What Does Your Body Language Say?

July 25, 2011

If you stand or sit with your arms crossed, you’re closed off to what’s being said, right? If someone looks down or off to the side while they’re talking to you, they’re lying, right? Not necessarily, according to Janine Driver, an expert on body language.

I saw Driver speak a few months ago. She’s worked for the federal government, authored books on this subject, and teaches classes and speaks. I’ve also seen her on the Today show a couple times.

According to Driver, many of the old body language myths just aren’t true. She says you have to start with a baseline, and go from there. This works better with people you’ve know for awhile. For example, I’m often accused of being closed off when I cross my arms.  But my friends will tell you that I’m just comfortable standing leaned against a doorway with my arms crossed and my ankles crossed. That means I’m relaxed. An open stance with my legs apart and my arms down by my sides means I’m ready to argue.

If someone never looks you in the eye when they speak, but all of a sudden maintains direct eye contact, this could indicate they’re lying, due to the change. Get it?

The bottom line is to be aware of the body language habits of those with whom you interact. A change in their body language should alert you that something’s not right. Have you ever had that feeling that something is just off? And you don’t know why, because the person is saying all the right things? You just have a bad feeling. Their body language could be sending you signals of which you’re not even aware.

As for your own body language, Driver offered some tips for successful meetings and interactions:

*People like others who they perceive to be like themselves. So, mirror the other person’s behavior a bit. It will make you more likeable.

*Keep your feet flat on the ground during a meeting. Do not cross your legs or ankles. This isn’t because of the old “closed off” idea. Rather, it’s because you will have to uncross or recross them at some point, which will make you look nervous.

*When listening, tilt your head left to look more intelligent; tilt your head right to look more attractive.

*Standing with hands in your pockets can portray confidence, but only if you keep your thumbs out.

*If you’re sitting at a table, and you steeple your fingers, this can exude power and confidence. However, you have to be careful with this, because fingers in a “gun steeple” can indicate aggressive behavior.


*When talking one on one, do not sit directly across from the person. You’ll both be more comfortable if one of you is off to the side, because you won’t feel like you’re staring directly at each other when you talk.

Lastly, Driver says your intent affects your body language. For example, when you’re nervous, you can make others around you nervous by your body language. On the other hand, if you’re grateful, you’ll likely find the other person more open to what you have to say, because your body language will illustrate this.

Fascinating stuff. For me, I have to be aware of crossing my arms and legs, because I know it gives the wrong impression. What body language do you use that people are misinterpreting? If you really want to know, ask your friends and family. You may be surprised what they say.

What about politicians and elected officials? What about others in the news? Are they being honest? Check out Driver’s blog at www.JanineDriver.com. She does some analyses of people in the news – and gives her insights as to whether they’re lying or being deceptive.

I’d love to hear your body language tips, too. Just post them as comments on the blog. (note: if you post in a linkedin group, your comments will not show up or be retained on the actual blog site)


What’s Your Communication Style?

July 1, 2011

If you’re a fan of Myers-Briggs, then you’ll get a kick out of this, too.

I attended WWPR‘s brown bag lunch a couple weeks ago. The speaker was Carol Vernon, Certified Executive Coach and Managing Principal of Communication Matters.

She has developed four designations for communicators. Perhaps you like the bottom line, or love to get lost in facts and figures. Maybe you’re a storyteller, or you believe compassion is the way to go. Whatever your preferred style, Vernon says you can use it to your advantage, in both your professional and personal relationships.

We all know people we consider good communicators. What traits do they possess? They’re usually friendly, interested, knowledgeable and good listeners. But after hearing Vernon speak, I realize there’s more to it than that. Just like with Myers-Briggs, when you meet YOUR type, it’s such a relief. You feel like you’re with your pals and you can relax. The same holds true when you meet others who communicate the way you do. Perhaps this makes a difference in how you perceive a good or not-so-good communicator?

