- November 9, 2009
Guest Post by: Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D
Two of your colleagues are talking in the hallway. You’d like to join the conversation, but you don’t know if you’ll be seen as a rude interruption or a welcome addition.
You can find out if you’re welcome or not – just by looking at their feet. Or so says Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.
According to Dr. Goman: “When you approach the twosome, you will be acknowledged in one of two ways. If the feet of your two colleagues stay in place and they twist only their upper torsos in your direction, they don’t really want you to join the conversation. But if their feet open to include you then you know that you are truly invited to participate”
And that’s only one of the messages you can get by looking at feet. A few others . . .
Whenever you are speaking with a co-worker who seems to be paying attention, and whose upper body is angled toward you, but whose legs and feet have turned toward the door – realize that the conversation is over. Her feet are telling you she’s ready to leave.
Foot positions are revealing even if someone’s legs are crossed. If the toe of the leg that is crossed is pointing towards you, the person is most likely interested in you. If the opposite leg is crossed, so the top toe is pointing away, they are probably withdrawing.
When people try to control their body language, they focus primarily on facial expressions and hand/arm gestures. And since the legs and feet are left unrehearsed, they are also where the truth can most often be found.
This was the case with a senior manager whose body language was open and confident as sat onstage being interviewed. Then someone brought up the topic of executive compensation. As the manager responded, his facial expressions and upper body gestures remained constant – but his “foot language” changed dramatically: From a comfortable, loose leg cross, he suddenly locked his ankles tightly together, pulled them back under his chair, and began to make tiny kicks with both feet. He then re-crossed his ankles and kicked his feet again. While the executive’s upper body continued to convey a sense of ease, his feet were telling an entirely different story – one of stress and anxiety.
Of course, feet and legs not only react to stressors and threats, they respond to positive emotions as well. Bouncing, tapping, wiggling feet are what professional poker players refer to as “happy feet” In poker it’s a high-confidence tell, a signal that the player’s hand is strong. There is a similar signal in business negotiations. If you see a lot of high-energy foot jiggling (or if you notice a slight bounce in the shoulders that is a result of the movement) you can almost always assume that the party involved is feeling pretty good about his bargaining position.
Dr Goman says that you may already be better than you know at reading feet. Studies show that observers have greater success judging a person’s real emotional state when they can see the entire body.