Misinterpreting Body Language

Most project managers have been on the body language course and heard the generic explanations for certain body positions.

However, I’ve discovered that what is taught as the generic “rule” is not always true for a specific person or situation. Incongruence between words and posture doesn’t always mean lying, stillness may not be a sign of a lack of energy, and tears are not always associated with sadness.

In some cultures what I see as a rude gesture is a wave of support.  A shake of the head in India is an agreement. For a person with a back problem, standing with weight on one leg and arms folded is more about comfort than defiance.

I’ve discussed this with female colleagues and we’ve come to the same conclusion: there are some specific bits of body language that mean women get misinterpreted.

There is a myth that women cry to get their own way.  Serious business women do not wish to cry in business discussions: crying looses the argument nearly every time. Yet frustratingly, the female body seems to deal with heightened emotions (anger, frustration, passionate commitment, joy) by triggering tears. To add to the frustration, these emotions are the energies that can be positive in negotiation.

It is seems to get worse in middle age for women when hot flushes and hormone related sweats are attributed to lying, unfitness or stress.

So, project managers, use your interpretation of body language carefully: the headlines are not the complete truth.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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