HOW STATUS IN AN ORGANIZATION CAN AFFECT AN INDIVIDUAL’S BODY LANGUAGE
Nonverbal communication at the workplace centers around the theme of power. It is a language in its own, a silent one, which goes on at the “background of consciousness” (Hall, 1959). In fact, some researchers suggest that non-verbal stimuli are more easily communicated than others. The non-verbal code is used to maintain interpersonal relations by humans (Argyle, 1969). It has been observed that certain non-verbal cues like absence of a smile, head raised, loud speech can be linked to a superior, whereas, nervous deferential smile, lowered head and an eager-to-please speech can be linked to an inferior. Furthermore, a slight smile, head level and a pleasant/neutral speech is that of an equal.
Signals through Eye Contact
As we all know, all leaders are alphas and all alphas display similar body language. The body language of leaders is essentially the body language of dominance. Lowered eyebrows are universally considered a sign of dominance. Hence, we see that the higher you are in your hierarchy, the lower your eyebrows go! People higher in the hierarchy of the organization are also known to do a “power gaze” and keep an even, steady gaze for a maximum of 3-5 seconds. Furthermore, they do not always maintain hard eye-contact, instead, leaders have a tendency to look away when their subordinates talk to them. Research on why this behaviour occurs is still very limited, however, it has been perceived as a signal to subordinates that their leader’s time is more precious than theirs, and that he/she is doing them a favour by listening to them. This behaviour is many a times misunderstood as to be rude, hence, leaders must try not to look away too much and maintain a friendly and open eye-contact while conversing with subordinates.
During a team meeting, a manager notices that one team member maintains steady eye contact while speaking, indicating confidence and assertiveness. This behavior can be encouraged and acknowledged as a positive leadership trait.
In a negotiation with a client, the manager observes that the client avoids eye contact while discussing pricing. This nonverbal cue could suggest discomfort or disagreement, prompting the manager to adjust their approach and address any concerns more explicitly.
Manner of Conversation
It has been seen that higher status tends to affect the number of times a leader smiles as they smile much less than their followers because smiling is a submissive signal that is an invitation, a sign of inclusion. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable, please accept me.” Higher status in an organization can have an impact on the vocal tone of people as well. A deep chest voice with smooth inflictions is a very common tone of voice observed in leaders.
Leaders and managers also start speaking at a slower pace with pauses in between. Even head movements tend to change as a person moves higher in the hierarchy. Leaders tend to have their head still and slightly downwards eliciting perceptions of aggression, intimidation, and dominance. As this is an unconscious position, it does not look predatory. Once a person moves higher in their organization, their gestures become much more enthusiastic, accompanied by arms that are wide open while gesturing, hence, making the listeners subconsciously take orders from the speaker. It is common understanding that handshakes tend to become stronger as they try to assert control, even a long handshake tries to signify control.
One must note that all these gestures are subconscious, i.e., they come naturally to leaders. Trying these non-verbal signals may be helpful to a certain extent when interacting with contemporaries, however, quite often than not, people who try too hard to follow such a body language by forcing it upon themselves, especially when it does not match their position in the organization may look foolish and people will not take these signs seriously.
A manager notices that a team member frequently interrupts others during meetings. This behavior can be addressed by providing feedback on active listening skills and encouraging more inclusive and respectful communication.
During a performance review, the manager observes a team member using positive body language, such as nodding and maintaining an open posture, while receiving feedback. This indicates receptiveness and engagement, which can be praised and encouraged in other team members.
body language of Others
Now, let’s talk about the body language of people lower in the hierarchy of an organization.
As a sign of self-protection, people lower in the organization’s status tend to hunch inwards, reducing the size of their body, limiting the potential of being hit and protecting vital areas, for example hands covering crotch, or chin pushed down to protect the neck. People who are lower in status also try to go unnoticed in settings like meetings by slumping in chairs, etc. Such people also tend to keep their head lower in order to protect their neck which if exposed, shows vulnerability (to attack). Furthermore, it also helps them avoid direct eye-contact. As we go down lower in status, employees present “fake” happiness with forced smiles and moving only their mouth and not the eyes much.
Non-verbal signs change from submissive signals to the aforementioned dominant (alpha) signs as one moves higher in the organizational hierarchy. Although these gestures may be subject to specific personality traits of people as many people have a predisposition to appear submissive regardless of their position in the organization. These observations have been made on a large demographic and have generally proven to be true.