What you’re saying without speaking

Kai Ryssdal Aug 4, 2008

What you’re saying without speaking

Kai Ryssdal Aug 4, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: There comes a time in the course of hosting a radio program that you have to take one for the team. Today, it seems, is my time.

A couple of weeks ago we had a book come in the mail. It was called “The Non-Verbal Advantage” by a consultant named Carol Kinsey Goman. It was all about body language, as you might have gathered from the title, how you can use it to get ahead in the workplace.

We figured it would be a pretty dull interview if we just chatted about the book over the phone, so we invited her down to L.A. and had her sit in on our morning news meeting and then she and I sat down for a postmortem.

Ryssdal: So here we are, sitting in our studios and you just spent the morning in our morning meeting.

Carol Kinsey Goman: I did.

Ryssdal: What’d you think about that little experience?

Goman: Well, I figure you guys have about a half-hour where everybody is on the same page, paying attention, and then the fidgeting really starts.

Ryssdal: Which is funny, because the meeting lasts an hour, so that tells you how we use our time.

Goman: Exactly.

Ryssdal: On the whole issue of non-verbal cues, we are a very verbal group and I’d have bet that most meetings are that way as well. Why are non-verbal cues, then, so important?

Goman: Well, non-verbal cues are really important because it’s the emotional content of the message that you’re sending non-verbally, so you’re sending the facts verbally, but if you want to see how someone feels about what you said or if someone wants to check about how you feel about what you said, they have to look up and get the non-verbal cues.

Ryssdal: Rather than put one of my colleagues on the spot, let’s talk about me for a second here and how I did at this meeting.

Goman: Well, you can tell when you’re getting bored or ready to close a meeting by the increased number of times you flip your pen.

Ryssdal: So, should I stop that? I mean, how do you train somebody at new behaviors?

Goman: You know, I don’t know that you need to stop that. It may be very good for your colleagues to know that this is about time to close down that section of the meeting, that you’ve heard enough and you want to get on to the next piece. It depends on what signal you want to send.

Ryssdal: What should you avoid in a meeting. I mean, if you’re going to start thinking about these things, what are some big no-nos that send the wrong signal?

Goman: Well, I think that even if you don’t mean it, even if you’re comfortable, when you cross your legs and cross your arms…

Ryssdal: At the same time?

Goman: …At the same time, it sends a signal of resistance or “I don’t like what you just said.” It also, by the way, cuts your retention down to about 38 percent.

Ryssdal: You mean how much you’re paying attention in the meeting?

Goman: How much you’re retaining of what you’ve heard in the meeting. So you really need to be aware that your body and mind, or brain, are not on separate planets, that what you do with your body affects your brain, but it also, right or wrong, it sends a signal to the rest of the people in your group.

Ryssdal: What about something I do in meetings all the time, which is lean back, way back in my chair like this, put my hands behind my head and just kind of swivel on my chair a little bit. What do you take from that?

Goman: That is a high-confidence posture. It also can be an arrogant or superiority posture.

Ryssdal: You have doomed me. Tell me about the feet. You spoke earlier about the feet and crossed and uncrossed. Why are they so important?

Goman: Because they are the least trained part of the body. So feet are probably the most honest part of the body. They will bounce when you’re nervous or happy, they will cross, they will do that ankle lock and pull back when you feel not included in a conversation or a meeting, your toes will turn up if you’re seated and you get great news.

Ryssdal: How do you, though, consciously retrain yourself out of these, well, let’s call them bad non-verbal cues?

Goman: I think you start with “What is the message that I want to deliver” and then you think “Am I doing things that are counter to that message or supportive of that message?” Hidden hands, hands below the table, all send a message of “I’ve got something I’m hiding,” so you’d want to consciously know that so that you would take your hands and put them on top of the table or put them out.

Ryssdal: Right.

Goman: The other thing that I do sometimes is go with an executive into a negotiation and I just sit and watch non-verbal behavior because the executive or the manager just gets wrapped up in what’s going on with the verbal stuff and totally forgets what signals he or she may be sending and what the other parties are responding.

Ryssdal: It’s almost like you’re spying.

Goman: It is. I love it.

Ryssdal: The book by Carol Kinsey Goman is called “The Non-Verbal Advantage.” Carol, thanks so much for your time.

Goman: You’re very welcome.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.