Non Verbal Indicators and Appraisals by Robert Phipps
If you want to lead, inspire, develop and co-ordinate your staff effectively, you must first be able to work out what each of them thinks and feels about their roles.
While more and more business leaders are recognising this and holding regular conversations with their team members, all too often these discussions are far from the open, honest, two-way feedback sessions they should be.
An ability to read and understand the non verbal indicators or body language is invaluable if managers want to find out what’s really going on behind their team members’ polite smiles.
Recently I sat in on some appraisals to observe and give feedback, here’s a typical example of what went on.
During the appraisal of his warehouse assistant Janice, Brian the team manager asked if she was happy with the changes he’d made to the upcoming schedule.
Janice replied with an affirmative ‘yes’.
But her body language told us both a different story, as she pulled back her head, crossed her arms, gripped her bicep with one hand with her knuckles going white.
‘From her reaction I could tell something was wrong, there were obvious tensions, which Brian, chose to ignore, in this case he got it completely wrong as he found out to his cost within two weeks of the new schedule’s implementation.
Brian received angry phone calls from three major clients complaining about deliveries, lateness, phones not answered, etc.
Having spoken to Brian after the appraisal I found out he didn’t really want to redo the schedule – which is why he chose to ignore the signals that he agreed he’d seen.
In a subsequent meeting it transpired that the new schedule had left the warehouse understaffed at the busiest points of the week – and that the whole warehouse team felt it was unworkable.
‘No one had dared to tell me their new boss that I’d made a big mistake, if I’d just probed Janice about her negative body language when I’d had the chance, the problems with the schedule could have been averted there and then.’ said Brian.
An enhanced understanding of body language can give managers that extra edge and help make team communication channels run smoother.
When you speak to one of your team, you tend to know instinctively whether they’ve actually taken on board what’s been said, be it positive or negative.
As a leader it pays to develop this gut feeling into a more concrete understanding, so that you can be entirely confident how your advice, directions, criticism or compliments have been received.
If the words and actions don’t match, you then have the opportunity to reinforce your message, challenge your team member or store this information for future reference, instead of just accepting their verbal words of agreement.
Everybody has their own patterns of behaviour when it comes to body language and while there are general rules that apply, it is important to observe and get to know each individual’s own habits in order to get the best out of them.
Managers should study their individual team members over a period of time and learn how they use their bodies to express themselves. The more you know about body language the less likely you will be to misinterpret physical responses in your team.
For instance, it is easy to assume that when a person crosses their arms it is a defensive action. This is often the case, but it also can display a relaxed attitude. When people watch television at home their arms are often loosely crossed over the stomach, people also cross their arms when allowing others to speak, a sign they won’t interrupt.
The way an individual sits, stands and walks, the way they gesture with their hands and face, the direction they move their eyes as they recall their reason for being off sick last Monday morning, collectively reveal what they are truly feeling and meaning.
Studies repeatedly show that the words used in a face-to-face interaction only accounts for a tiny proportion of the overall message conveyed, sometimes as little as seven percent. The non-verbal indicators actually say far more than the words, approximately 55%.
However, sometimes a roll of the eyes, a tongue poked in the cheek and a sharp intake of breathe is all you need to know 100% that a person is not happy with what’s just been said or done.
What’s that old phrase, oh yes; Actions Speak Louder Than Words.