Chapter 4 - Body Language Cues for Inclusion

The opening narrative describes an executive that greeted her new management team with a brief speech about the importance of collaboration, then asked them to introduce themselves. While they did so, she seemed to lose interest - checked her cell phone frequently and even excused herself to take a call while one participant was in mid-sentence.

In the present day, the knowledge resources and capabilities of employees are critical to leadership success. Leadership is no longer a matter of directing the activities of subordinates, but leveraging their analytical and problem-solving skills, which requires fostering a high degree of commitment and engagement to encourage them to collaborate.

The Need for Collaboration

It is generally accepted that collaboration is critical to success, but few seem to quite understand what that means. A collaborative employee brings his mind to the job, contributing ideas rather than merely performing tasks. Furthermore, collaboration is a process that creates synergy - each employee shares information with others, and they build off of one another. This can only occur when employees are fully participating members of a work team.

The command-and-control style of management stifles collaboration: where formal authority is used to demand obedience, the message (and the practice) is "don't think, just do as I say." The same can be said for teammates who seek to aggregate personal power by refusing to share information or to exclude the input of others.

The problem is that companies that discourage collaboration do not perceive what they are losing: there is no way to measure what ideas employees might have contributed to create efficiency or generate new revenues in instances in which their input was ignored or silenced, or when they were made to feel excluded or too intimidated to provide their input.

The author refers to an experiment (Eisenberger 2003) in which participants were challenged to play a ball-tossing game on a computer, allegedly against two opponents over the Internet. In reality, the game was rigged so that, about halfway through the game, the other two opponents would pass the bal among themselves and exclude the player. Participants in the game demonstrated agitation, and their brains showed increased activity in the neural region believed to be associated to physical pain. They later reported feeling angry, snubbed, or judged when other players chose to exclude them.

This research shows that it really doesn't take much to make a person feel left out - and suggests that in addition to functional exclusion, body language that communicates disinterest in another person is likely to lead to demoralization. While most people do not crave constant attention, a pattern of neglect and disinterest causes them to withdraw, and cease to attempt to contribute or participate.

This is likely reflected in lackluster job performance by employees who feel excluded and are just "going through the motions" while feeling entirely disengaged from their teams.

Wired to Connect

Cooperation is an evolutionary trait, which can be seen even in animal species that live in groups. The ability of individuals to work together renders them much more effective at survival than those who exist in isolation - the pooled resources enable them to take advantage of opportunities as well as overcome problems as a group that none, acting alone, would have been able to address as efficiently or effectively. Given that social "instincts" exist in animals that lack the physical brain to engage in rational thinking, there is some support for the argument that cooperation is not a functional choice, but a survival mechanism deep in our mental wiring.

"Mirror Neurons" are mentioned briefly, from a somewhat outdated study that observed the way in which the sections of the primate brain that are active when making a particular motion (such as reaching for an object) are also active in a subject that is watching another person make that motion. Mirror neurons are also active in the brains of human infants when they are imitating a parent - when the mother smiles at the infant, these areas of the brain fire once when the expression is recognized and again when the expression is imitated.

(EN: This research is a bit outdated, as it has later been found that the same areas of the brain that are active when making a movement are also active when merely thinking about that movement. While the original study proposed it was an automatic inclination to mimic others, the later research means it is the mere contemplation of taking an action, even one that is not observed in others. That doesn't dismiss they hypothesis that people are inclined to imitate others, just that the original study can no longer be taken to constitute sufficient evidence of an instinct to imitate that supersedes conscious thought.)

In an organizational context, employees often mimic the behavior of leaders, whether consciously or unconsciously, as a way of ingratiating themselves. The same behavior can be seen in the process of dating, in which the individual who is in a weaker position adopts gestures and expressions of the individual in a stronger position.

She refers to a research study in which participants were asked about their preferences in advertisements. In some instances, researchers remained noncommittal; in others, they gave nonverbal signals of approval and agreement; and in others they gave nonverbal signals of disagreement. The real "test" was to see the subject's reaction when, after a few minutes of questioning, the researcher "accidentally" dropped a pencil. Participants who had been mimicked were two to three times more likely to pick up the dropped item for the researcher.

