Essays on Non-Verbal communication

nonverbal-commMay 22, 2015 • Emerging Ideas, LEADERSHIP, Leadership Development

Non-verbal communication is extremely influential in interpersonal encounters, and knowing how to leverage non-verbal signals effectively can be a key leadership tool. In this article, Dr. Locke from LSE demonstrates the falsity behind the conventionally held belief that leaders should always act a certain way.

It is widely accepted that non-verbal communication is extremely influential in interpersonal encounters, and non-verbal signals (i.e. everything except the words themselves), including body language, eye contact, tone of voice, and rapidity of speech, can have a subtle but significant influence on the dynamic between two people. For leaders in a professional context, there is no exception.

As a teacher and researcher specialising in leadership in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics, I have recently completed new research exploring non-verbal communication in leadership roles. The results suggest that, contrary to many traditional beliefs, there is no one single ‘best’ way to look and act like a leader.

Instead, three behavioural studies which I conducted point to the fact that leaders should consciously adjust their non-verbal strategy to the specific situation in order to get the best out of their team and make optimum decisions.

In general, the accepted view on non-verbal leadership is that confidence and authority should be conveyed. This means, for example, using upright body posture, direct eye contact, and a confident tone of voice. The results of the first study in my research project reflected exactly this. A pair of participants were assigned roles, where one was ‘leader’ and the other ‘subordinate’, and in almost every case the ‘leader’ participant immediately took on confidence-displaying non-verbal behaviour, such as sitting up straighter, taking up more space, and using more eye contact.

However, my research has exposed the fact that displaying this type of confident and authoritative non-verbal communication is not always the best approach for a leader to take­ – and in fact in some situations, this can have a damaging effect. Instead, it is crucial for leaders to adjust their non-verbal behaviour according to the specific situation, in order to achieve optimum results.

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