Tag: body language


Good day, team.

A few years ago, I wrote a coach’s challenge about a young girl named Bailey who I sat next to on an airplane flight. She taught me something fundamental about communication and emotional presence that I think is always worth sharing. I re-publish this challenge each year during the holidays in dedication to her. Here it is:

I had an experience recently that seemed an appropriate topic for this week since we are officially now in the holiday season.

While flying back to Portland, I sat next to a 10-year-old girl named Bailey. When I first saw her, she seemed just like any other little girl, but as I sat down next to her, the flight attendant informed me that Bailey was a “challenged child” (an odd term) in that she could not speak. However, the flight attendant went on to say that Bailey would understand everything I said to her and could communicate with movement and expressions.

This news made me immediately uncomfortable. As I buckled my seatbelt and settled into my seat, I realized how awkward and confused I felt. Should I speak to her or not? What kind of response would I get from someone who couldn’t speak? Did she even want me to interact with her? It was as if this little girl were made of fine porcelain and if I didn’t treat her very carefully, she might break.

Fortunately, Bailey immediately put me at ease with her beautiful smile and sparkling blue eyes. When I said hello to her, she smiled and waved hello. The plane took off, and I began to read a magazine. The many Christmas advertisements featured pictures of snowflakes, stars, icicles, presents, etc.

Each time that I turned a page and a picture of a star appeared, Bailey pointed to the star and looked at me and smiled. I would then say, “Yes, that’s a star.” Before long, I noticed that I was actually looking for more pictures of stars so we could communicate with each other.

Coincidentally, there was a boy sitting behind us about the same age as Bailey. I realized before long that he talked pretty much continuously, first about the X-Box he wanted for Christmas, then about his friend’s new cell phone, then about school, then about his Dad, and so on and so on.

After awhile, I realized I had toned him out. I may have been open to hearing what he had to say in the beginning, but after so many words, I was no longer interested. And yet, every movement and expression of the little girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t speak a word, kept me keenly interested in what she was communicating.

This experience made me think about our basic need to connect with each other as human beings, and the importance of allowing our emotional beings to reach out to each other in any way possible. When we take up all the space by talking about ourselves and don’t allow the other person to respond, the connection is lost, and the speaker becomes a nuisance rather than someone we want to know.

Bailey taught me something fundamental about our true nature as human beings. Wordlessly, her communication came through loud and clear. Her loving nature spoke volumes, and our communication had a quality that I don’t often experience when I talk with another person.

At one point, when a picture in the magazine appeared that showed animals around a beautifully decorated holiday tree, Bailey took my hand briefly and pointed my finger to the star at the top of the tree. Her open heartedness moved me with such warmth and joy that it brought tears to my eyes.

This week, try connecting with others in ways that you don’t normally. Experiment with being more present to someone who is speaking to you so that you can not only hear her or his words, but can also notice expressions and gestures. Perhaps you’ll try greeting someone with a smile and some eye contact instead of a hello. If you find that you tend to talk a lot about yourself, try to ask other people questions about themselves instead. Practice listening more, especially to the words that are not being spoken, so that you can have a different experience in your communications.

And finally, be grateful that you have the amazing ability to connect and communicate with others in so many ways. By meeting Bailey, I understood that some of us are not so fortunate and that many of the things we take for granted, like saying our name, are not possible for others.

During this holiday season, be thankful for your ability to let others know what you think, how you feel, and who you are. And don’t be afraid to really connect by allowing the beauty of your heart to speak out, whether it’s in words or silence.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

6/9/13 “Body Language”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge comes from the New York Times editor, Adam Bryant. Bryant’s column “Corner Office” runs every Friday and Saturday. He also writes a blog where you can read his editorials and make comments.

I’ve been thinking a lot about body language lately, and when my good friend Jan Foster sent me this article, I realized how well it expressed what I’ve been observing in myself and others.

