Even people, like the Prince of Wales, who are trained to deal with difficult situations can display the wrong body language when under pressure and ruin the message they hope to convey. Anna Burges-Lumsden reports on the importance of non-verbal cues.
Prince Charles’ body language said it all at a photo call in Klosters on 31 March 2005. With a forced smile through gritted teeth, a defensive posture and eyes desperate to avoid contact with Fleet Street’s finest, his distaste for the media could not have been clearer.
Prince William, by contrast, appeared relaxed, poised and confident of the image he was presenting. And so in one dramatic photograph the importance of body language was laid bare.
What the Prince of Wales really needs – apart from a lecture on the dangers of speaking near a microphone – is some serious body language coaching. Like thousands of other people in positions of responsibility he would benefit from expert help on non-verbal communication.
Words account for less than 10% of a message’s impact. The rest comes from non-verbal cues.
According to Mike Petrook, public affairs manager of the Chartered Management Institute, 90% of the messages we convey are through body language.
He said: “Half of what we communicate is transmitted through our bodily positions and movements, so understanding physical gestures and expressions can help us work more efficiently at all levels of the workplace.
“Being aware of people’s body language will help you learn more about your colleagues and how to work better with them,” he said.
Mary-Louise Angoujard, CEO and founder of Rapporta, who is specialist in executive communication and body language, believes body language is only part of the whole picture.
“Non-verbal communication not only includes body language, posture, facial expressions and eye contact, but also vocal expression, tone, pitch and pace.” And she said that to communicate successfully you must “ensure congruence with your words in all these areas”.
During negotiations or when you need to maintain authority in a meeting, Angoujard affirmed the importance of being clear of your objectives and the messages you want to communicate.
“Preparation is key,” she said. “And gathering all facts and documentation and pre-empting all possible difficulties or concerns will ensure confidence and a feeling of positive self-control. As so much of body language is unconscious on our part, this will help to ensure your non-verbal communication sends out the right signals.”
Angela Mortimer, who runs her own international recruitment consultancy, believes that maintaining good eye contact is also essential.
“People talk about eye contact and active listening, but staring someone out can be negative,” she said. “You can divert your eyes when you’re thinking and make eye contact again when you’re talking.”
When conducting interviews, Angoujard emphasised the importance of building rapport with the individual and establishing an environment where they feel at ease.
“This is the only way you will be best served in discovering their real strengths and skills and whether they will be a good match for the role and your organisation,” she said.
During difficult situations such as making redundancies, Angoujard recommended greeting the employee in an appropriately pleasant but serious manner.
She said: “Welcome with a pleasant expression, however maintain a demeanour that reflects the serious nature of the discussion and your respect for the situation and the individual.”
Angoujard also stressed the importance of the environment in which the redundancy takes place. She suggested that when possible, conduct the meetings on neutral ground such as a meeting or conference room rather than someone’s office, and that being seated around the corner of a round, oval or square table will be less ‘confrontational’ and more ‘collegiate’.
Petrook warned, however, that body language is hard to fake and even someone who has developed a good understanding of the importance of gestures and gesticulations cannot completely disguise their own thoughts.
“There are some elements of behaviour that will remain controlled by the subconscious and are involuntary,” he said.
Angoujard said that because so much of non-verbal communication is subliminal in nature, the best solution is to understand first your own attitudes, intentions and objectives and then speak accordingly.
This way, the messages you send involuntarily will be congruent with your conscious words, tone and gestures, she said.
“When you believe your own message, the impact is much greater and others are more likely to believe you mean what you say,” Angoujard said.
Body language for tricky situations
- Control environment
- Offer a warm greeting
- Understand your position
- Have an upright, confident posture
- Open body language (relaxed not stiff)
- Build rapport
- Maintain good eye contact – no eyeballing
- Ask good quality, open questions
- Speak in a clear, measured manner
- Show empathy
- Display controlled energy.
- Unremitting eyeball to eyeball
- Ignoring members of the group
- Coldness or harshness in your voice
- Closed body language (arms folded, head down, avoiding eye contact).
- Offer a pleasant but serious greeting
- Provide a round, oval or square table and sit on the corner not opposite
- Use an appropriate voice tone, pitch, pace
- Display open, neutral body language
- Give reasonable eye contact
- Present a respectful attitude
- Offer empathy but stay businesslike
- Provide meaningful consultations
- Use a calm voice at a slow pace
- Use a businesslike demeanour
- Supply third-party reference facts
- Distant or intimate
- Superior or inferior
- Offensive or defensive
- Maternal or paternal
- Maintain unbroken eye contact
- Display overtly closed or defensive body language
- Display too much joviality or friendliness
- Use open body language
- Present a straight, relaxed, confident posture
- Maintain good eye contact so that you look pleasant and engaged
- Offer a firm handshake
- Show sincerity in voice tone
- Speak a suitable pace
- Explain expectations
- Take charge
- Express interest in person & their experience
- Ask framed, contextualised questions
- Listen attentively and nod occasionally
- Give a flimsy or bone-crushing handshake
- Sit across a table
- Stand too close on arrival
- Invade personal space
- Say: “Tell me about yourself”