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Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker. Her book “The Nonverbal Advantage” was followed by “The Silent Language of Leaders,” published in April by Jossey-Bass.
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Body language during crisis

The Question: How likely is it the horrific tragedy in Japan will rewrite Prime Minister Kan’s story, from that of an unpopular politician facing scandal to a strong leader guiding a country through crisis?

Of course it matters what you say--and when you say it. People need candid updates on a regular basis. And if they don't get those, the rumor mill steps into the void and takes over. But, whether you are the prime minister of Japan or the president of a business organization, when it comes to communicating during a crisis, there are two sets of nonverbal signals that are especially important to understand and display: warmth and authority. People need to see both in order to believe that you care and can achieve results.

This takes a certain amount of body language "balance." As a leader you nonverbally communicate warmth by letting an audience see your entire body (no hiding behind a lectern), and by using open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, direct eye contact, head nods, an empathetic tone of voice and facial expressions of concern.

You show authority and power through your erect posture, your command of physical space, your purposeful stride, your steady voice and a variety of hand movements--including palm-down gestures--that send nonverbal signals of control and certainty. Arms held at waist height, and gestures within that horizontal plane, help you (and the audience) feel centered and composed.

Although they may not be aware they are doing so, people are also evaluating a leader’s sincerity and deciding whether or not to trust what they hear by looking for congruence--that perfect alignment between what is being said and the body language that accompanies it. If a leader’s gestures are not in full agreement with his or her spoken words, the audience perceives duplicity, uncertainty or (at the very least) internal conflict.

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Carol Kinsey Goman  | Mar 15, 2011 2:19 PM

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