How Your Body Language Is Hurting You

Imagine the following unfolding in a boardroom: the CEO is holding his head in his hands, both palms covering his entire face. The person reporting to him is leaning back in his chair, ankle on knee, hands behind his back. The subordinate seems to be totally oblivious to the CEO. Even without hearing the words being spoken, what conclusions can you draw from this scenario?

My perception of the message was: “To hell with all of you. I didn’t meet the commitments I made. I don’t care, and there’s nothing you’re going to do about it.” Without intending to, and totally undermining his own credibility and long-standing relationships.

Was this his intended message? No. He works in a high-stress, highly volatile, deadline driven world. He’s good at what he does. I assume he wants to see the company succeed and grow. So why the subtle (or not so subtle) but loud message that contradicts this?

When I asked him, he told me “that’s how I think”. Pretty much the opposite of what other people were getting.

Bottom Line:

Watch your own body language, how it effects others around you, and what message they might be getting from you.

Try This:
Be aware of your body language and how it affects the people around you for the next week. What did you learn? What changes do you think you might need to make?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Body Language Basics for Dates and Job Interviews
How Science Can Teach You to Spot a Liar
How To Build Relationships Without Talking


To Touch or Not To Touch

I recently got an e-mail from a former co-worker and current friend, who asked:

Do you think managers should be more ‘touchy-feely’? Here is a pretty interesting collection of studies, summaries that have looked at the power of non-sexual touch.


Hi Gord,

I’ve done a little experiment since you sent this link to me. I’ve reached out and touched some of my clients at the end of our sessions – usually a full open palm on the back, shoulder, or arm. It’s had mixed results. Some seem to welcome the touch. They know that we’re connecting and supporting each other. Others seem to tolerate it, or wonder what I’m up to. I’m not a touchy-feely guy by nature, so my first advice would be:

It Depends

Some people will welcome it and need it. It’s reassuring for them. For others it’s threatening and unwelcome. Likewise unconsciously pulling away from somebody with whom you’re trying to build a relationship, and who reaches out to you, is counter-productive. So my second piece of advice would be:

Watch Carefully

Watch carefully how they react and watch carefully how you react. It comes back to being mindful of what’s happening around you. For those of us who are task/doing oriented versus people oriented this is a conscious effort.

I’m not saying you should start working the room and back-slapping it that’s not your nature (or stop if it is). It might be as simple as not making a face when somebody shakes our hand for a little too long (or noticing when somebody is being uncomfortable with your too-long-for-them handshake).

If you’re more people oriented remember, not wanting to be touched doesn’t mean we don’t like you. Your enthusiastic approach to life is great, but there are some out there who might misinterpret your intentions.

Be Sincere

So if you’re trying to fake sincerity, and if you do you’re going to get busted, you’ll be harming the relationship. If somebody suspect on a subconscious level that you’re hamming it up just to influence them, even if that isn’t your intention, the trust you’re trying to gain will be lost instead. You’re better off keeping your hands to yourself (if that’s who you really are) than coming across as awkward and fake.

The opposite is also true – if you’re an outgoing person by nature, being stiff and formal will be odd, and people will notice. Like a tie that doesn’t match your suit. Better not to wear the tie than to try to fit in.

If you’re Bill Clinton or Tony Robbins, this advice doesn’t apply to you. Influences of that skill and depth have their own personal reality-distortion fields. If you’re not, don’t try and fake it.

In order to influence people, we have to make them feel comfortable and safe. So my last piece of advice is:

Pay Attention

Adjust your behaviour to your audience. Drucker said “Communication is what the listener does.” In this case it means learning to adjust our style on a moment-by-moment basis to the people we’re with and the situation we’re in. Nothing tells somebody we care as much as paying attention to them. There are no cookie-cutter solutions when it comes to people. You want to influence them? Pay attention.

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

What Your Network Predicts About Your Performance

This article “Are You Working With Energizers or Rotten Apples?” is interesting. By measuring somebody’s effect on the relationships within a company you can predict their success. You can predict the success of their projects, promotions, customer relations, and follow-on work.

This means that you can’t afford to try to fix non-performers for very long. Or even just leave them in place.  Hire slow and fire fast. It sounds cruel, but the rest of the people in your organization deserve it. Do it for them.

The Value of Mentors

Looking back on my corporate career, one thing that moved my career forward was having a mentor. Even if he didn’t know it!