In that vein, today’s challenge is about the messages we send with our expressions and body language in the work environment. This week, become more aware of the impact your body language and facial expressions have on others. See if you can alter them to evoke better responses from your co-workers.

Are You Mad At Me?

“Are you mad at me?” That surprising question packs a powerful lesson.

A colleague I have worked with over the years came up to me in the hallway and asked if we could talk in a conference room. Sure, I said, wondering what was up. We sat down, and the question came out of the blue: “Are you mad at me?” Of course not, I responded immediately, since I had to no reason to be.

I was puzzled, but I realized later what was going on. As an editor, I faced a lot of tight deadlines, and I would often have just a short window to get a story into shape for the next day’s paper. I’m guessing I was thinking hard about some story as I walked through the newsroom one day — probably furrowing my brow, my mind a million miles away — when I briefly locked eyes with my colleague, who was startled enough by my body language to later pull me into a conference room to wonder if the air needed to be cleared between us.

That colleague did me a huge favor because I learned a memorable lesson that day about how people can read so much into subtle, often unintended, cues. From that moment on, I found myself making much more of an effort to be aware of my body language, particularly with the team of reporters I was leading, and to always show energy, confidence and optimism, even if I was on a tight deadline and wrestling with a difficult problem.

Many CEOs have told me similar stories about moments when they realized how much they were, in effect, constantly under the bright lights of a stage, intensely scrutinized by employees who often pay more attention to the nonverbal cues than what their leaders are saying. Do they look concerned? Is something up?

The leader who best crystallized this notion for me was Linda Hudson, the president of BAE Systems. I’ll let her tell the story, which comes from my interview with her a few years ago. I asked her about important leadership lessons she had learned. Here was one of them:

“It was when I first became a company president, and it was the first job where I was truly responsible for the performance of a company. I had mastered the day-to-day mechanics of running organizations. But I don’t think the leadership part of it had settled in quite as profoundly as it did when I took over a company.

“I was the first female president of the General Dynamics Corporation, and I went out and bought my new fancy suits to wear to work and so on. And I’m at work on my very first day, and a lady at Nordstrom’s had showed me how to tie a scarf in a very unusual kind of way for my new suit. And I go to work and wear my suit, and I have my first day at work. And then I come back to work the next day, and I run into no fewer than a dozen women in the organization who have on scarves tied exactly like mine.

“And that’s when I realized that life was never going to be the way it had been before, that people were watching everything I did. And it wasn’t just going to be about how I dressed. It was about my behavior, the example I set, the tone I set, the way I carried myself, how confident I was — all those kinds of things. It really was now about me and the context of setting the tone for the organization.

“That was a lesson I have never forgotten, that as a leader, people are looking at you in a way that you could not have imagined in other roles. And I didn’t see that nearly as profoundly when I was leading a functional organization or a smaller enterprise. But to this day, not only the awareness of that, but the responsibility that goes along with it, is something that I think about virtually every day.”

It’s a challenge that every leader faces. Here’s a smart tip that Jeffrey Swartz, the former CEO of Timberland, told me he learned from his father:

“I remember him saying, ‘Pick a face. If you want to be serious, then you have to be serious all the time. Because if you’re serious one day and happy the next, people will be confused. They won’t be able to figure out where you’re coming from and that’ll be threatening.’”

Pick a face. Ever since that colleague asked me the surprising question about whether I was angry, I’ve tried to pick a face — no more furrowed brows — and be consistent. If leaders are consistent, then their employees can spend more time focusing on their work, and less time searching for clues in the boss’s body language.


This week, try “picking a face” that is appropriate for your situation. I don’t think this suggestion was meant to imply that you should only have one expression all the time but that finding the right face for a particular situation is important for sending the right message to your team members. Try noticing how other people’s expressions change when you talk with them. Often, they will imitate what they see on your face. So if someone starts furrowing their brow when you’re speaking to them, check it to see if you’re also furrowing your brow. Perhaps you’re smiling while someone is speaking to you about a difficult situation. This makes it look as though you’re laughing at them or not taking them seriously. Or maybe you often roll your eyes when you’re frustrated and you didn’t even realize it.

