Next week I’m presenting at an Advocates Society conference here in Toronto.
The theme is body language.
I’m no body language expert by any stretch, but what’s fascinating is examining body language within the context of power, privilege and unconscious bias. These are issues that I speak and train on regularly, so it’s been amazing to look at them more closely in a different light.
Research tells us that:
- 93% of communication is non-verbal
- 50-85% of communication is conveyed through body language
- The rest: is conveyed through voice (tone and pitch)
Body language expert Mark Bowden speaks on the subtle cues like smiling and where we place our hands when we speak, that puts people in the friend or foe category automatically thanks to the “reptilian brain”. Non-verbal communication expert Amy Cuddy speaks about how we take up space, who takes up space, and the impact of this on ourselves and others.
Unconscious Bias, Power & Privilege
And then there’s unconscious bias, power and privilege. What impact does this have?
If you consider that our brain makes mental associations between people and their value, then it should come as no surprise that body language, voice, tone and other non-verbals will be interpreted differently depending on who is embodying it.
Let’s consider power and privilege – either through position (C-suite executives, political leaders, etc.) or identity (Dominant groups: men, white, cisgender, able bodied etc.) – and the impact on taking up space and body language.
When we have privilege, we move through the world with a certain ease, without much thought about who we are being, and without (generally) having to second guess our actions. This allows us to walk into rooms, events, situations with confidence and ease, where someone without social power or privilege might be hesitant, make themselves small, try to be inconspicuous.
In addition, we assess the body language and actions of others based on their social location (power and privilege or lack thereof) and position. Consider that a man who asserts himself is assertive and when a woman does the same she is often considered a bitch; COnsider how the CEO walks into a meeting compared to a new hire or junior position – how they come into the room, what they do, who they speak to, where they sit. Consider why it’s Black men who are often shot by police. The same actions are interpreted through a different lens because of who we are, or the position we hold.
So body language is not just a one-way communication, it’s two-way.
I’ll be speaking to a room of lawyers next week, so there are implications not only for the workplace (applicable to a wider audience) but also for what happens in court: not just how clients are seen, but also how legal representation can coach a client so that the outside assessment of their tone, language, or non-verbals may change- which could make a huge difference.
This topic reminds me of what many Black parents teach their children: to be cognizant of how they are perceived, and therefore to be mindful of their behaviour/responses in an effort to reduce risk.
If non verbal communication accounts for 93% of all communication, I wonder what percentage of that is messages sent and how much of that is interpretation of those messages based on who is sending them. Another layer of Diversity and Inclusion…