Here are the fours styles Vernon has spelled out. She does say that no particular style leads to greater success or effectiveness. I believe successful communicators are more likely to morph their styles to fit a particular situation.

  1. Direct – decisive and pragmatic. Tends to speak quickly and formally, with direct eye contact and a firm handshake. Focus is on WHAT needs to be done.
  2. Systematic – analytical and logical. Prefers details like charts and graphs, and looks at processes. Uses precise language. Focus is on HOW to get the job done.
  3. Spirited big picture – storyteller. Excited about ideas and innovation. Very expressive and persuasive. Focus is on WHY the project is necessary.
  4. Considerate – supportive listener. Speaks slowly using soft tones. Values relationships and is more comfortable with workplace closeness. Focus is on WHO is involved.

Why style are you? I identified with all the styles to a certain extent. When I spoke with Vernon about this, she said that some people are able to blend or flex their styles naturally when they interact with people of different styles.

We didn’t take a test to determine which category best suited us. Instead, Vernon asked us to self-identify and then split into groups.

About half of us self-identified as Direct Communicators. Vernon says this is unusual. I wonder if direct-style individuals are drawn to the communications profession? Again, according to Vernon, you will find a certain type of person more drawn to a certain profession, but not necessarily to the exclusion of other types.

Only two of our group put themselves in the Systematic category. Again, Vernon says this is unusual. The styles are usually a bit more spread out. About 25 percent fell into the Spirited category, with the remaining 25 percent as Considerate.

So how can it help to know your style? When you recognize your style and your bosses or colleagues’ styles, you can consciously make an effort to blend or flex your style to better communicate.

For example, when dealing with Direct Communicators, get to the point and answer the question asked. For Systematic Communicators, provide facts and figures. Spirited Communicators need recognition of their contributions. Focus and really listen to the Considerate Communicators.

Interesting, isn’t it? Since I attended this session, I’ve been thinking about the people with whom I interact, and trying to determine which category they fit. With some people it’s easy; with others, it’s not so easy. But it certainly does explain why I feel some people are easier to get along with than others.

Let me know what you think about this. Also, check out Carol Vernon’s web site; she has much more information.


To Be Inspired — Volunteer

June 17, 2011

I went to be inspired, and I was.

Hands On Greater DC Cares held their annual conference, called the Impact Summit, on June 15 in Washington, DC. I think everyone has an obligation to give back, so I wanted a closer look at an organization and at people who live that philosophy every day. I wasn’t disappointed. Volunteerism and partnerships were the buzzwords of the day. The people I met are doing truly great work.

Although the opening session started with some not-so-good statistics, it was followed by an outline of issues facing the area, along with potential solutions and some success stories. I felt as if I was receiving an insider’s view of the District, and it was very interesting.

Washington, DC facts on file:

The poverty rate ranges from18 to 35 percent.

Unemployment rates are 15 to 23 percent.

Up to 21 percent do not have high school diplomas.

However, DC is a knowledge town. Unemployment is only 3 percent for the college-educated over the age of 25, according to Sylvia Benatti, University of the District of Columbia professor, who also listed the above stats. It was mentioned later that there used to be quite a few trade schools in the city, but the focus changed to information, and many of the schools closed. A number of people cited the need for a renewed focus on manufacturing and trades.

Tough issues facing the District include education, health and employment, as with most urban environments. Transportation was also raised.

Dr. Bruce Anthony Jones, University of South Florida professor, noted that urban school leadership is in a perpetual state of crisis. He said we need to focus on retaining our leaders and developing a collective purpose.

Dr. Pierre Vigilance, George Washington University professor, stressed that “health is not medical, it is social, and it is environmental”. He said that only 7 percent of the population lack health insurance, but we don’t have good health outcomes.

A later session focused on the economy. After identifying barriers, panelists were asked to identify solutions and emerging trends that are making a difference. All three panelists stressed the need for partnerships and working together.

