Interpreting body language is an essential business skill. Have you mastered it yet?

Reading body language can be learned, and for some people, is a natural interpretive instinct. However, over the years I have seen numerous instances of people who do not know how to interpret body language, and who are simultaneously unaware of how their body language is conveying how they directly feel to others. Understanding how to interpret body language, or how your body language is speaking volumes about how you feel, is an essential business skill. Unfortunately educators in the United States do not teach reading and interpreting body language in business school, or in most educational settings. So, how does someone learn how to do this?

The simple answer is to educate yourself on-line, and one place I found which provided a helpful general overview of how to interpret most body language, can be found via this link. Talking to others and learning from their experience is another approach. Paying more attention during future interactions with your family, friends and colleagues will help you to practice and become more skilled at interpreting others body language. For your own body language, and understanding how you come across to others, I recommend asking people you are comfortable with for feedback on instances they have observed your body language in either happy, neutral or contentious situations. Another option is to pay closer attention to your own physical reactions during conversational engagements (e.g., do you cross your arms when you do not like what you are hearing, do you look down at the floor when you feel threatened, do you laugh in a strained manner when you are nervous?).

Here is an example of an actual situation I was recently observing a colleague’s body language, and who was unaware of me doing so. Sitting across from two of my colleagues last week, it became apparent to me one of them was unaware of how to read body language, and did not understand the language his body was conveying to the person we were having the conversation with. Without giving any corporate secrets away, the conversation was between the head of marketing, and the head of sales. During the conversation, the head of marketing was talking to the head of sales and offering to have his team take on work which the sales team would highly benefit from. The sales team had been asking for this work to be done for months. However, during this interaction, the head of sales began to fold his arms over his chest during the conversation. For those unaware of what this body language expression means, it essentially means they were either not listening, did not believe, were uncomfortable with the conversation, or were rejecting what was being said. This was the opposite reaction I expected to see occur, and after the meeting had taken place, I asked the head of sales if he was happy about the offer made by the marketing team? His response was he was happy with what he heard. However, what he did not realize was he body language expressed the opposite of this emotion. Guess what I’ll be working on next week? If you guessed teaching a colleague about body language, you get an A+.

Starting with my Why?

Thanks to Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, Jo-Anne Reynolds, CEO at SpikeBee and renowned entrepreneur and fellow dyslexic, Richard Branson for motivating me to write my first article, or at least my first one in quite some time. Since it is early in 2017, and one of the most popular times to craft a New Year resolution, I am starting off by explaining My Why, in terms of why I am writing this article. The simple answer is I have wanted to do this for many years. The more complicated reason has to do with the fact I have been holding myself back from doing so, admittedly because I was afraid to do so. After years of soul searching and talking to numerous other women from around the globe, I believe my fear is due to a phenomenon many women are plagued with called the “Imposter Syndrome”.

The “Imposter Syndrome” was coined and researched in the 1970’s by Oberlin College psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance; and if you read more about this phenomenon as I have, it explains why it has taken me over thirty years to write this article. However, my article and future ones are not going to focus on the “Imposter Syndrome” concept, but is instead going to provide you with insight relating to what I have been thinking about all these years, as both a woman, wife, mother of three, professional high technology executive, mentor, coach and now entrepreneur.

Recently I have been thinking about what I will call “retooling” or “recrafting” myself professionally, namely because I have reached a point in my career where I was not feeling authentic in terms of leveraging what I am really good at. It turns out, my greatest strength, according to Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath is being positive. Unfortunately, the majority of my professional career has not allowed me to fully exercise this strength until recently when I was given the opportunity to do so.

The opportunity to capitalize on my greatest strength presented itself at an unlikely place, a male dominated software company in the Northeast. The challenge in front of me was to turn around a sales team who had not met their sales goal in 11 months. The secondary goal was to act as a bridge between this team and the marketing team. Fast forward in time six weeks later, and I can tell you in under six weeks, I was able to turn this team around, bridge the sales and marketing teams, and have the sales team hit and exceed their sales goal number for the first time all year.

How did I do this? Was it a miracle or a repeatable model? The answer is multi-dimensional, but boils down to while I was helping myself to focus on what was my greatest strength – “Positivity”, I was in turn able to have a team of a dozen people “believe” they could achieve what was an illusive goal for them all year. This achievement has inspired me to want to do this for other teams, and individuals. More importantly, it has provided me with the direction I was soul searching for, and now am monomanically directed to being able to make a great living from doing this type of work, even though it does not seem like work to me…which is the best part. Do you know what your top five strengths are, and are you leveraging them yet? If you do, ask yourself why you are not utilizing them yet?