How Important is Body Language?…Very

Most of us strive to say the “right” thing, the polite thing, the thing that represents the person we aspire to be. The trouble is that our body often betrays us. I was listening to an NPR Invisibilia Podcast recently on the subconscious conditioning that we have that often affects our behavior even when we state that we want to behave differently. In the podcast they interviewed Jack Dovidio from Yale on a study he performed on Physicians regarding Racial Bias.

When white doctors were given a questionnaire they answered as non-prejudicial. When observed by camera interacting with black patients the words they said were identical to the words said to white patients. Their body language, however, was different and the black patients picked up on that. Dovidio also administered another test with the physicians that revealed their subconscious thoughts about black people. And where there was a tendency subconsciously to view blacks as “other”, it showed up in their body language. This podcast was very enlightening and I recommend it.

But this blog is not about subconscious beliefs and behaviors, it’s about communication and today, the role of body language. What struck me about the study referenced above is that, even though the WORDS and LANGUAGE were the same, the body language carried a lot of other messages that patients picked up on.

Peacock Strutting Denver Zoo

For healthcare leaders, the need to be aware of the impact of communication becomes increasingly apparent. The patients that felt a sense of “other” were less likely to follow the doctor’s advice. Our teams respond in much the same way. What you say is not as important as how you say it.

Your team is always watching and they are highly tuned in to what you are feeling. To the point that as you walk through the office thinking about how frustrated you are with your son or daughter, your team is picking up on it. Only they think you are frustrated with them. You are contagious.

Upset with an employee but don’t want to address it? Guess what they know something is up. I have yet to see a challenge that is postponed turn out for the best. I was recently working with a client and we were talking about the next steps in his coaching journey. As he spoke about this one issue with a boss, his words went right past the issue as if it was nothing. But, his body language changed and there was a definite shift in the energy in the room. Because I was looking for it, I was able to call it out and he was able to acknowledge that something was there that needed some work. He was able to identify exactly what the issue was, where it came from, and come up with a plan to resolve it.

Here are some things that can help you leverage your body language:

  1. Be aware of what you are feeling in the moment. Is it showing up in your body language?
  2. If you are feeling off, take a moment to get centered. Take five minutes to walk around the building or take five minutes to just rest. Change your state of mind.
  3. When planning an uncomfortable conversation, get yourself into a place where you can connect with the reason why you want them to succeed. It will help you both be less defensive.
  4. Be aware of your body and if you notice yourself pulling back, you can open up. If you want to engage, you can lean in.

Leverage all to the communication tools you have to influence your team.


f you would like to learn more about how communication can help you or your teams perform more productively and profitable please send me an email at

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