Join Carol Kinsey Goman for an in-depth discussion in this video Conveying warmth and empathy, part of Body Language for Leaders.
- When first introduced to a leader, we immediately evaluate him or her for two sets of qualities. The first is power and status, and the second is warmth and empathy. Most leaders today are aware of the need to look confident and assured, but fewer understand the impact of empathy and warmth, which may be more important than they know. As organizations move toward collaborative cultures, your success as a leader increasingly depends on your ability to make team leaders feel valued, respected, and included.
While power and confidence are non-verbally displayed by expanding into height and space, when you want to encourage collaboration, you'd be wise to replace those status cues with warmer ones, and that starts by keeping your body relaxed and open. Leaders with open body language are perceived more positively and are more persuasive. In open and receptive postures, legs are uncrossed, and arms are held away from your body, with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table.
Leaning is another way your body makes a statement. Leaning backward usually signals feelings of dislike or negativity, as we subconsciously try to distance ourselves from anyone we don't like or trust. On the other hand, engagement and interest is often displayed by leaning forward, especially when sitting down. But if you're using forward leans as a way to build positive relationships, be aware that early leans can make people feel uncomfortable and decrease their perception of you as likeable.
So wait until you've developed a level of interpersonal comfort, then make your move. When it comes to the body language of inclusion, facing people directly when they're talking is crucial. Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest and makes the speaker shut down. Mirroring is another nonverbal sign of empathy. You may not realize it, but when you're dealing with people you genuinely like or agree with, you'll begin to match their stance, arm positions, and facial expressions.
It's a way of showing that you're connected and engaged. You can also use your head. The next time you're in a conversation where you're trying to encourage someone to continue speaking, try nodding your head using clusters of three nods. Research shows that people will talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods in this manner. Head tilting is another signal that you're attentive and really listening, so head tilts can be very positive cues when you want to send messages of empathy and understanding. But a tilted head may also be subconsciously processed as a submission signal.
For example, dogs tilt their heads to show deference to a more dominant animal, so don't overuse this signal. Of course, paying attention when someone else is speaking is one of the warmest signals you can send. So at your next meeting, avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on whoever is speaking to make sure that he or she feels valued, respected, and included.