It's often said that actions speak louder than words, and subtle changes in body language can speak volumes... if you pay enough attention to the related signals. Patti Wood, one of North America's mo...
It’s often said that actions speak louder than words, and subtle changes in body language can speak volumes… if you pay enough attention to the related signals. Patti Wood, one of North America’s most renowned experts on the subject, suggests that “non-verbal” cues can account for between 60% and 80% of a message’s meaning. Yet human resources professionals should learn to pay particular attention to changes in body language rather than trying to spot specific cues, she says.”
Extroverted people, when they lie, will get over-excited, will get louder and more dramatic,” Wood says as an example. Introverted people, meanwhile, will tend to become quieter still. “They’ll go to the extremes of their normal behavior.”
Such changes stress the importance of establishing a baseline for the purpose of comparisons. When conducting a job interview, for example, the baseline can be observed when watching someone’s body language while they answer easy questions such as “how long have you been driving?” The changes will emerge once tougher questions are raised.But it’s important not to jump to conclusions because of a single action, she adds. While crossed arms can offer an indication that someone is shutting you out, it can also be a sign that a person is simply cold. “There are over 60 different motivations for crossing your arms. We typically interpret it as negative or intensive. But what could be going on with them? Are they cold? Are they uncomfortable? Are they not feeling good?”
Like spoken words, there are also different dialects to consider, since body language can vary from one culture to another. Consider the traditional value put on a firm handshake. Indeed, if it’s too vigorous, it can be a sign that a person is over-eager and insecure. A lifeless grip may demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm. Yet in India, men are taught to offer gentle handshakes as a sign of respect.
Eye contact, meanwhile, can show that someone is being attentive to what you’re saying, but there is a limit. Staring for longer than three seconds can actually be considered an insult in some Asian cultures, while Muslim employees may consider it to be a sign of being intrusive and rude.
Even in a business environment, managers need to be sure to smile in appropriate situations, Wood says, referring to the body language that should be demonstrated by human resources personnel. “Sometimes they feel they have to stay facial-expression neutral, but a lack of facial expression makes people uncomfortable.”
There is even a literal application to the idea of a heart-to-heart discussion, with the need to point your chest toward another person’s heart, to help convey attentiveness during a conversation. If that’s done across a desk, however, the stance can be seen to be aggressive. In those situations, it’s best to sit “catty corner” to the other person, or slightly to one side, Wood says.
Still other ways to make someone else feel comfortable include keeping your hands above the desk, never pointing with a pen or other object, and ensuring that you don’t lean back in your chair with your hands clasped behind your head. (The latter position can be interpreted as a sign of arrogance.)Keep in mind that employees from different cultures may also demand varying amounts of personal space, she adds.
In North America, people may be comfortable with a distance of four feet during a discussion. Some Arab cultures will stand closer. “You may think, ‘What an aggressive guy!’ when they’re being open and honest.”
A better understanding is simply a matter of knowing how to speak the language. For more information on services provided by Patti Wood, go to www.pattiwood.net.
The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors that is representative of stakeholders from the Canadian trucking industry. With the conviction that the best human resources skills and practices are essential to the attainment of excellence by the Canadian trucking industry, the mission of the Council is “to assist the Canadian trucking industry to recruit, train and retain the human resources needed to meet current and long-term requirements”. This column is provided for information purposes only, and should not be considered an alternative to professional legal advice. Further information about sound human resources practices can be found at www.cthrc.com.
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