Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Are You a “Master” of Nonverbal Communication?

Some people are experts at using or reading body language. Some are clueless.

There are individual differences in our ability to use and to read nonverbal cues. Nonverbal communication involves the ability to recognize and accurately read other people’s emotions, the ability to enact emotions to affect others, and ability to regulate and control our emotional displays (being a good emotional actor).

Persons who are exceptional at reading others’ emotions are called “emotionally sensitive” and are typically considered to be empathic. They connect well with others, and tend to have deep interpersonal relationships. Of course, the danger of being sensitive to others’ emotions is being easily affected by others’ emotions—feeling other people’s pain (what is called the “emotional contagion” process).

People who are emotionally expressive are good at spontaneously showing their felt nonverbal cues of emotion. As the saying goes, these individuals “wear their hearts on their sleeves.” As you can imagine, these people are fun to be around. They are the life of the party. One danger is not being able to regulate and control one’s emotional expressiveness (think a Robin Williams or Jim Carrey type).

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Some people are masters of controlling and manipulating their emotional expressions. These are the masters of emotional acting. You may never know what these individuals are truly feeling, because they are very good at covering up felt emotions with a different emotional “mask.” These emotional actors are both emotionally expressive, but also have skill in emotional control and regulation.

What if a person has ALL of the basic emotional skills? A person who is emotionally expressive, but only when he or she wants to be. These individuals are good at emotionally “infecting” others. They can read your body language and be sensitive and comforting, but adjust their nonverbal communication to make a deep emotional connection. These individuals possess what we call “personal charisma.” They are the true masters of nonverbal communication and are often in positions of leadership, and are considered very “special” people by others. You may be someone with personal charisma, but you certainly know one.

Here are some statements that might indicate if you are emotionally expressive, sensitive, or a good emotional actor. See how strongly you agree with each. Answer them all positively and you have high levels of personal charisma potential.

Emotional Expressiveness

“I have been told that I have expressive eyes.”

“When depressed, I tend to make those around me depressed also.”

“I often touch my friends when talking to them.”

Emotional Sensitivity

“I always seem to know other people’s feelings no matter how hard they try to conceal them from me.”

“I am often told that I am a sensitive and understanding person.”

“When my friends are angry or upset, they seek me out to help calm them down.”

Emotional Control

“I am able to conceal my true feelings from just about anyone.”

“I can keep a straight face even when friends try to make me laugh or smile”

“While I may be nervous on the inside, I can disguise it very well from others.”

 

To learn more about this measure of nonverbal and social skills, go to Mind Garden.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/#!/ronriggio

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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