The Future Of Work Has No Boundaries

Among the many facets of this new way of working: a not-always smooth shift from officemates to virtually connected nomads who communicate and work via all sorts of virtual channels: social, mobile and video. A statistic that’s been reverberating since I first read it: by 2015, which is now1.3 billion of us worldwide will be working remotely. That’s about 40% of the global workforce. Another: HR technology alone is a market worth more than $15 billion. That’s a whole heap of screen time for your personal brand.

In this virtual, hyper-connected and hyper-competitive culture, body language is more critical than ever. There’s plenty of coaching to be had, and data — charts tracking testosterone and cortisol changes and the like. But I’m still hearing questions on the why side from leaders, employees and brands alike. We tend to follow direction and get to a task because we’re team players in a fast-moving workforce: we take care of the who-what-where-when first. But in simple mechanical terms, why a soft skill like body language is ever-critical is an interesting question. The bottom line: essentially, we’re all onscreen. We’re on Digital TV. And the tech has its own impact on how we appear.

A Tighter Visual Frame

Not only does body language translate via digital and video hookup, it’s intensified. Twitter Chats, video interviews, conferences, virtual meetings: what they all have in common in a tighter visual frame, with talking heads (and sometimes bodies) front and center, going mobile shrinks us down even more. This is the new normal: an increased and consolidated visual presence.

This different framing also means the data we transmit — via our physical positions, breathing, voice — is distilled, so it’s going to convey even more. We’re not just watching, we’re scrutinizing each other. We need to be more mindful of the impression we make, and think a bit like directors managing our actors — without losing sight of being authentic as a brand. And the more we all spending time on digital teams and in virtual workplaces, the more sophisticated we’re becoming at recognizing tells: those quirks that reveal when someone’s not engaged in the conversation or is less than enthusiastic.

What gets lost in digital translation are the accessory factors, which rounded out our experience in the analog past — something as simple as the scent of your perfume or the atmosphere of the interview space, which in the past might enhance, distract, or even dilute our impression of one another. That means every gesture, every expression, is a focal point. Be very self-aware.

A Different Sense Of Time

Digital time is faster, shorter, and moments are more isolated; they create their own context. That means a gesture isn’t tempered by other gestures. We get a moment to speak our minds and hearts, and then it’s onto the next face, the next brand in the screen. So be intentional. Be mindful of the direction and clarity of your idea. That’s a good exercise for all of us, but especially now, it’s key.

Given the brevity, that also means that what we say, and how we say it, are even more important. Social etiquette is a necessity. Being conscious of the particular norms or behaviors of a given social channel is just part of the job description now. And in general, that means not really throwing your emotions out there: just like all caps, things get very loud and conspicuous in a millisecond.

The truth is, we all still need each other. Human to human matters most. There’s no working in endless isolation for most of us, and between teams, departments, projects and discussions, we’re spending a whole lot of virtual time with each other. Technology, fortunately, is developing less static, less formal venues that allow us to be ourselves and interact in a more spontaneous way, such as online discussion groups, social media hangouts, brainstorming chats, and the like. But it’s still, well, different. And giving good face has never been more important. There’s a new emotional intelligence to it, and we’re getting there. See you on the digital screen, talent stars.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: Mimadeo via Compfight cc

The Body Language Business And The Now of You

“You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen…”
— R.E.M. (“Exhuming McCarthy”)

Look at me. Eyes right here. Watch my face, my arms and my hands as I talk. In fact, watch my entire physical demeanor. What does it tell you?

Now, imagine that you’re on your way to a job interview. The grueling commute of only inching along has take its toll on your already fragile job-searching soul and you take a deep breath when you finally park.

You enter the building and the interviewer escorts you to the interview room. You’re asked to sit and the interview begins.

It’s then you notice the interviewer’s facial expressions changing rapidly – happy, sad, angry, surprised, confused – over and over again.

“You do know why you’re here, right?” the interview asks, hands fidgeting and doing a tabletop dance.

“Yes,” you answer. What’s wrong with this person, you think.

“If you were a bicycle, what part of the bike would you be and why?” the interviewer asks.

Are you for real?

“Well, I’d be the gear shift, so I could help my team and the company be agile in a such an ever-changing—”

The interviewer interrupts and slams both fists onto the table and shouts, “Why do you want this job?!?”

