How Managers Can Use Body Language to Their Advantage

by Jarie Bolander on November 19, 2012

Body language plays a vital role in effective leadership. It helps you convey your attitude, feelings, and intentions to your employees. Mastering how to use your body language, as well as read the body language of others, is an essential managerial skill.

When You Enter a Work Area

Pay attention to how employees react when you enter their work area. Do they turn towards you, make eye contact, and smile, or do they essentially keep their bodies in the same positions and stare at their computers?

Presentation Indicators

If during your presentations employees slump in their chairs, avoid eye contact, fidget with objects, or scribble on paper, then clearly they’re bored. Employees who disagree with your message may have their arms and/or legs crossed. To alleviate boredom or reach an acceptable solution to problems, find a way to end the presentation and initiate a discussion addressing their issues; create solutions together as a group.

Ensure that an employee knows that you are listening to him or her. Turning your head and torso to face an employee directly and making eye contact lets an employee know you’re taking him or her seriously. Leaning forward and occasionally nodding or tilting your head also indicate you’re paying attention.

Smiling

A genuine smile lets employees know that you are approachable and cooperative. When you smile at employees, they’ll typically return that smile.

Employee Eye Contact

Eye contact is an important body language indicator. Employees keeping eye contact shows attention and interest.

An employee maintaining eye contact while explaining what caused a mishap may indicate that the employee is telling the truth. Averting eye contact may be an indicator of a lie, especially if they divert their eyes to their right. Some experts suggest that when people look to the right, or upward and to the right, they are using the creative side of their brain, and this may indicate that they’re exaggerating or flat out lying. Rapid eye movement is another indicator of lying.

Increasing one’s breathing rate, getting red in the face and/or neck area, perspiring, altering one’s voice (such as stammering or changing pitch), or clearing of the throat are other indications that an employee is telling a lie.

Employees who are well aware of body language indicators try to control their facial expressions, hand and arm gestures, and their posture. However, people often forget to control their legs and feet while telling a lie, and thus they significantly increase their foot movement. They shuffle or fidget with their feet and even wrap their feet around each other or around the leg of a chair.

Touch

Touch is one of the most powerful nonverbal cues. Just touching an employee on the hand, arm, or shoulder for less than a second creates a human bond. In the workplace, a sincere handshake makes a positive impression on employees.

Voice

The delicate task of suggesting how employees can improve their performance without alienating them, but making sure they take you seriously, isn’t easy; they won’t take you seriously if they hear a soft voice and notice little eye contact. An overly powerful stare along with a powerful voice may make an employee defensive and resentful.

Use a strong voice and let your tone go down rather than up at the end of a comment. If you bring your voice up near the end of a comment, it comes across as trying to be nice.

Gestures

Gesturing while speaking to a group of employees can actually improve your thinking. Gesturing with your hands often improves verbal content and produces clearer thoughts.

Stance

A broader than usual stance (with arms further away from the body than usual) while keeping your head up and maintaining good eye contact conveys confidence and conviction.

Don’t try to persuade employees when they’re showing defensive body language, such as when they’re crossing their arms and legs. Wait until their bodies open up.

Don’t just listen to your employees – be aware of their body language. Also, keep in mind that they’re getting clues from your gestures, posture, and facial expressions. Improving your body language can have a huge positive impact on your employees.

Brian Jenkins writes about a variety of job-related topics for The Riley Guide.

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