Stories and Experiences


I did My homework

Yesterday a corporate trainer called me, to explore a possible tie-up. She had indicated to me earlier that she would be calling, and, as I normally do, I checked her online presence to know more about her. When she called, I was prepared. I was surprised why she was taken by surprise that I had done my homework. Checking profiles is a part of my nonverbal consultancy for leaders, but I do this routinely for any and every person I have to meet. You would be surprised how much you can understand about an individual from his posts, and more so from his pictures, even if the profile is a “managed” one. Hardly takes more than ten minutes, but it helps to understand whom you are speaking with, it helps build rapport faster, and start the conversation atleast two steps higher.

The Limp Emphasizers

Yesterday I went to visit a very good friend of a client I am working with, to get general feedback on the overall persona of my client. This is a part of our exercise for coaching assignments, since it helps get perspective from different stakeholders. The lady I met is very well established professionally and has excellent communication skills. When I began with generic questions on my client, she was confident of her answers, as confirmed by her eye contact, firm hand gestures, leaning back in chair, and eyebrow raise. However, there were questions when she was highly under confident, at which times the firm fingers which were gesturing so confidently went limp and the hand came to rest in front of her mouth, as if wanting to stop her from sharing feedback. What is more, the eyebrows which were rising while conversing went limp too! Of course I marked a red next to the answers at those points. Imagine the implications these type of varying levels of confidence can play when you are taking feedback on performance of employees from the team leader, or demanding what went wrong in a case, and so on. Do you pay attention to changes in body language?


The CrossCultural Negotiator
While conversing with a client who negotiates with CrossCultural parties on behalf of his organisation, we ventured into the topic of diversity in cultures as we cross countries. I asked the client what his observations were on the difference in people he met. He told me about three different cultures, and with two of these cultures he had positive experience with people. For the third country, however, he believed the people were arrogant and over confident. I gently asked him if he could list for me what specific instances about these people made him form this impression of them. He began with an answer but very shortly on introspection, he realised that he had no substantial explanation. without any interruption from my end, he concluded perhaps these were to do with his own prejudices. Bingo! That’s why I believe paying an objective attention to people during conversations helps. We overcome prejudices and understand them for who they are, sitting right across from us. Nonverbal communication can be quite powerful.

The TaleTell Torso

My PR and I recently visited a very reputed group for pitching our services. The lady who met up with us sat across from me with her torso facing 45 degree away from me. Usual at the start of a meeting. Those of us who handle #sales know that sales pitches are never about expecting a blunt yes or no. Rather it is a process of understanding what interests the #client and what doesn’t, especially when you have a basket of services or products. So while we were conversing, I was trying to get a sense of which of our offerings interested her, by focusing on her body signals. When I mentioned one of our very latest projects in the pipeline, there was a sharp turn in her torso. She turned to face me directly, and even uncrossed her leg and leaned forward. Bang! The project was my pitch to her for the next ten minutes of our conversation. And she was sold on the idea. Paying attention to the signals ensured we walked out with at least one deal in hand.

The Enthusiastic Salesman
Yesterday while waiting in the reception area at an organisation for taking a session, I happened to witness a sales conversation happening very close by. The salesman had the perfect overtones of confidence, and the right body language. The client was a bit hesitant and unsure. As the conversation progressed, there was not much change in the under confidence of the client. But the salesman, in an attempt to convince the client then and there, started putting on more and more emphatic displays. I would believe these bordered more on the side of dominance than confidence. Having observed people for long now, I knew these displays of the salesman were “taught” displays. Learning body language strategies should come with a pinch of salt; we need to be able to fine tune these in lieu of the person we are meeting. That makes for a finer rapport building than does textbook behavior. The client could very well be put off here.

TheInfluencer Or The Easy Goer
My observation of #salesmen has shown that, be it in small retail outlets or top class real estate offices, when they are pitching to a group of people, they are quick to spot the one agreeing with their point of view or the sales pitch. This they pick up from not just the conversational flow but also body language. And that’s their gateway. The rest  of the pitch is directed towards this Easy Goer. What they miss out, is that the Easy Goer is not necessarily always the Influencer or even the actual buyer. It’s crucial to be able to spot the latter two. Can you?

Unraveling Connections

Today when  a client came over to my office for a Personal Session, he had a surprise visitor for me, who was in a somewhat overlapping line of work and the profile seemed interesting to explore a collaboration.  As a natural observer of Human Behavior, what was interesting for me was the amount of time the client kept looking at his guest versus me. We naturally tend to look for a longer time at someone we are meeting, rather than the one we are with. Here it was the opposite. I sensed there was a relation between them and the client cared what impression the guest was making on me. I knew then, I should give due attention to the guest, which I did. Sure enough, I discovered the client was an investor in the guest’s business. Body language can reveal interesting stories, if only we can see them unfolding, right in front of us.


