September 26, 2013

“When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently reminds us that our actions speak louder than our words. How clichéd that may sound, and yet, it’s so very true. Our body language can completely override our brains’ and mouths’ best attempts. Consider this example:

A colleague of mine – a CEO and serial entrepreneur – was considering expanding her current business. She asked her team of direct reports to prepare a presentation showing how this expansion could be successful. When they reported back in a few weeks time, they delivered a fantastic case for entering the new market.

However, the CEO noticed their body language singing a different tune… arms crossed, brows furrowed, tense smiles. When she questioned this, they explained that although they had found ways to be successful as she requested, they didn’t believe it was the right move and deep down, they didn’t support the expansion.

This was the truth the CEO needed and wanted to hear.

We’ve long heard how facial expressions or posture will give away a lie. This example shows that even when we are well-intentioned, if our true beliefs or feelings are out of sync with our words, our body betrays us.

When delivering our messages, we must be sure that we are candid so that our non-verbal cues align with our statements. As the listener on the receiving end, weighing the non-verbal communications with equal importance allows us to gather the full picture.  Collectively, take note of the subtle nuances of the conversation you’re having… does the body language match the message? If so, it’s candor at its best. If not, ask questions like our CEO above has learned to do.

When we want to understand the truth, we have to look while we listen; when we want our truth to be heard, there’s no dodging the issue. As we pursue candor in our work environments and within our relationships, our body language holds us and those around us accountable to the truth.