. Some stories are beautiful, like the couple sitting together, drinking their coffee but not speaking. Initially I think, are they angry? Who didn’t take out the garbage? No, they are simply comfortable, and they are communicating volumes as they reach out and gently touch each other’s hands in understanding. Some stories are sad and some are hysterically funny but each one tells me something that I can use. I use it constantly at work every day.
My boss just crossed his arms. My colleague just tilted her head. My VP just mirrored what I did when I crossed my legs. The SME on my project keeps twirling her hair. My developer keeps tapping his feet. The Architect is pacing. The sponsor keeps opening and closing their laptop. These ALL mean something and it is your job to figure out how to read it and use it to increase your success.
How about a demonstration in reading body language? You are trying to sell your boss on a new approach for your project and he just crossed his arms. What does that mean? He could be shutting down and not willing to hear what you have to say. He could be cold (if so, I say put on a sweater!). He could just do it out of habit. If he is shutting down you are probably better off to wait it out and try another day on this new approach. You need to influence your boss without authority and he is giving you a potentially strong signal that he is not ready to listen. Result? You have read body language correctly to avert a crisis, and your idea lives to be told another day in another way.
You are now walking by your VPs office who does not appear to be busy so you stop in and say hi (yes, it really is okay to bond with your VP from time to time). You sit down and, as you are talking about your project, you cross your legs out of habit. Guess what? Your VP just did the same thing. Coincidence? Probably not. This is usually a sign of comfort or respect so you need to use this opportunity. Tell the VP about the new idea for the project approach! Result? You have read body language correctly which allowed you to influence without authority and get your idea circulating that will give you a greater chance of success.
So, take some time out to do some people watching next time you are at the mall or your favorite restaurant. Figure out their story and what their body language is saying. It could be very helpful the next day at work. Body language – it does a body good to know how to read it and use it. What do you think?
For more information on body language and influencing without authority:
- Attend our class “Influencing Without Authority.”
- Read the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries) by Terri Morrison
- Read this article: Influencing Without Authority: Rev Up Your Internal Consulting Skills: Part 1 (Why Don’t We Have More influence) by Elizabeth Larson and Richard Larson (A member login is required to access this article)