The Sales Intern

Today I had called in students for an interview for a Sales Internship which we are offering to increase the visibility of our products. As goes with most typical Sales Interviews, I asked one of the students how confident he was about tapping his resources for generating Sales Leads for my business. And without even the slightest of hesitation, he declined that he could help me here. What candidates don’t realise is, it’s not always “confidence” and promptness of an answer which can land them an internship or even a job. The context matters. Pausing before answering could have worked wonders for this candidate, whom I ultimately scratched off the list. A pregnant pause is one nonverbal I look for strongly while hiring. 

B school Interviews

Today I met an alumni from a B school where I had conducted interviews a couple of years back. I congratulated her on how her Alma mater had an amazing policy of the exact same dressing for all campus interviews. She looked at me with disbelief, claiming that was one thing all of her class had loathed back then. The truth is, common dressing removes biases created by dressing. While dressing might help put forth an individuality while a jobswitch is desired, it is my opinion that this policy of uniform suits was encourageable at the campus hiring level. I had met the same students I had interviewed that day, at a later date, and I had observed how some of them might even have missed catching the attention of the CEO with whom I was sitting in for the interview.

A GameWellTaught

Today when I was playing badminton with my daughter in our society ground, there was a group of young boys learning to play football nearby. In the background, every now and again I could hear the coach shouting to them “Guys communicate! Communicate!” He made me stop and smile, because he was teaching an important lesson to the boys. Picking up and giving the right body signals matters a lot when you are playing a sport. Reminds me of the famous speech of AlPacino in AnyGivenSunday “The inches we need are everywhere around us. In every break of the game, every minute, every second.” That’s why I recommend to every client I coach to play a sport if they want to excel at reading others’ body signals. The football coach made my day.

The Fire Drill

Today my colleague and I were waiting at the reception of an organisation where we were to conduct a session on Women Leadership. As the assistant received us and was escorting us to the conference room, she missed to notice the frozen response of the security guard. I drew her attention to the guard – the guard’s body was signalling that she had something on her mind. Upon inquiry the guard revealed that there was a fire drill scheduled in two minutes and beginning a session now would be a waste of time. Inquiring at the right time saved us efforts of stopping the session for the drill and then restarting. From her end, the guard could not proactively inform us about the drill since it would beat the purpose of the drill. But since we inquired, she could help us out. As leaders, we need to be perceptive to expressions of people around us. A lot of time and effort can be saved this way – the body never lies!

A very nice mystery plot of my all time favorite detective Hercule Poirot who, just like  Holmes, picks up facts from people’s body signals. What was disappointing is that the director had put no teaser cues to hint a sharp eye towards the answer to the mystery. My research associate Yash Sirohi and I have frequently debated the authenticity of human behavior portrayed on the cinema screen, and here was an example of how poor execution can make behavior shown on screen appear inauthentic. Had these been live characters, their behavior would have been much, much different. I won’t spoil your fun, go watch the movie and tell me if you see what I state!

Today when I entered our office building, a team leader was greeting two female colleagues who had walked in together, just in front of me. While the intention of the leader might have been to greet both of them, his full body was oriented towards just one of them, and to her he offered a handshake. Of course greetings include smiles and happiness, but what was significant was how the ignored colleague laughed in a noticeably shrill pitch AND took a step back when the boss was offering her colleague all the attention, and not to her.Leaders need to be nonverbally intelligent enough to know how small actions can put team members off their game.

Yesterday while doing a group session, I made the participants play this simple game, which is very relevant for nonverbal insights. Out of the group, two people knew each other really really well. So when one of them got up and announced her three statements for the game, the other one was ready with the answer before the speaker was done. And surprise of surprise, she was wrong! Key takeaway from this? Two, actually.One, we are born to be body language readers for a reason. Our limbic brain cannot lie, no matter what and it leaks the truth in some way or the other. Even if you know someone really well, it’s not enough to pay attention just to their words. Two, stress and deception can be easily confused. There are ways of digging to search out the truth, but this game teaches us not to take our lie detecting abilities for granted.

Today I had three meetings with very well established organizations. While I was in one of them, the gentleman I met was sitting across from me cross legged. We had a very interesting heart to heart talk. Towards the very end, the examples I shared seemed to have convinced him of my expertise on the subject. The nonverbal confirmation came when he uncrossed his legs, to cross his hands and rest the elbows on each leg AND bend the head forward. Most of us know this means the person is thinking. But that’s not it. You would not lower your head so much unless you can trust the person. Basic instincts! I knew I had a win.

(Another) reason for the inferiority of expert judgement is that humans are incorrigibly inconsistent in making summary judgments of complex information. When asked to evaluate the same information twice, they frequently give different answers. Experienced radiologists who evaluate chest X-rays as “normal” or “abnormal” contradict themselves 20% of the time when they see the same picture on separate occasions. – Daniel Kahneman,in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”
The same applies when we judge people from their body signals intuitively rather than taking a formal approach to learning body language. Have you learnt about observing patients consciously, Doctor?

