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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.

Warmth 101 for BP chairman

Q: BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanburg asserted today that his company "cares about the small people," yet the company has also decided to suspend payment of its quarterly dividend, a move that is sure to hurt small shareholders. How can a leader effectively convey empathy to constituents when he or she is not able to please them all?

People don't expect a leader to solve all their problems and address all their concerns. But when people react emotionally to any situation, they do want your respect, empathy, and understanding - which is why it is imperative that you send the right signals.

There are two sets of nonverbal signals that are especially important to our assessment of leaders: warmth and confidence. Obviously the most appealing leaders are seen to encompass both qualities, and the least effective leaders are those we regard as cold and insecure. But when it comes to projecting empathy, signals of warmth are key. As a leader you communicate empathy with open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, a full-frontal body orientation, positive eye contact, synchronized movements, head nods, head tilts, and smiles.

Take, for example, your next face-to-face meeting with a team member or business colleague. If you incorporate the following nonverbal messages into your conversation, you will be sending signals of warmth and empathy:

• Face people directly (heart to heart). Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest.

• Remove barriers between you and the other person. Take away things that block your view. Move the phone or stacks of paper on your desk. Better still, come out from behind your desk.

• Maintain positive eye contact. Remember that people will assume you are not listening (and not interested) if your eyes scan the room or if your gaze shifts to paperwork or your computer screen.

• Use palm-up hand gestures when speaking. They send messages of candor and openness.

• Synchronize your body language with the person you are dealing with. Subtly match their stance, arm positions and facial expressions.

• Use head nods. This signal encourages people to continue speaking and signals that you appreciate their comments.

By Carol Kinsey Goman

 |  June 17, 2010; 4:19 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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