The lift door opened with a click to the nameplate of AllSolutions Technologies and Sandra heaved a sigh in anticipation of another tough day ahead. Office had not always seemed like a battlefield but these days she had to keep glancing at her watch to figure out how many hours more to go before her day would end. The entry of a new boss had meant a lot of restructuring of the company’s people and processes. Resignations did not seem a new thing these days. Being a responsible team leader, Sandra wanted her team not to feel the low morale that other teams were feeling all around in the office. She wondered if the weekend article she had read on using body language in such low morale situations could help bring cheer and motivation to her team.
Low morale situations can occur in companies for various reasons. It might be because the company recently reported thin profits, with signals of downsizing on the charts. It might be because people of totally different cultures would now have to work together, what with the company having recently experienced an acquisition or a merger. It might be because, like AllSolutions above, the company might even have brought in a new person to turn it around. In all of the above cases, since there is a change to be brought about, people are going to feel the stress. And stress is infective. It then becomes imperative that managers learn to not only deal with stress head on, but learn to fight the negative vibes and spread cheer and positive attitude all around in the company. It is not always possible to do this via good messages or performance appreciation. There are in fact instances where the managers like Sandra can contribute in subtle non verbal ways to make sure change management is no longer taken as a threat.
Sandra glanced at the printout of the body language article that she had been reading and here is what she summarized:
Smile and pose
Starting the day by greeting her team with a genuine smile would be a good place to start for Sandra. She knew smiling genuinely would mean avoiding a tight lipped smile or an all teeth showing smile. She would have to feel good to spread true cheer all around. Standing in front of the mirror with a confident pose and a smile on the face could work wonders, even on a low key day. A confident pose would include good eye contact with colleagues. It would mean avoiding drooping shoulders, a sign that would speak of giving up. It would also mean avoiding threatening postures whenever unpleasant topics were brought up, like the new boss demanding that the project just completed be reworked to incorporate new processes.
It might be difficult to for Sandra to tackle radical changes demanded by the boss, like the one mentioned above. Worse would be passing the same to her team members, who had overworked the past month to meet the set deadline. Sandra could anticipate arguments on either side. She would have to be able to listen to both sides patiently. This she could do by nodding once in a while, using open arms while speaking. She knew meeting up frequently around a long rectangular table, which normally increases space between people and gives them opportunities to take on “sides” could be an aggravator to stress. Even if this meant doing meetings in her cabin rather than the conference room, she would take that option. Better still would be holding meetings in a neutral zone like on the team floor itself around a small informal round table.
Catch them in the act
Defensive people normally adopt a withdrawn position, curling their hands inwards or hugging themselves, and taking as little space as possible. Sandra would have to keep such team members under radar. These people might not perform their personal best. Maybe she could bond with them informally in the lunch break. Or keep them away from strongly influencing team members, who might be responsible for making them feel insecure.
Sandra read that as a leader, she would have to remember not to mirror someone’s negative body language. By nature, when in conversation, human bodies tend to imitate each other. Mirroring can have a positive impact if open gestures are imitated. But if either her team member or her boss was acting difficult or hostile, using crossed arms, a subdued face or other defensive actions, Sandra might start copying the same. The action would then reflect upon the mood. Sandra would have to learn to consciously avoid mirroring such defensive postures, since negative vibes were already available in plenty!
Sandra glanced up from the article with determination. The journey to the perfect world was going to be long, and she would have to be effective in getting her point across to her colleagues. Non verbal communication was indeed going to help her glide over thin ice with more caution.
Written by: Khyati Bhatt
Chapter 17 – Seating Arrangements from the The Definitive book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease
Your body language shapes who you are – TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy