The Nonverbal Advantage

Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work

Carol Kinsey Goman (Author)

Publication date: 05/01/2008

Bestseller over 70,000+ copies sold

The Nonverbal Advantage

Good nonverbal communication skills are a huge professional advantage, but until now very little has been available to help people hone their ability to use and interpret body language on the job.

Focuses on the crucial role of body language in the workplace—a vital part of building powerful professional relationships

Fun to read—features cartoons, photos, anecdotes, and easy exercises

Firmly grounded in research and in the author’s extensive experience as a therapist, consultant, and executive coach

The workplace is a “blink” world: studies show that we form opinions of one another within seven seconds of meeting and that 93 percent of the message people receive from us has nothing to do with what we actually say. Good nonverbal communication skills are a huge professional advantage, but until now very little has been available to help people hone their ability to use and interpret body language on the job.

In The Nonverbal Advantage, Carol Kinsey Goman combines the latest research and her twenty-five years of practical experience as a consultant, coach, and therapist to offer a fun and practical guide to understanding what we and the people we work with are saying without speaking. While firmly grounded in recent discoveries in evolutionary psychology, neurobiology, sociology, criminology, anthropology, and communication studies, Goman writes in an informal, conversational tone and illustrates her points with cartoons, photos, and entertaining anecdotes. She includes dozens of simple and enlightening exercises readers can practice on and off the job to gain control over the message their body is sending.

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Overview

Good nonverbal communication skills are a huge professional advantage, but until now very little has been available to help people hone their ability to use and interpret body language on the job.

Focuses on the crucial role of body language in the workplace—a vital part of building powerful professional relationships

Fun to read—features cartoons, photos, anecdotes, and easy exercises

Firmly grounded in research and in the author’s extensive experience as a therapist, consultant, and executive coach

The workplace is a “blink” world: studies show that we form opinions of one another within seven seconds of meeting and that 93 percent of the message people receive from us has nothing to do with what we actually say. Good nonverbal communication skills are a huge professional advantage, but until now very little has been available to help people hone their ability to use and interpret body language on the job.

In The Nonverbal Advantage, Carol Kinsey Goman combines the latest research and her twenty-five years of practical experience as a consultant, coach, and therapist to offer a fun and practical guide to understanding what we and the people we work with are saying without speaking. While firmly grounded in recent discoveries in evolutionary psychology, neurobiology, sociology, criminology, anthropology, and communication studies, Goman writes in an informal, conversational tone and illustrates her points with cartoons, photos, and entertaining anecdotes. She includes dozens of simple and enlightening exercises readers can practice on and off the job to gain control over the message their body is sending.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an international keynote speaker, specializing in the link between leadership and nonverbal communication. She coaches executives, women leaders, salespeople, and managers to build strong and productive business relationships by projecting confidence, credibility, caring, and charisma. A frequent presenter for The Conference Board, The Executive Forum, and the International Association of Business Communicators, Carol presents keynote addresses and seminars on leadership, collaboration, body language in the workplace, and change communication to corporations, government agencies, and major trade associations.

Her clients include more than 200 organizations in 25 countries— corporate giants such as Consolidated Edison, 3M, and PepsiCo; major nonprofit organizations such as the American Institute of Banking, the Healthcare Forum, and the American Society of Training and Development; high-tech firms such as Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments; agencies such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, US Army Tank- Automotive and Armaments Command, and the Library of Congress; and international firms such as Petróleos de Venezuela, Dairy Farm in Hong Kong, SCA Hygiene in Germany, and Wärtsilä Diesel in Finland.

Carol has been cited as an authority in such media as Industry Week, Investor’s Business Daily, CNN’s Business Unusual, American Public Media’s Marketplace, MarketWatch Radio, and NBC Nightly News. She is a leadership blogger for Forbes.com and has published more than 300 articles in the fields of organizational change, leadership, innovation, communication, the multigenerational workforce, collaboration, employee engagement, and body language in the workplace. She’s the author of 12 business books, including The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work and The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help— or Hurt— How You Lead.

Carol has served as adjunct faculty at John F. Kennedy University in the international MBA program, at the University of California in the Executive Education Department, and for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States at its Institutes for Organization Management. She’s a faculty member for the Institute of Management Studies, presenting training seminars internationally. To contact Carol about speaking engagements, consulting, or leadership coaching or to register for her newsletter, please e-mail [email protected]; call (510) 526-1727; or visit her online at www.carolkinseygoman.com.

