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Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden

Talking Management

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

Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty [at McGill University] Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am speaking to Mark Bowden, who is an actor that has been advising business managers for a number of years now on how to use body language more effectively.

Good afternoon, Mark.

Mark Bowden: Hi there.

KM: Mark, how do managers use body language more effectively?

MB: I think that one of the things that they can do for sure is to make sure that they are giving off images that help people trust them. For example, I am talking to you now but I have my head tilted to one side, showing you my ear that shows actually that I am listening to you. That should mean that you start to mirror me, as you are doing. Your head is tilted to one side, and so I am actually causing you to listen to me more. I am giving you the image of listening and so you are listening more to me back. That gives you a sense that you can trust me because I am hearing you, although I just keep on talking. There is a sense there of me being a little bit manipulative, persuading and influencing you to listen to me more because I am giving the image that I am listening to you.

KM: How can we use gestures, for example, when it comes to effective body language?

MB: Let me show you this: When I drop my hands down by my side, which is what most people will do when they are talking to a large audience, you can see how something in my persona, maybe the light in my eyes, the energy in my body, has dropped. That is because when my hands go down by my side I start to take less oxygen into my lungs. I actually start to put myself, and my audience who are mirroring me, into quite a sleepy state.

One of the things you can do – well, you can do the opposite of that, which is actually to bring your hands up to the chest area. That is now increasing the amount of oxygen that is going into the blood, it is increasing the energy and you are getting something which is a little more exciting now, a little more motivational. So hands at the chest can motivate people more; when they drop down by the sides, you can see how instantly the energy drops from me. I actually start to think at a much slower rate. You can see that I personally start to stutter a little bit more and get lost for content.

KM: This is something where the audience reflects your energy level, or reflects how you are talking to them, and if you are speaking slowly with your arms dropped down to the side, their energy levels will start dropping as well.

MB: They just copy the leader. Your audience copies the leader. If you are speaking, if they are sleeping, it is because you are sleeping. If they are excited, it is because you are excited. If they are engaged, it is because you are engaged. If they are thinking in a certain way, it is because you are doing that and they will absolutely copy the way that you are thinking. And they know the way you are thinking because of the way that your body is held. You have got to give out really clear, strong images that help the audience copy you.

Here is another example: If I start to talk to you now and I start to give a lot of gestures around my face, this gives you certain feelings about my content; maybe that I am holding elements of it back. How do you now start to feel about giving me content, about talking to me, interacting with me, when I have this kind of image with you? Say we are in a meeting together – do you feel compelled to give me information when I look like I am somebody who is holding elements of information back? What if I then start to open up with my gestures towards you? How much more compelled do you feel now to ask me questions, or to offer me information?

So, it is just this thing that you will copy me, I will copy you. If I start giving body language which is not useful, we are both going to escalate and spiral down into that area. If I start to use body language which is useful and builds more trust, you are more likely to spiral into a more trustworthy relationship with me.

KM: So you are saying that, at times, body language actually trumps the words that I am actually saying.

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