A few days back, I asked my team colleague who handles PR on what she thought about the idea that the college where she was pitching our next workshop The Confident YOUth would be able to handle the marketing of the workshop themselves. She did two things before she answered the question – tightened her lips so they disappeared and broke eye contact. I did not need to wait for her words to tell me she did not have much confidence that this idea would float. Can we second guess people because we learn to read body language? Not recommended. But can we pay attention to stress signals and thus communicate better? Absolutely!

Today while I was entering the office building, I saw the guard stop a man who was also entering the building, ahead of me. While the guard had a very polite tone when he was asking probing questions to the man, he had bent all the way forward so that he could take a good look at the man’s face while he answered the questions. He was scanning the man as to whether he was an owner, a broker or an intruder. We all scan faces pretty closely when we try to understand others. And why not; our face is capable of making around 10k combination of expressions. But there is a rich source of information in other parts of the body as well. Much, much more!!

My office is right across the road from where my home is, in Mumbai. Literally. Today I called my husband as I was climbing down the escalator to check if he was driving home and was in the vicinity so we could go back home together. He was! I know I sounded delighted and we drove home for that short span of 2 minutes together.
On reaching home, I asked him whether he had noticed that I had just had a hair cut today, and my hair was set to be all nice and proper. He just smiled at me and told me that the gesture I showed by waiting for a full 10 minutes below my office building to drive for 2 minutes with him was a far stronger communicator of my love for him than the pretty looking hair. And I was thrilled. Because that’s exactly what I am trying to address in the book I am writing – that all of us learn to move beyond the First Impressions created by grooming and focus on Nonverbal Communication.

A few days back on FB there was a 7D museum in Japan which was shared. A museum where one can not only see virtual animals, but also smell them, touch them and feel them. Wow! Or is it? Isn’t it a threat to our need to hug each other when things go bad? Touch helps us trust each other, and survive as a species. Are we inviting future virtual humans into our life without realizing its implications?

Is it always necessary to put your best foot forward? Yesterday I had gone to meet a very senior gentleman. He wanted to know more about how we train for nonverbal communication. I usually give live examples since it helps drive home the point. Since communication is two way, I would show him how I was making myself effective, and telling him how I could read his mind. Every time I did the latter, I saw him become defensive while the former impressed him. This his body language told me. So what part of the conversation do I focus on more – my effective communication or his giveaway signals? The answer is clear, and it was given to me non verbally. Therein lies my point – Impressing others is not as essential as connecting with them to build greater rapport!

Do all of us have a single signature way of greeting the same counterpart? We all look to collaborate with professionals in the same field. Yesterday morning I met with a gentleman to explore something similar. We had never known each other before. As typical greetings go, we shook hands. His was firm. Now since my profession demands that I make sense of people’s body language, I unconsciously also look at how good a handshake is. Firm handshake also has flavors. This one was stiff and firm. Perhaps with a conscious intent to make a good first impression. We spoke for more than an hour, exchanging how we could collaborate, help each other out, even a bit about personal backgrounds.
And guess what? The parting handshake of the gentleman was firm but this time it was full palm to palm contact, willingly executed. The type of touch speaks volumes about this. It told me we had truly connected.
What story did your last handshake tell you?

Yesterday I had gone to meet a very senior gentleman. He wanted to know more about how we train for nonverbal communication. I usually give live examples since it helps drive home the point. Since communication is two way, I would show him how I was making myself effective, and telling him how I could read his mind. Every time I did the latter, I saw him become defensive while the former impressed him. This his body language told me. So what part of the conversation do I focus on more – my effective communication or his giveaway signals? The answer is clear, and it was given to me non verbally. Therein lies my point – Impressing others is not as essential as connecting with them to build greater rapport!

To what extent can employee satisfaction be taken?
Yesterday when I visited my favourite salon, I was surprised to see the staff in colourful dresses, and not their usual standard company dress. On inquiring, I got to know that they were given this liberty for the nine days of our popular festival of Navratri. That’s a great company gesture for showing care towards employees. Only thing I was wondering is, were I a first time visitor to this salon, would I come back seeing employees in the attire that I did. Attire matters in creating nonverbal appeal of a company’s image, and there would be a fine balance between employee freedom and brand management. I have also observed marked difference in the confidence of employees when they are in their comfortable everyday uniform, wherever these are mandatory.
Would like to know your thoughts from your personal experience; it will help me in describing how a nation with culture as diverse as India battles between standardization, localisation, employee satisfaction and customer delight!

Yesterday when I met my child’s beloved nanny in the evening, she stepped close to me.Closer than I would expect. Now this was significant because I know her baseline behavior and she respects my Personal boundary. So something about my daughter was on her mind. And it was! So many times, we intuitively step close to people such that we step into their boundaries to reveal secrets or discuss issues on our mind. You might be aware that you want to share a secret but were you conscious of what exactly you were doing body signal wise? And did you also know this move can be used strategically to win the confidence of someone?