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Table of Contents



Introduction

Chapter 1:
The Five C’s of Body Language

Chapter 2: Reading the Whole Body

Chapter 3: The Eyes Have It

Chapter 4: Face to Face

Chapter 5:
Talking with Your Hands

Chapter 6:
Feet First

Chapter 7:
You’re in My Space

Chapter 8: The Power of Touch

Chapter 9:
Translating Body Language across Cultures

Chapter 10:
Selling Your Message without Saying a Word

Acknowledgments
Index
About the Author

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Excerpt

The Nonverbal Advantage

CHAPTER 1
The Five C’s of Body Language

BODY LANGUAGE IS LIKE A COMPUTER. We all know what it is, but most of us are never exactly sure how it works. That’s because the process of receiving and decoding nonverbal communication is often done without our conscious awareness. It simply happens. Human beings are genetically programmed to look for facial and behavioral cues and to quickly understand their meaning. We see someone gesture and automatically make a judgment about the intention of that gesture.

And we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. As a species we knew how to win friends and influence people—or avoid/placate/confront those we couldn’t befriend—long before we knew how to use words. Our ancestors made survival decisions based solely on intricate bits of visual information they were picking up from others. And they did so quickly. In our prehistory, rapidly deciding if a situation or person was dangerous was often a matter of life or death.

There is a world of information you can learn about people simply by observing how they use their bodies to send nonverbal cues. But to accurately decode those signals, you need to interrupt your automatic judgment system and analyze your impressions. To uncover its true meaning, body language needs to be understood in context, viewed in clusters, evaluated for congruence with what is being said, assessed for consistency, and filtered for cultural influences. This chapter shows you how to do that.

Filtering Your First Impressions: The Five C’s

Nonverbal signals play a key role in helping us form quick impressions. Our ability to do so is one of our basic survival instincts. But, as innate as this ability may be, not all our first impressions are accurate. Although our brains are hardwired to respond instantly to certain nonverbal cues, that circuitry was put in place a long time ago—when our ancient ancestors faced threats and challenges that were very different from those we face in today’s modern society. Life is more complex today, with layers of social restrictions and nuanced meanings adding to the intricacies of our interpersonal dealings. This is especially true in workplace settings, where corporate culture adds its own complexities—a unique set of restrictions and guidelines for behavior.

Although first impressions may not always be accurate, you can improve your ability to read someone’s body language by filtering your impressions through the five C’s: context, clusters, congruence, consistency, and culture.

Context

Imagine this scene: It’s a freezing-cold winter evening with a light snow falling and a north wind blowing. You see a woman—you realize it’s a co-worker—sitting on a bench at a bus stop. Her head is down, her eyes are tightly closed, and she’s hunched over, shivering slightly and hugging herself.

Now the scene changes: It’s the same woman in the same physical position. But instead of sitting outdoors on a bench, she’s seated behind her desk in the office next to yours. Her body language is identical: head down, eyes closed, hunched over, shivering, and hugging herself. The nonverbal signals are the same, but the new setting has altered your perception of those signals. In a flash she’s gone from telling you, “I’m really cold!” to saying, “I’m in distress.”

The meaning of nonverbal communication changes as the context changes. Just like in real estate, location matters. We can’t begin to understand someone’s behavior without considering the circumstances under which the behavior occurred. As illustrated by our example, the message sent by that woman’s body language changed dramatically depending on whether she was sitting outside in the cold or alone in her office. And some situations require more-formal behaviors that might be interpreted very differently in any other setting.

When people are interacting, their relationship determines much of the context. The same man talking with a client, his boss, or a subordinate may display very different body language with each. Time of day, expectations based on past encounters, and whether the interaction is taking place in a private or public setting—all these variables form the context in which body language occurs, and they need to be taken into consideration when you evaluate meaning. The key is to judge if the nonverbal behaviors are appropriate to the context in which they occur.

For example, Dave and Diane had been friends and colleagues for years. As such they stood close to each other, maintained strong eye contact, touched one another on the arm, and smiled often during their workplace conversations. No one thought to comment on this until Diane announced her engagement to another employee in the same company. Armed with that information, the next time a co-worker saw Dave and Diane smiling and enjoying each other’s company, he said, “Careful now, she’s engaged!”

The relationship context had suddenly changed. Apparently, nonverbal behavior that was deemed appropriate for Dave when Diane was “single,” was now viewed as a potential problem.

TRY THIS

Choose one nonverbal behavior (say, touching a colleague on the arm) and list all the conditions under which the behavior would be acceptable in your company or organization. Now list all the contextual changes that might make this gesture inappropriate. Ask yourself how changing the physical location (in a private office, in a meeting room with several colleagues, on-stage when being presented an award, or in the hallway when involved in casual conversation) could alter the meaning of the gesture. How could the status of the individuals involved or the quality of their relationship change the nonverbal message being sent?