There's a brief mention of the way in which people seem to take pleasure in acting synchronously to others. People walking together fall into step, and groups of drummers invariably fall into the same rhythm. Social phenomena such as singing and dancing also involve activities in which individuals attempt to synchronize themselves to others physically. There's a brief mention of research (Wiltermuth 2009) in which participants in a research study who were asked to do some synchronous activity before having a group discussion were more congenial and cooperative to one another.

Another study (Beukeboom 2008) demonstrated that people were more communicative when another party was giving nonverbal signals of attentiveness. The experiment invovled describing a scene that took place on video to a researcher. When the researcher smiled, nodded, and maintained open body language, participants were more thorough and used abstractions that added details (such as what they thought the character was thinking and feeling) and offered their thoughts on what the film was trying to say. When researchers were neutral or closed, participants tended to stick to objective facts and concrete details.

It is speculated that this indicates that, faced with a closed or adversarial interrogator, people "withdraw" into the safety of facts and refrain from risking interpretation.

Tips for Inclusion

A list of six tips is provided:

You Get What You Expect of People

There's strong evidence that people in positions of authority tend to get what they expect from people - because they behave toward them according to their expectations. If they expect an individual to do well, they will support and coach them, enabling them to perform; but if they expect a individual to do poorly, they exclude and even undermined them.

The infamous "Pygmalion in the Classroom" study (Rhem 1999) gave teachers a list of students identified as "high achievers" in their classes, which was really a list of children chosen at random. These same children were selected at random - and it was found that the increased their academic performance as a result of being treated by their teachers as if they were gifted students. Additional studies (Riggio 2009) suggest that this extends to the workplace as well: supervisors and managers who hold positive expectations tend to get better performance from their subordinates.

Try Smiling

A smile is a sign of being approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. (EN: The author tosses out some random platitudes about the value of smiling, but nothing of substance.)

Head Gestures

A brief mention that nodding at a person who is speaking puts them at ease, and they tend to increase participating in conversation. Nodding in clusters of three, at regular intervals, is suggested to be the most effective. Tilting the head toward someone is another gesture that gives others the impression you are listening.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful motivator - or more aptly, lack of it is a powerful de-motivator. When a person breaks eye contact and looks away, particularly for a long period of time, it sends a strong message that they are not paying attention.

Experiments done using robots found that people were more comfortable speaking to a roboti interface if it maintained eye contact - and if there were two or more people, the individual whom the robot flanked at the least tended to speak less, in a pattern that was consistent 97% of the time (Grifantini 2009).

It's also suggested that in meeting situations, people take cues from their leader. If the leader seems bored or disinterested when a person is speaking, then other participants in the meeting will emulate this behavior and disregard te speaker.

Connecting Gestures

Gestures that are made with the palms up create connections between speaker and listener - and those with palms down are creating distance. The author refers to the pulling gesture, in which a person extends an open palm, curls the fingers, and draws the hand toward themselves, is the "ultimate connective gesture."

Remove Barriers

Make a point of facing a person directly when you are engaging with them. Even a quarter-turn to the side signals a lack of interest and causes others to shut down.

Physical barriers between people also create a sense of distance - even something as simple as a cup of coffee can be an obstruction (tip: set it to your side, rather than directly between yourself and the other person).

Avoid checking your laptop of cell phone when engaging with others. It does not make you seem like an important person, but a disconnected one who is not mentally present.

The Importance of How You Say What You Say

There are instances in which people are able to intuit what a person is about to say from their body language and the tone of unrelated remarks. They may not know the subject matter, but they can tell when another person is uncertain or excited even before they reach the thrust of their speech.

The author cites an experiment (Ambady 2002) in which a psychologist played tapes of doctors speaking to patients for her students in which the words were garbled, but the tone of speech could still be detected. Based on intonation alone, the students were able to accurately determine which of the doctors had been sued for malpractice - their voices were more dominant and less empathetic.

Leaders should therefore be aware that the manner in which they deliver a message is often more impactful than the words of the message itself. Regardless of what is said, the nonverbal cues will be interpreted to determine whether the leader is confident and sincere in what he is saying, and whether his nonverbal signals match his words.

The author turns again to neuroscience, which reflects that words are received as sounds in the temporal lobes milliseconds before they are recognized as words and translated into meanings in the neocortex - and people are rather good at reading emotions: they can gauge whether the person is in a good or bad mood almost flawlessly, and can often pin down a specific emotion such as anger, joy, fear, relief, or sadness even when they are listening to someone speak in a foreign language.

