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Carol Kinsey Goman
Leadership consultant

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker. Her latest book is The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.

An emotional face

Dear Mr. President:

Stop assuming that people think logically and act rationally. Steeped in this belief, you have quantified everything you can and tried to help us make objective decisions.

But the fact is that the center of our conscious thought (the prefrontal cortex) is so tightly connected to the emotion-generating amygdala, that no one makes decisions based on pure logic. Mental processes we're not conscious of drive our decision making, and logical reasoning is really no more than a way to justify emotional choices.

Emotions are highly infectious and "catching" them is a universal human phenomenon. It's also true that emotions flow most strongly from the most powerful person in the room to others. As a leader, you send emotional messages, not just by what you say, but (primarily) by how you look and sound when you talk.

We are hardwired to mimic expressions and the emotions they convey - and have been doing so since infancy. Nine-month-old babies look longer at their mothers and express greater joy when their mothers are themselves joyful. One-year-olds, after watching a videotape of an actress portraying either positive or negative feelings, will mimic the actress's expressions and alter their own emotions accordingly.

As adults, we remain susceptible. Swedish researchers found that merely seeing a picture of a happy face produces fleeting activity in the muscles that pull the mouth into a smile. In fact, whenever we look at a photograph of someone portraying any strong emotion, like sadness, disgust or joy, our facial muscles automatically start to mirror that expression. And it isn't just a physical response, since our facial expressions will subtly trigger the corresponding feelings.

In times of uncertainty, audiences instinctively pay more attention to the facial expressions of those around them. People search for smiles or frowns to get a better sense of how to interpret and react to a situation, and then they begin to mimic the predominant emotions. And they pay special attention to the silent signals they get from leaders.

So, please Mr. President think about the emotions you want the American public to embody - and then make sure you display them.

By Carol Kinsey Goman

 |  January 26, 2010; 5:58 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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