In Winning Body Language, Mark Bowden is asking you to consciously adopt emotional intelligence into your body language while you express yourself. He looks at physical articulations (ie. Where you put your hands while you’re speaking) and their “perceived gestural psychology.” So, when you move your hands near your chest while presenting, you communicate passion, as if from the heart. And so forth.
His credibility comes from implementing a widely successful communication and presentation training program, “TruthPlane,” used by Fortune 500 companies and CEOs throughout the world. He provides many visual and evidence-based examples of how we unconsciously adopt physical mannerisms that are counter productive to achieving business communication goals. It’s an informative and entertaining read, drawing on behavioural psychology, linguistic philosophy, and neurobiology.
Though you live in a civil society, your mammalian brain has not had the evolutionary time to “catch up” to your surroundings and thus innately prompt culturally appropriate behaviours in times of notable anxiety or stress. “ For instance, it is the vulnerable ‘vital’ or ‘kill’ points of the body that we unconsciously protect when we feel anxious,” Bowden says
In other words, you’re more likely to keep your hands to your sides while you’re presenting (i.e. experiencing stress), or hide behind a podium “like a shield or a weapon” because your mammalian brain is hard-wired to be ready to defend your belly from a sabre tooth tiger pouncing on you to devour your tasty innards.
Your audience receives 55% of what you communicate through your body language, followed by 38% in the tone of your voice, and a paltry 7% by what you say, according to Bowden’s research. That’s why he outlines a program for thoughtful and strategic attention and manipulation of your body language, which often runs counter to your innate reactions to stress. If your Chief Financial Officer and Director of Development say to your board, “we’ve had an excellent fiscal year,” but have furrowed brows, slouch forward, and murmur mostly to each other, they, in fact, communicate the exact opposite of what they intended. Though that’s a more extreme example, Bowden offers many concrete suggestions of how to improve your body language in formal speaking venues (like Conference presentations) to informal ones (for instance Break room chatter).
Future revised editions of this book should account for how you can gesture effectively if you have a tremor from Parkinson’s, for instance; or if you’re on the autism spectrum and you happen to use repetitive hand waving or rocking movements as a form of self-stimulation and reassurance. Information on how, if you speak using ASL, does the received communication schematic of body language versus tone of voice versus spoken word break down by comparison for you?
I greatly appreciate Bowden’s visually evocative and persuasive writing style and the uniqueness of his approach. But I get very nervous about setting up binary measures of communication excellence, of “outstanding” versus “poor” speakers, based solely upon a model of a neurotypical and orally-oriented person. This isn’t a challenge that I have in reading Bowden’s book alone, but one that needs to be addressed in business communication in general and in our discussion of it.
Katherine Verhagen Rodis is an experienced grant writer and new fundraising professional (Humber College, class of 2018) who enjoys learning more about front-facing donor relations, talking about accessibility issues, and working the phrase “tasty innards” into everyday conversation.
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