People hear the emotion before they make sense of the words - which is why people are less upset when someone provides unflattering feedback in an appreciative tone, less afraid when someone communicates about danger in a calm and stead voice, and less grateful when praise is delivered in a deadpan manner.

Using Space

In a general sense, we tend to stand closer to people we like (or expect to like), who interest us, whom we trust, or whom we get to know. This can be observed in the formation of new teams, in which people generally begin at a safe distance from one another when communicating and, as the team "gels" the distance decreases.

Physical space differs from one culture to another, but for Americans, space is generally regarded in a number of concentric circles:

(EN: I've recall seeing these "zones" used in considering dominance - the distance a person places themselves from another person communicates the degree to which they do not feel the other party to be a threat to them. In a way, the two are similar - and the distance measurements are roughly the same.)

(EN: Also from the same source, this distance is for face-to-face encounters. People are less sensitive to distance when side-to-side or back-to-back with others - though there is some apprehension about front-to-side and especially front-to-back encounters: your "front" is vulnerable and their "front" is threatening, so your-front-their-back is less uncomfortable, for you, than their-front-your-back.)

People unconsciously monitor these special zones, seeking to maintain the distance that is most comfortable for them, given the relationship or perception of the other person. When two people interact, the distance between them reflects either a common perception of the closeness of the relationship, or a comfortable compromise between parties.

(EN: Here, dominance theory suggests that there is often a struggle for space maintenance, as the more submissive partner attempts to move away from the more dominant one. Particularly in hostile encounters, people get "in one another's faces" when neither is willing to retreat from the other.)

The author suggests that she "always" notices the space that people use with her, as it is critical to gauging how much trust they place in her coaching and advice. As they move closer, they have greater interest, value what she has to say, and trust in her advice.

Distance is often unconscious, and unintentional violations can occur. In particular, powerful people are often indifferent to maintaining space - they go where they please and expect others to make room. An in general, people are more tolerant when someone of high status (or someone to whom they are attracted) violates their space.

When you invade someone's space, or move closer to them than they are comfortable, you can witness an increase in heart rate and galvanic skin response. They may step away if they can, or if they cannot move or wish to conceal their feeling of vulnerability, their nonverbal behavior will disclose their anxiety: they will turn aside, lean back, angle their shoulders, or attempt to "block" themselves with their arms or other objects.

In particular, managers who stand too close to an employee, or especially hover over them when they remain seated, are causing that employee to feel anxious and threatened, regardless of the manager's intent. (EN: Some who are aware of this use personal space as a method of intimidating others.)

Other territorial invasions may include impeding someone's way, trapping or cornering them, standing close to their personal possessions, or coming into contact with personal effects (sitting in someone's chair, handling things on their desk, etc.).

She mentions distance in social relationships as well. A person moves physically closer to someone they wish to have a closer relationship with, and further from one they wish to avoid socially. She mentions a specific incident of seeing a dating couple in a restaurant - in which the man leaned toward the woman and she leaned away, and this continued until "he was almost sprawled across the table and she was practically falling backwards off her chair." While she was too far away to hear their conversation, it was obvious that she wanted none of whatever he was proposing.

So even in personal relationships, it is valuable to be aware of personal space - especially in detecting when it is necessary to back off.

Seating Arrangements

Given the frequency of meetings in business relationships, it's worthwhile to consider seating arrangements: how to arrange a room for a meeting, and how to choose a seat when you have the option.

There are two "power positions" at any conference table. The seat at the end of the table and the seat in the middle of either side. The seat at the end of the table is mainly about the symbolism of being alone and "at the head" of the space, whereas the seat in the middle is more about being able to watch the actions of others and conveys influence more than power, as this position brings them into closest contact with all other members of the group and ensures they will be included in any conversation that takes place.

This is particularly true of seats that are facing the door rather than away from it. Choosing the dominant chair may be an effective way for a leader to dominate the meeting, but this also stifles collaboration - sitting at the end of the table is a clear indication that it is a meeting in which one person will speak and the rest will listen. Sometimes, this is productive, but when you wish others to participate and contribute ideas, avoid the power positions.

When attending meetings of peers, the power positions can help to instill power. It's been observed in jury studies that the juror at the head of the table is most likely to be elected foreman.

