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Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden

Talking Management

How body language can undermine your message Add to ...

KM: This is interesting because there is a sort of interesting parallel with obesity here in that our bodies are telling us to eat fat, winter is coming, and indeed, in Canada, the winter comes, but the fact is that the supermarkets have just as much food as always. Our bodies are saying to keep eating, which was great advice when winter came and there was less food, but today it is irrelevant but we are still hard-wired to see fat and think ‘I should eat some of that.'

MB: Right, because you have that 500-million-year-old part of your brain which does not know that supermarkets exist. It does not know that we wear suits and ties and that you are not really going to kill me. But I might see images that might look like that; images that might look like aggression. You come and start to talk to me and make your chest very big, lift your throat area which is a sign that you do not think that you will attack me.

You start showing me those kind of gestures, I am either likely to back off – if I cannot back off far enough, I will have to come in and attack. If I fail at the attack, I will faint or take a sick day. I will find some way out of that situation. Here I am just giving you this kind of gesture at the moment. You know that I am acting this, but I bet that at the same time there is a part of your brain going ‘Why is he being so arrogant about this?', yet you know that I am telling you that I am acting this. At the same time, in the back of the mind, you are going ‘why is he being so arrogant about his content?'

KM: Mark, what you are saying then is that when we are communicating, we want to make sure our body language and what we are saying is absolutely in sync.

MB: Yes, absolutely. An example would be, if I were going to tell you ‘Karl, it has been great; I love having this interview with you. It is fascinating talking with you about this,' my body language has got to be in sync. There is no point in me dropping those hands, going into this downward intonation that comes with the hands dropped and the low energy while saying that it has been fascinating talking to you Karl about this, we should really do this again some time. You just cannot see the correlation. At the same time, if I take the body language too big and say ‘Karl, it has been fantastic talking about this. Fascinating,' maybe that could be too extreme.

KM: Right. Do men and women use body language in a different manner?

MB: We all pretty much actually have the same body language. There is some body language that women might use more than men, on average; but, on average, what I am interested in is, what is the body language that we all use a great deal of time. What are the archetypes? What are the fundamentals that we are communicating? That to me will cut through to really clear communication rather than going ‘this person is a male, this one is a female and I have to treat them differently.'

KM: That is in the business context. In the context of young people in a bar, there might be a different idea, but that is about romance and not about business.

MB: Absolutely. Should you be talking about flirting signals, then they are different for male and female. On the whole, business is often trying to get that out of business because it causes conflict. In fact, some businesses have strict rules about that. It does not mean that those things are not going to creep in, though. Of course they do, and you see those for sure.

KM: This has been Karl Moore, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I have been speaking to Mark Bowden, who is an actor who works with business people on how to improve their use of body language.

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