Yesterday I had an extraordinary, surreal encounter with a world-famous celebrity, one of the most recognised faces on the planet. I spotted her in a shop as I was walking down my local high street. I was rooted to the spot with shock. We weren’t that far apart, either side of the glass window, and I couldn’t help but stare. She looked up, our eyes met and, feeling guilty and embarrassed, I mouthed “sorry” with my hand on my heart, and then “hello” with a little wave and a huge grin. Yes I did!
Incredibly, she in turn mouthed “hello”, accompanied by a little wave and a smile. It was a very brief moment but much was communicated in those gestures and facial expressions.
This morning I saw a photograph posted on Instagram by a 14 year old girl in what might best be described as a provocative pose and an immodest outfit. No words there either but plenty of communication.
And in my training room these past weeks, the issue of body language, especially when seated around a meeting table, has come up repeatedly.
So it seems timely to remind ourselves that our non verbal communication can be extremely powerful, and that it might be giving an unintended impression. I suspect the Instagram girl is not aware how others will interpret her clothing, facial expression and posture. In her mind, it’s a lovely photograph which she’s proud of.
Similarly, our physical behaviour in meetings can be misleading. One client in particular had a habit of leaning back in his seat (in what feels to him to be a relaxed and informal pose). He was unaware what colleagues were reading into this – that he was, at best, uninterested in the content of the meeting, at worst, arrogant. Needless to say, he has adapted accordingly and now opts for a more ‘engaged’ pose – sitting forward on his seat, forearms on the table, more active listening.
Another client tended to lean away from the board room table when she feared she had nothing of value to contribute. It was actually a self defence mechanism to get away from the ‘heat of battle’. Here again, others saw it as boredom/superiority. She too has altered her ‘ways’.
Such a mismatch between the inner world and the outer impression, and a lesson to us all to be mindful of our non verbal behaviour.
Let’s hope Instagram girl learns this lesson and puts a cardie on!