Clusters

Nonverbal cues occur in a gesture cluster—a group of movements, postures, and actions that reinforce a common point. A single gesture can have several meanings or mean nothing at all (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar), but when you couple that single gesture with other nonverbal signals, the meaning becomes clearer. A person may cross her arms for any number of reasons, but when the gesture is coupled with a scowl, a headshake, and legs turned away from you, you have a composite picture and reinforcement to conclude that she is resistant to whatever you just proposed.

Always remember to look for clusters of behaviors. A person’s overall demeanor is far more telling than a single gesture viewed independently.

A savvy manager I know begins every staff meeting by taking off his jacket, and he chooses a chair at the center of the conference table (not at the head). Those behaviors alone would send a message of informality, but it’s the rest of his gestures that drive the point home. Whenever anyone in the meeting speaks, the manager leans forward with an expression of interest on his face, nods approvingly, and gives the speaker full eye contact. This cluster of gestures symbolically sets the stage for exactly what he wants the meeting to be—a rank-free exchange of ideas and questions.

TRY THIS

Count to three. That is, refrain from assuming that any single gesture has a particular meaning until you see two corroborating gestures that reinforce that same meaning.

Congruence

A classic study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at the University of California at Los Angeles found that the total impact of a message is based on 7 percent words used, 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent facial expressions, hand gestures, body position, and other forms of nonverbal communication.

Obviously, you can’t watch a person speaking in a foreign language and understand 93 percent of what is being communicated. (Mehrabian was studying only the communication of feelings—particularly the feelings of like and dislike.) Still, you can bet that when the verbal and nonverbal channels of communication are out of sync, people—especially women—tend to rely on the nonverbal message and disregard the verbal content.

When thoughts and words are in tune (that is, when people believe what they are saying), you see it corroborated in their body language. Their gestures and expressions are in alignment with what is being said.

You also see incongruence, where gestures contradict words: a side-to-side headshake while saying yes or someone frowning and staring at the ground while telling you she is happy. Incongruence is a sign not so much of intentional deceit but of inner conflict between what someone is thinking and what he or she is saying.

I noticed this conflict in Sheila, a manager I was coaching. Sheila appeared calm and reasonable as she listed the reasons why she should delegate more responsibility to her staff. But every time she expressed these opinions, she also (almost imperceptibly) shuddered. While Sheila’s words declared her intention of empowering her employees, the quick, involuntary shudder was saying loud and clear, “I don’t want to do this!”

TRY THIS

Here’s an exercise that I suggest practicing outside of your workplace: Whenever someone asks you a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no (for example, “Would you like fries with that?”), answer in the affirmative while subtly shaking your head from side to side. Then watch how others react to the incongruence in your response.

Consistency

You need to know a person’s baseline behavior under relaxed or generally stress-free conditions so that you can compare it with the expressions and the gestures that appear when that person is under stress. What is his normal way of looking around, of sitting, of standing when relaxed? How does he respond when discussing some nonthreatening topic? Knowing someone’s behavioral baseline enhances your ability to spot meaningful deviations.

One of the strategies that experienced police interrogators use for spotting dishonesty is to ask a series of nonthreatening questions while observing how the subject behaves when there is no reason to lie. Then, when the more difficult issues get addressed, the officers watch for changes in nonverbal behavior that indicate deception around key points.

TRY THIS

The best way to understand someone’s baseline behavior is to observe him over an extended period of time. So, when you interact with your business colleagues, begin to notice—really notice—how they look when they are relaxed and comfortable. How much eye contact do they make? What kind of gestures do they use? What body postures do they assume?

Then, once you know what is normal for your co-workers, you will be able to quickly and accurately detect even minor shifts when their body language behavior is out of character.

We all run into problems trying to evaluate the consistency of someone we’ve just met. The following is an example of something that happened to me a few years ago.

I was giving a presentation to the chief executive officer (CEO) of a financial services company, outlining a speech I was scheduled to deliver to his leadership team the next day. And it wasn’t going well. Our meeting lasted almost an hour, and through that entire time the CEO sat at the conference table with his arms tightly crossed. He didn’t once smile or nod in encouragement. When I finished, he said, “Thank you” (without making eye contact) and left the room.

As I’m a body language expert, I was sure that his nonverbal communication was telling me that my speaking engagement would be canceled. But when I walked to the elevator, the CEO’s assistant came up to me to tell me how impressed her boss had been with my presentation. I was shocked and asked how he would have reacted had he not liked it. “Oh,” said the assistant, her smile acknowledging that she had previously seen that reaction as well. “He would have gotten up in the middle of your presentation and walked out!”

The only nonverbal signals that I had received from that CEO were ones I judged to be negative. What I didn’t realize was that, for this individual, that was normal behavior.