Whatever the case may be, pay attention to your own expressions or body language first and see if you can adjust them so they appropriately convey your attention, your concern or your levity. Have the presence and confidence to convey the right message and not one that’s mixed up and confusing to others.

Have a good week!

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

9/23/12 “The importance of body language”

Good day, team.

I recently read an article about the importance of body language and what it communicates about us. I’ve long known that our body language often communicates far more than our tone of voice or the actual words we speak. For example, I sat in a meeting last week where one of the participants was rolling her eyes while her fellow teammate continued to dominate the conversation. Her frustration with her teammate was obvious, even though she never said a word. In another conversation with a client, I noticed when I asked him a question that made him uncomfortable, he crossed his arms and looked down at the floor, rather than exchange eye contact with me. In another example, I saw two women sitting next to each other on the metro, chatting. When a suspicious-looking man sat next to them, they moved quickly and fearfully out of their seats.

All of these examples show how we communicate messages with our movements, facial expressions and gestures. Even though we may be saying something completely different with our words, our body language gives others the real message time after time. In fact, studies show that people who say something that doesn’t match their body language engender distrust in others. The listener receives two distinctly different messages and wonders which one is true and why the speaker is communicating two different things.

Now science has proven that our body language not just influences our state of mind, but actually changes our body chemistry. In an article from the Portland Business Journal this past week, Connie Glaser writes about this topic under the title, “Body language can be more powerful than you imagine”. In her article, she refers to Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy who wrote an article entitled “Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb,” published three years ago in the Harvard Business Review. Cuddy analyzed the impact that body language has on power. “ In the past, most psychologists assumed that body language actually reflected one’s state of mind. The controversial article made the argument that body language actually affected not only one’s state of mind, but it could alter physiological measurements as well”, wrote Glaser. “In her research on “power posing,” Cuddy showed that changing the body’s position for as little as two minutes has the ability to stimulate higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. This finding is important because testosterone is linked with dominance and risk-taking, while cortisol is a stress hormone that can trigger hypertension, impair the immune system and cause memory loss.” Glaser continued.

Science has now proven that Cuddy’s hypothesis was correct. Cuddy joined Dana Carney and Andy Yap from the Columbia Graduate School of Business to study these phenomena. In an article, they published in Psychological Science, they wrote about an experiment they conducted to prove their theory. A control group was used to measure the hormonal impact of body language. Male and female participants were evenly placed in either high or low power pose groups. The high power pose group was placed in expansive postures (i.e., leaning forward with both hands placed firmly on the desk) while the low power pose group was put in restrictive poses (i.e., sitting in a chair with arms folded and legs tightly crossed). Amazingly, after two minutes, the high power poses decreased their cortisone levels by 25 percent and increased their testosterone levels by 19 percent. What this shows is that physical poses alone effect the brain as well as the body. Consequently, people who feel powerless or have low self-esteem can overcome these feelings by changing their body pose.

Cuddy also went on to study the importance of “emotional impressions” that we receive from other people. “She discovered that most people underestimate the powerful connection of warmth and mistakenly overestimate the importance of competence”, wrote Glaser. People tend to spend way too much time worrying about the words they use, rather than how they communicate the message. Cuddy observed, “People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying … you have to connect with them before you can lead them.”

In my own observations, I notice that when I’m feeling unsure of myself, my feet tend to turn in and my posture collapses in toward my chest. My breath gets shorter, and I actually feel smaller, physically. I’m sure the message that’s sent to others is that I’m not confident. On the other hand, when I’m feeling good and confident, I easily sit up straight, look directly into the eyes of whomever I’m talking with and feel much more present. Both of these positions have a huge impact on the quality of my communication and my ability to influence any conversation.

