This past Thursday night my wife and I watched the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers football game. At one point in the game, Jay Cutler, quarterback for the Bears, was shown on the sidelines striking a pose similar to the one on the right. I made a comment to my wife about Cutler having the worst body language of any player in the NFL, and the more I thought about it in the context of trust and leadership, the more I was reminded of the power of our body language to either build or erode trust in relationships.
Even from his days playing college ball at Vanderbilt, Jay Cutler has caught flak for the negative vibes he puts off because of his mannerisms and facial expressions. Although he’s heard the feedback, either he’s had difficulty modifying his behavior or he simply doesn’t care to change. Either way, Cutler’s example provides an excellent case study for leaders on what NOT to do when it comes to communicating through body language.
Don’t let your body language…
♦ Say “I’d rather be anywhere else except here” – The faraway look in your eyes, frowning, restlessness, or checking your watch and phone are all classic signals that tell your colleagues that you’d rather be anywhere else except with them. It’s easy for leaders to get preoccupied about pressing deadlines or situations, but it’s important to stay present in conversations and communicate your interest by leaning forward, paraphrasing what you’ve heard, and making steady eye contact.
♦ Imply that you’re blaming others and refusing to take ownership of your own performance – Literally throwing your arms up in exasperation over someone’s mistake or reacting indignantly in an effort to cast the blame of your mistake to someone else are surefire ways to erode trust. People don’t like to be “thrown under the bus,” so the next time you get ready to point your finger at someone, remember that you have four fingers pointing back at you.
♦ Show that defeat and discouragement has gotten the best of you – Leaders will undoubtedly face times of struggle and loss. The true character of a leader isn’t revealed during the good times when the team is winning, but in the bad times when the losing streak occurs. Keep your head held high, shoulders back, and walk with a purposeful stride. Your team will gather strength and confidence from your behavior and follow suit.
♦ Communicate smugness and indifference toward people – That little “know it all” smirk that forms on your face, which seems to come particularly easy for leaders with large egos, is a death knell for high-trust relationships. Most people can tolerate a sense of arrogance from someone if they’re able to back it up with performance results, but demonstrating a lack of respect for others by rolling your eyes, smirking, or folding your arms in disgust or impatience turns people away from you forever.
From the moment of a first impression to the repeated behavior of ongoing interactions, the way you communicate with your body language plays a critical role in building trust. Don’t unintentionally erode trust by letting your body language communicate things you don’t mean. It’s awful easy to develop a bad reputation and it’s extremely hard to turn it around. Just ask Jay Cutler.
Great post Randy, I watched the game as well and while I shouldn’t be surprised, I always am by how quickly he loses his cool in the face of adversity. He certainly has the physical talents but lacks the emotional intelligence to guide his team through rough waters.
I agree Frank! Thanks for your insights.
You nailed this one! Love the images and lessons. So very true and powerful for leaders of all kinds.
Thanks Jamie! Hope you’re having a great weekend.
Cutler is one of the most unaware – or uncaring – team leaders in the NFL. I’m hoping it’s unawareness. He consistently demonstrates disappointment with his non-verbal communication; he seems an unhappy guy. How many in the Bears locker room are inspired by Cutler’s persona? I’m guessing not many.
A great message for leaders, Randy – see you in Escondido this week!
You are spot on Chris, and of course you saw this kind of behavior up close when Cutler played for Denver (which as a Chargers fan I wish was still the case!). See you soon!
Great post Randy and as Jamie wrote, the images are perfect! What’s the stat on the percentage of how much people retain of what you’ve said versus how much they retain of how you made them feel or how they have experience something? If your body language is this negative, not only will they not believe what you are saying, they may not even hear it.
Great point Dominique! I know I’ve seen experts say anywhere from 70%-90% of what gets communicated is through body language and other non-verbals which makes HOW we communicate just as important, if not more so, than WHAT we communicate. Thanks for your insightful comments!
Have a great week,
Love it – as a Bears fan and leader – you are 100% on point. No excuse for Cutler but Chicago has got to be one of the worst cities to be a leader in period. Another post, for another day but thanks for the great observations!!
Thanks for your comments Denise! From the outside looking in, I can appreciate the difficult dynamics of Chicago leadership.
Hi Randy. Great Discussion. You and I will have to connect. My business is also helping leaders understand the value of trust and how to achieve it. For this particular discussion you may enjoy the following article entitled “The 5 C’s of Body Language.” http://thetrustambassador.com/2012/01/08/5-cs-of-body-language/
Hi Bob. Your article is an excellent reference on the broader topic of body language.
I’d love to connect sometime. We run in the same circles and I’ve admired your work in the field of trust.
Thanks for your comments!
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