Join Carol Kinsey Goman for an in-depth discussion in this video Communicating with your feet, part of Body Language for Leaders.
- A few years ago I watched an interview with the president of a financial institute in which the executive was seated on stage facing the audience. From a body language perspective, it was fascinating. At first the leader's entire body signaled both warmth and authority as he shared his philosophy of relationship banking and the importance of employees to his company's brand. But then came a series of questions about executive compensation. As the bank president responded to these, his expressions and gestures stayed relaxed and positive, But his foot language changed dramatically.
He suddenly locked his ankles tightly together, pulled them back under his chair, and began to make tiny kicks with both feet. He then recrossed his ankles and kicked his feet again. Now, if all I could have seen was his upper body, if for instance he had been sitting behind a desk or standing behind a lectern, I might have been convinced that he was comfortable addressing this issue, but his feet told an entirely different story. When most people think about improving their body language, they focus primarily on facial expressions, posture and hand gestures.
Because feet go unrehearsed, they often tell more than you realize. For example, your feet point at people you like and agree with. If we were sitting and talking and your legs were stretched out with your feet pointing at me, or if the toe of the leg that was crossed on top was pointing at me, I'd be pretty sure you were feeling positively. But if you pulled your feet away in a tight ankle lock, or wrapped them around the legs of your chair, I'd suspect you were upset or uncomfortable about something that just happened.
You often bounce your feet when you're happy or excited. Bouncing or tapping feet are what professional poker players refer to as happy feet. A high confidence tell that a player's hand is strong. Now you may be sending the same signal in a business negotiation when you feel you're getting a good deal. But if your bouncing feet suddenly go still, it could be a sign that you're unsure or waiting to see what will happen next, the equivalent of holding your breath. Your feet point to where you'd rather be.
It's interesting to watch how people's feet turn away from situations they want to avoid and point in the direction they'd prefer to be. So if you're speaking with a co-worker who seems to be paying attention, who's upper body is angled towards you but who's feet have turned toward the door, realize that she's sending you a message. She may be politely answering your questions, but her feet are telling you she'd rather be somewhere else. Your stance sends a message of confidence or insecurity.
Feet say a lot about your self confidence. When you stand with your feet close together, you seem unsure or timid. When you stand with your legs crossed, you look insecure. And when you shift your weight from foot to foot you look anxious. But when you widen your stance and evenly distribute your weight on both feet, you look more solid and sure of yourself. Here's a tip for using your feet when giving your next presentation. If you walk when you speak you'll get people's attention. But don't move while making a crucial comment.
You have the most impact when you combine movement with physical pauses in which you stand absolutely still to highlight your most important points.