This week, first observe your body language. What are your gestures saying to others? Can you feel your facial expressions when you’re sitting in a meeting? Are you saying one thing and allowing your body language to say the opposite? Are you projecting warmth and a desire to connect or a cold indifference by only focusing on the facts or results?

Second, try experimenting with your gestures and movements. Are they confident or lacking in self-assurance? Does your body language make others uncomfortable? What are your facial expressions saying to others? Do you often look worried or skeptical when you’re listening to others? Do you cross your arms when you’re in meetings with others? Maybe you’re sending out mixed messages to others by saying one thing with your words and sending a different message in your body language.

As much as I don’t like video conferencing, I have found that seeing myself on the screen the way others see me is helpful. I remember how surprised I was to see myself on a videoconference screen looking completely bored with the meeting I was attending. I didn’t feel bored, but I was slouched in my seat and not being very attentive to what others were saying. When I caught a glance of myself on the screen, I was shocked at what I saw. I immediately sat up straight and tried to become more engaged. When I did this, I noticed that others around me responded more positively toward me.

The way we communicate sends out multiple messages to others. If our body language matches our words spoken, our communication is far more powerful. This week, try experimenting with it and see what you discover.

Have a good week!


Note: The coach will be taking a much-needed break for the next three weeks. The next challenge will be published Oct. 28, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.


Good day, team,

This week’s challenge is about trying to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language we do and how we manage to get our message across even when we don’t understand the words.

Over the past few weeks, we have had friends visiting from France, and I have been reminded again of how important it is to spend time with people foreign to us. It’s so easy to think that the way we think and live are the same all around the world. People from elsewhere show us new ways to see and do things.

One of our guests doesn’t speak English, and my French is very elementary, so it’s been challenging to communicate. I’ve found myself relying on gestures and tone of voice to get my messages across. It’s been fun to attempt new French words by stretching my brain to find any kind of Latinate word that might be the root of an English or French word we’re trying to speak to each other. Surprisingly, many words in the two languages appear similar, but their pronunciations are so different that they’re unrecognizable.

Nevertheless, as human beings, we are masters at using every possible skill we possess to be understood. Last evening, I found myself making the motion of digging a trench to explain how we might dig up some dirt in the garden. And this morning, I was making the sound of bacon cooking to try to explain part of the breakfast menu. Along with these antics come much laughter and embarrassment: We are used to understanding and being understood without trying. But the truth is, we often communicate something very different than the words we are speaking.

When we have to rely on gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, we realize how much we communicate nonverbally. How many times have you sat in a business meeting and heard someone saying one thing while his or her facial expressions convey a very different sentiment? Isn’t it interesting that, even over the phone, when someone stops listening to you, you can feel it? When my daughter-in-law tells my grandson, “Owen, you need to pick up your toys,” she uses a different tone the first time she says it than the third time. The words may be the same, but Owen finally realizes that he’d better pick up his toys this time or he’s going to be in trouble.

This week, notice your gestures, your tone of voice, and your facial expressions when you communicate. Do you use your hands a lot when you’re trying to emphasize something? Maybe your tone of voice becomes very different when you’re trying to communicate a sense of urgency. Pay close attention to the communication styles of the people around you. Does their tone of voice change depending on who they’re dealing with or what they’re attending to? Perhaps you see that peoples’ communication becomes more relaxed when they’re with their own team or their friends compared to when they’re with people they don’t know as well.

Whatever the case, try seeing how consistent you are in your communication. Do your facial expressions represent the same message that’s coming out of your mouth or are you sending out mixed messages? Are you using the right words to convey your message? How do you know if people actually understand you? You may find yourself resorting to the sort of charades I did last evening, acting out digging a trench, but if it helps others understand you and it’s more fun, why not try a new way to get your message across?

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2010 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search, Inc., all rights reserved.