When only two people are present, sitting across from one another implies an adversarial relationship, where sitting side-by-side implies equality, closeness, and collaboration. Sitting at right angles is most conducive to formal conversation, and sitting side by side is the next best.

It's also noted that people who sit at opposite sides or ends of a conference table will form into a gang and take an adversarial stance toward those on the opposite side or end. This often happens entirely unintentionally - but when factions exist prior to the meeting, people will sit closest to those whom they consider members of "their team" and furthest from people perceived to be "the enemy."

Intentionally arranging or assigning seats at meetings is quite uncommon, but it may be valuable if you notice that people take the same seats every time, or people who should be working more closely together are remote or adversarial.

In larger groups, a theater-style seating arrangement is used when individuals are supposed to be paying attention to a speaker on stage rather than reacting to one another. Seating people at multiple tables divides the group into smaller groups, and seating around a large table has the same basic properties as a smaller group, though there is often more distance between people and greater tendency to form into factions with people who are most proximate.

When teams meet in the same location repeatedly, people begin to become territorial - the chair in which they customarily sit becomes "their chair" and they feel their space has been violated and their status disrespected when someone else takes it. People also begin to show respect for the other people in the group - such that it is a social misstep to sit in someone else's chair, even if they are not present at the meeting. This can be a particular hazard for newcomers to an established group. Sitting in someone else's chair, particularly if that individual is held in esteem by other members of the group, can draw consternation.

This is largely unspoken and often unconscious - such that people are not immediately aware of the reason they feel a bit put out when someone takes their chair, or think poorly of someone who fails to respect someone else's chair. That is, they do not recognize the reason they are upset, but they are still upset nonetheless.

Dressing for Success

The author tells an extended story about an executive who convened a work-group, instructing them to dress casually for the occasion, and then turned up dressed in formal business attire. Naturally, this shut down collaboration - the members of the group, who had been interacting casually before his arrival, stopped working with one another and then merely deferred to the executive.

While there is nothing wrong with an executive wearing an expensive suit and tie to functions involving his fellow executives (or superiors, or members of the board), wearing the formal trappings of authority to any meeting with employees (particularly after instructing them to dress otherwise) communicates that the leader is of a different rank and that he should be deferred to.

As such, the notion of "dressing for success" should be reconsidered: it is not dressing to make a powerful impression in all situations - only in those where your intention is to overpower others. Where collaboration is the goal, "success" means dressing the part, setting personal status aside, and sending the message that "I am one of the team" by matching their dress code.

What Your Office Says About You

Office space is another traditional method by which leaders communicate their power and status: having a large amount of space in a prominent location, sitting behind a massive desk, arranging chairs in locations where they require visitors to place themselves in positions that suggest a lack of power, all communicate not only elevated status, but distance from others.

Projecting power is a key part of a nonverbal strategy when entering into a competitive negotiation and making the other party feel disempowered and thus compliant, but it is contrary to working in a collaborative manner with others and making them feel valued in the relationship.

The author suggests that if creating a collaborative culture is essential to meeting objectives, then create a more egalitarian and cooperative environment: place visitors chairs beside your desk rather than on the opposite side, or consider creating a conversational area including a round table and chairs of equal height.

(EN: A more radical approach is simply coming out of the office and sitting with the team, in a normal cubicle, though leaders generally need access to an area where their conversations can be held privately if need be.)

Familiarity Breeds Collaboration

Studies of affiliation generally reflect that people work best with others whom they like, and like others with whom they feel most similar. Though hierarchical structures and rank still exist in all organizations (there is none in which everyone is truly equal), people relate better to leaders who present themselves as being similar to other employees.

Another mark of traditional dominance-based leadership is lack of interaction: the leader is a remote individual who seldom speaks to employees and certainly does not interact with them socially. But again, this power distance is designed to promote obedience to authority, not collaboration.

The same is true of office arrangements that create barriers between employees: by keeping them isolated, they are prevented from communicating with peers, such that all information flows up and down the organizational hierarchy, keeping leaders in positions to know more than their subordinates and to limit access to information.

A brief mention is made of the traditional perspective on social interaction, which was viewed as a waste of productive time. It's now recognized that employees who are more familiar with one another are also more collaborative, and that effective leadership means fostering rather than preventing connections.