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  • ybethel

Understanding Body Language

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

In the work environment, communication plays a vital role in the success of your team, so mastering verbal and non-verbal communication helps you to build healthy working relationships. You can encounter a full spectrum of persons at work. There are those who are difficult to read and others who display their thoughts and emotions in ways that are very easy to detect. Rolling their eyes, frowning, and folding their arms can all be indicative of something deeper going on during a conversation.

Your body language has an impact on your team

As a leader, your body language is so powerful, it can completely derail a conversation if you are inadvertently (or deliberately) sending a non-verbal message that is different than your spoken words. For instance, a manager may say that he believes in and strongly adheres to the values of his company and one of the values is to put people first. However, this manager’s actions do not demonstrate this value. To be specific, he does not listen to employees, interactions with his staff are treated like a transaction, he never has the time to help resolve employee issues, nor does he spend time coaching and developing his direct reports.

When one person on a team is destabilized by thoughtless demonstrations of body language by a leader, the entire team can be negatively affected by a phenomenon called emotional contagion. When there is negative emotional contagion in an organization, trust is usually compromised.

Aligning Your Words and Your Actions

One of the most effective ways to ensure your body language is congruent with your verbal messages is to become aware of and care about what your body language is communicating. Here is a list of non-verbal actions that can derail communication with your direct reports and other coworkers:

  • A mysterious smile;

  • A blank look;

  • A look of disbelief;

  • Nervous laughter;

  • Not making eye-contact; and

  • Changes in breathing and other physical movements like shifting uncomfortably in your chair.

Body language can be translated by different persons in a variety of ways. For example, folding your arms can mean you are assuming a defensive posture, disagreeing with what is being said. However it can also mean a person is cold. Therefore it is important to understand that body language is an indicator, you should try to find out why it is happening.

Five Tips for Becoming Aware of Your Body Language

  1. Record yourself in a conversation using video: With another person's permission, you can record an actual conversation or you can role play. Using this approach, you can better understand how you are perceived by others through immediate feedback.

  2. Check your posture: are you standing and sitting straight or leaning forward? If you have an erect posture, it can convey confidence and interest. Leaning forward can indicate interest also but it can also give the impression of aggression or defensiveness.

  3. Invite feedback from a person you trust: Be willing to listen to a person you trust providing feedback about your facial expressions and gestures. Ask them to be objective and highlight areas which you can improve. Let them know the verbal and non-verbal messages you intend to communicate and discuss or practice alternative ways you can use expressions or gestures in those situations. One of my colleagues went so far as to have a person in the room give a signal in meetings when her non-verbal communication became unproductive.

  4. Reframe your Thoughts: Once you have identified your body language patterns, you can use reframing to change your non-verbal reactions into positive, verbal and non-verbal responses. Reframing is a tool you can use to view a situation that would usually trigger a negative response in a different way so that you can respond objectively to the circumstances both verbally and through your body language. For instance, you may have a coworker who never has anything positive to say about the people you work with, including you. If you can reframe the situation by understanding hurt people tend to hurt people, you can realize their behavior is not about you, it is really about that person and his/her pain. This understanding can help you to let go of your pain and decide to respond in a constructive way.

  5. Build your Emotional Quotient: Emotional intelligence helps you to become self-aware and therefore equips you with information you can use to choose a self-regulated response. Skills like optimism, empathy, thinking about the consequences before reacting, and navigating your emotions are all useful in helping you to modify your body language permanently.


Brain science has established that over time, our brains are hard-wired to react to emotional stimuli without thinking. In light of this finding, it is important to keep in mind it will take time to rewire your brain to adopt new, and positive responses.

As a leader, your direct reports are persons whose short term incentives and merit increases depend on your assessment of them and if you are undisciplined about demonstrating your body language you can send mixed or negative messages that can lead to distrust. Body language is the result of a thought and an emotion. If you can modify your thoughts and improve your emotional intelligence you are on the right track toward developing the discipline of managing your body language.

With knowledge gained from over 30 years of Fortune 500 and consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.

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