Lindsey Buss, President of Martha’s Table, described how farms outside of DC are helping with the recent increase in need for food. He said we need to continue to look outside the region for solutions.

Stephen Glaude, Director of Community Affairs in the DC Mayor’s Office, said we need to recognize our interdependence on outside regions, as well as our interdependence within the city wards. Just five months into the new city administration, Glaude said that they are making progress in some areas, albeit all the problems in the news, but that some programs need review. He also stressed that government, as a rule, is not quick. (Don’t quote me on that; I can’t remember his exact words, but I do agree that governments are not known to be quick responders. That’s just the nature of the beast.)

Michael Ferrell, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, agreed. He noted the successes he’s had collaborating with other service providers, particularly in the area of moving people into transitional and permanent housing.

According to Buss, housing should come first. It’s very difficult to get people to focus on education or employment when they’re worrying about where they’re going to stay for the night.

Throughout the day, collaboration kept coming up. Many nonprofits partner with other groups for services they don’t or can’t provide. Most organizations also rely on volunteers, but volunteerism seems to have risen to a whole new level. Now we’re talking about the need for skilled volunteers. Rather than just coming in to do what’s needed, many volunteer positions now have an explicit work plan with goals. Many nonprofits couldn’t get by without these people, or at the least would have a difficult time.

That’s what I think is so interesting about Greater DC Cares. They’re connected all throughout the city, with the government, businesses and nonprofits. They train and steer volunteers to appropriate opportunities, and also help businesses either determine what type of volunteers they need or how to encourage employees to volunteer where needed. They do a lot of other stuff as well.

The people I met are doing such good work. When I asked, “what do you do?” responses included: “We provide vehicles for people.” “We run after-school programs for at-risk kids.” “We provide transitional housing.” “We support young people in high school and through their first two years of college.” “We feed people.” Wow.

A bunch of awards were given out, which I won’t mention here. You can go to their website: www.greaterdccares.org. You should, because the winners have great stories.

What really struck me though throughout the whole conference was the attitude of those in attendance. I was delighted to be among such a large group of positive and happy people. Although they’re trying to solve daunting problems, I think they know they’re making a difference, and that’s what matters in the end.


Send compliments up the chain of command, too

September 7, 2010

Even the best writers appreciate compliments. This isn’t something I gave much thought to until very recently.

I’ve always tried to respect everyone with whom I’ve worked, no matter what their position. I pride myself on being an egalitarian, and I truly believe everyone has a contribution to make. I do have trouble with those who don’t work hard or don’t work to their potential, but that’s another post…

We all enjoy compliments; they make us feel valued. While it’s easy to compliment your staff or your peers, compliments don’t always work their way up the chain of command. I realized this a long time ago, and accordingly often communicated my respect to my bosses regarding their ideas and accomplishments.

This has startled my bosses, which I think is a bit sad. Now I’m not talking about being a sycophant; rather, I’m talking about genuine compliments and respect. When I was in the top position, I was saddened to see how many sycophants circled around me. I looked for the real people – there were many. But when I looked for the real compliments, there weren’t many. Now, some could argue that I didn’t deserve compliments, but I hope that’s not the case.

Recently, I complimented one of my long-time mentors. She is a fabulously creative writer and has many articles to her credit. I’ve always taken her talent for granted. She was the best when I met her twenty-some years ago, and she’s only gotten better. Surely she knows that and I don’t need to compliment her, right? My compliment was really matter-of-fact, and I didn’t think twice about it, until her reaction…

She was thrilled that I appreciated what she had done. I was surprised she valued my opinion to that extent.

So, here’s to you, Linda. You’re the best, and I can’t wait to read your new book.

The moral of the story: let’s not forget to compliment all those closest to us, whether it’s staff or peers or bosses or spouses or parents or kids or mentors or that stranger sitting next to you. You’ll make their day.

You’re never too old or too established to appreciate a good compliment.


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