The history of the mentor-protégé relationship goes back to Homer’s Iliad. The goddess Athena assumed the form of Odysseus’s friend Mentor, who was entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son.

Having a mentor is good way to learn from others’ experience, navigating corporate or market relationships, and developing your network. Being a mentor is a good way to pay back to the community, develop your team, develop your own leadership & coaching skills, and expand your own network. Being a mentor or being a protégé is win-win.

Mentors are invaluable.

Leadership in the Long-Term

Trust = Relationship multiplied by Time

When people describe the characteristics of a good leader, boss, manager, or supervisor, one behaviour that comes close to the top of most lists are adjectives like “integrity”, “trust-worthiness”, “honesty”, “credibility”. If you think back to a boss you’ve really enjoyed working for, and worked hard for, chances are you never thought they were lying to you.

One of the first teams I had the luck to be in charge of didn’t start very well. The earlier team leader’s idea of employee relationship management was sitting down with the software development team in the lab once a week and asking them “What the f*** did you do this week? What the f*** are you going to do next week? Get the f*** back to work.”

The level of trust wasn’t very high.

When I took over the two remaining developers left were ready to quit. The rest of the team had already quit, and the customer wasn’t ready to give us relief on the schedule. Trials for the land-mine detection system were less than a year away, and software control of the remotely controlled vehicles’ driving, marking, and detection systems was a critical part of getting through those trials successfully.

Luckily the technical lead assigned to the team was the best in the company. He told me who to hire (“A” players always know who the other “A” players are), and it was my job to work the corporate levers to get them. After that and agreeing to a realistic schedule, the biggest part of my job was to shield them from interference and distractions so they could focus on the work, report progress to company leadership, and get the resources they needed when they needed them. Included running out to the local cable manufacturer to fetch custom-made test harnesses if need be.

A year later we met the original schedule and budget, and successfully trialed the land-mine detector. The lesson I stumbled on there was that great people working together can do almost anything.

Those of us that have worked for somebody we didn’t trust (or didn’t trust us) have experienced some version of a living hell. Everything they say, do, or order is second-guessed, challenged, or double-checked. If employees don’t trust a supervisor how does that affect their productivity? Even if they were still trying to do a good job – which many aren’t. They’ve given up and are just trying to get by until they can find another job.

What does this mean when a boss has integrity? What can we see, feel, or hear with an honest boss? What makes us trust anybody, let alone somebody who controls our addiction to food, clothing, and shelter?

When a relationship lacks trust, everything we say and do can and is interpreted in the worst possible way. Innocent remarks or minor misunderstandings become a major crisis. Drama goes way up, and work & fun goes way down.

But trust isn’t something we can demand. It is earned. How do we build trust with anybody?

For us to get to know & trust somebody we have to feel that we understand them and that they understand us. Somebody who listens to us, answers our questions, and spends time with us is much more likely to earn our trust than somebody who talks more than they listen, avoids addressing our concerns, and gives the impression that we’re not important enough to spend time with.

Think about the people who you trust now. It’s not a big risk to say that these are relationships were built over time with people we know and like. We trust them because we know them and who they are. What they’re likely to say or do in a particular situation, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they do when things go wrong or when they’ve made a mistake, how they behave when they think nobody is looking, or what they do when things are going well. We know what to expect.

And they know us, like us, and have spent time with us.

So it comes back to the truism that there are no shortcuts or silver bullets in leadership. To build trust we need to spend time with and put energy into relationships with the people who work for and with us. We need to figure out who they are, what they’re good at, what they’re not good at. Where they want to go with their career and their life, and how that fits in with our team, company, or enterprise. This takes time and effort.

We have to care.

We need to understand what challenges or road-blocks they’re facing, and what we can do to remove them. We need to really listen to and understand our best employees, so we can figure out how to hire more like them (not more like us), put them in the right place doing the right thing for them and for us.

Here is the biggest strategic advantage any company, club, or business can have: hiring the right people, giving them a clear goal, and getting the hell our of their way.

This sounds simple, but it is hard, repetitive work that sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and by attention I mean time in our calendar. How much time have you blocked off in your calendar to meet individually with every one of your direct reports? Does is happen regularly? How often?

If the answer is zero, what are you going to do about it?

A good leader is a trusted leader. Trust isn’t something we can demand. It is earned. Face-to-face.