The Motivational Power of Body Language

I was in a retail store recently – an outlet of a major international brand based in a large shopping centre.  While browsing, I engaged in a favourite past-time – people watching. The store manager was instructing a staff member to rearrange several displays.  While I cannot comment on any previous interactions between the two, this one was enlightening in the use and impact of the manager’s body language as was the  employee’s reaction.

The words used by the manager were both polite and clear. His tone and body language (especially facial expressions),however, told a different story. This was a manager who was impatient and determined to show the employee who was in charge.  The impact upon the employee was worth observing.  She was doing her best to maintain as much distance from her manager as possible given the circumstances.  Her facial expressions were obviously neutral and her responses were mono-tonal.  This was someone who was very much aware of the power dynamic at play and was not exactly happy with it.

The manager – as is often the case – was totally unaware of the impact he was having on one of his team.  Relying on the power of his position, he expected the employee to carry out his instructions.  However, the carrying out of those instructions would be all that he would receive.  I would imagine that any additional or discretionary performance would not be forthcoming.  Any situation that falls outside his instructions would likely require further interventions from the manager – taking up his time and effort.  A simple realisation of how body language can change the manager/staff dynamic would have transformed this routine engagement.

Every interaction that we have with those that we work with has an impact.  The question managers need to ask themselves is: what impact am I having and is that impact positive or negative to our the working relationship?

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