Culture

All nonverbal communication is influenced by our cultural heritage, which is discussed at length in chapter 9. For now it’s important to understand that when reading body language you should consider the amount of stress the person is under. That’s because the higher the emotional level, the more likely it is that culture-specific gestures will show up.

In addition, body language is affected by the many subcultures of which we’re a part. Take posture, for example. Ballet dancers are trained to hold their bodies chest-forward, so you’ll often see them standing like this with their heels together and toes pointed out (a modified first position). Many office workers are round-shouldered with a slight slump in the chest from hours spent hunched over their keyboards. Military personnel often carry a shoulders-back, spine-straight stance long after their tour of duty has concluded.

People from different regions of the same country may also use their bodies very differently. Take, for example, the fast-paced stride of a typical New Yorker and contrast it with the more leisurely gait of someone from the South. Or think of the potential body language differences between a prototypically reserved and formal New Englander and his more casual California counterpart.

The more you know about a person’s background, hobbies, and interests, the more you can understand why certain gestures or postures are part of her unique repertoire—and why deviation from these patterns is significant. Sometimes people shift postures as they shift subjects. In my therapy practice, I would often see patients assume one posture when talking about their mother and a completely different posture when discussing their father.

TRY THIS

Choose one business colleague and make a list of everything you know about her background, including her ethnic heritage, where she was born and raised, her hobbies, her family, and the sports or physical activities she enjoys. Once you have a full list, start observing your co-worker to see if you can spot the nonverbal cues that are a result of some part of her background.

Keep in mind the five C’s—context, clusters, congruence, consistency, and culture—as you go through the rest of this book. There is no doubt that people use nonverbal communication to reveal their state of mind. But reading body language isn’t just about learning nonverbal signals; it is also about understanding how to get to the real meaning behind those signals.

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Endorsements



“Given today’s technology-driven communication systems, people have fewer face-to-face interactions. As a result, it is crucial to maximize their impact. Dr. Goman provides a valuable guide for doing just that by helping the reader understand how the nonverbal aspects of a conversation often say much more than the verbal ones.”

—Jon Peters, President, The Institute for Management Studies

The Nonverbal Advantage takes a fresh look at body language as an essential executive management skill. This is a must-read for anyone who is responsible for negotiating or facilitating change in their professional association.”

—Alan Sauer, CAE, IOM, Fellow, American Society of Association Executives, and former Chair of the Board of Trustees, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management

“This book happens to hit on one of my hot buttons. I have made numerous speeches on communication, which I consider the common denominator of success or failure. Invariably, people do not reflect on body language as a means of communication until you bring it to their attention. The Nonverbal Advantage should be a great success!”

—Charles A. Lynch, Chair, Market Value Partners Company

“Face-to-face communication takes on a new meaning in this much-needed and detailed treatise on nonverbal communication. Understanding how humans give silent clues—with eyes, hands, posture, and even feet—helps us become better speakers and better listeners.

—Wilma Mathews, ABC, IABC Fellow, Faculty Associate, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Communication Consultant


“Carol Kinsey Goman shows you how to use body language skills to build stronger professional relationships. The Nonverbal Advantage is a must-read for anyone wanting to move ahead and stand out from the crowd.”

—Robert L. Dilenschneider, Founder and Principal, The Dilenschneider Group, and author of Power and Influence: The Rules Have Changed

“In my global business dealings, I’ve seen negotiations fall apart when people gave the wrong signals and didn’t respect cultural differences. The Nonverbal Advantage should be required reading for anyone in sales or negotiations— especially if they work internationally.”

—Kimberly Benson, Vice President, Cange International, Inc.


“In a brave new world brimming with discovery and invention, we must remember to update our existing human-insights skill set. Now is the time to renew your toolbox by including knowledge of the nonverbal cues that will take center stage in business and in life. Carol Kinsey Goman’s book is a timely read indeed.”

—Watts Wacker, futurist and coauthor of What’s Your Story? Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People, and Brands

The Nonverbal Advantage is a fresh look at employee communication management and the more subtle, but nevertheless important, cues of body language. Goman’s analysis of interpersonal communication techniques, signals, and behaviors suggests that nonverbal signals are more important in understanding human behavior than words alone—the nonverbal ‘channels’ seem to be more powerful than what people say. She is pointing the way for managers at all levels.”

—Deborah Radman, APR, Fellow PRSA, Senior Vice President/Director, CKPR


“In the second half of my thirty-three-year career in law enforcement, my interview ability and success took a definite upswing after taking training that addressed not only verbal deception but also nonverbal behavior. Carol’s book takes many of the things I learned about body language and puts them in a form that any manager or business professional can use.”

—Robert Baker, retired San Diego County District Attorney, Investigator and San Diego County Sheriff Detective


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