You actually jump in your seat. Anger flashes off and on the interviewer’s face like a series of poorly lit red-eye stills.

The interviewer, with arms now crossed, eyes rolling, speaks again, “It’s a business imperative that you understand the difference between right and wrong and all things in between.”

“Um … okay?” you say.

You squirm in your seat but keep your line of sight focused on the interviewer, fighting with your face not to betray your confusion and fear.

“We all know the difference and meet our business objectives every single day. We really do. But we need to ensure you can do the same,” the interviewer says, arms outstretched and palms up.

You nod and twiddle your thumbs. The interviewer gives you a “thumbs-up,” then just sits stone-faced at the table in front of you, waiting for you to respond.

You choose your words carefully, your confident gaze never wavering from the interviewer, your hands clasped together in front of you on the table.

“I do understand the difference,” you say.

“You’re hired!”


Sure this is a nonsensical scenario, but I’ll bet some of you have experienced your share of bizarre workplace encounters. Plus, we’re always in workplace situations where body language and facial expressions contribute greatly to the “now” of you, and the other person, in the moment.

In fact, we’ve actually been reading each other’s outward appearance and disposition for thousands of years, or at least trying to, in order to discern what we should do next in these contexts:

  • To Befriend
  • To Berate
  • To Educate
  • To Elevate
  • To Hire
  • To Kill (in case of emergency)

Yes, a brutal oversimplification, but it’s even more complicated with the micro-expression nuance that science has tried to explain in recent decades. For example, how Ekman and Friesen introduced the notion of “micro-affect displays” in a 1969 article in Psychiatry, but it wasn’t an extensive study and this subject has been mostly ignored.

Except, of course, the hundreds of millions of dollars that governments have dumped into the study of body language and facial expressions to uncover spies and terrorists, with some success, but also a big waste of money when it comes to “reading” passengers at airports, according to one expert referenced in an Economist article. Also in 2013, the U.S. General Accountability Office “deemed facial cues worthless as a way of detecting people with bad intentions in airports” according to a New York Magazine article.

Closer to workplace home, however, there are those who are applying the science of reading “face” to screening and hiring. For example, Dan Hill, a facial coding expert, was hired by the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team to read faces. This includes the faces of college prospects and NBA players in order to determine if they have the right emotional attributes that will give the Bucks the competitive edge.

In the New York Times article linked above, Dan Hill states that our faces betray our true emotions and can predict our even truer “intentions, decisions and actions.” He uses the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System (I referenced Ekman above about “micro-affect” displays). The FACS is used to decipher “which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment.” This includes seven core emotions: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

But there’s an entire litany of researchers and experts who warn that reading too much from body language and facial expressions is dangerous and misleading; too many liars are too good at being bad without anyone “seeing” it. Many of you in HR and recruiting have experienced hiring “train wrecks” time and again to know how unfortunately true this is. And many of you have interviewed with HR and recruiting train wrecks.

What is clear is that individuals not only need to be aware of those around them and be able to read body and face in context, they also need to be self-aware enough to manage their own emotional reactions to the reading.

In other words, you need to be able to be flexible and fluid enough in your speech and physical reactions to what happens around you, in the workplace and the “homeplace,” to convey honest conviction, confidence and definitive decision-making without betraying your fears or discontent. That doesn’t mean you don’t betray some in the name of personable transparency, but again, it’s all about clarity of context.

Deborah Thomas-Nininger, founder of DTN Productions, a training company specializing in business etiquette and reputation management, expressed on the TalentCulture #TChat Show that body language conveys everything from confidence to approachability; it’s more honest than the spoken word. Literally in the blink of an eye, we can make someone feel quite valued or unceremoniously dismissed.

That’s why developing our softer skills is today’s differentiator and managing our “emotional intelligence” is so critical in the workplace (and the homeplace). This is the body language business and the now of you, so manage it well.

Unless you’re one of the liars too good at being bad; in that case, keep your hands and face to yourself.

About the Author: Kevin W. Grossman co-founded and co-hosts the highly popular weekly TalentCulture #TChat Show with Meghan M. Biro. He’s also currently the Product Marketing Director for Total Talent Acquisition products at PeopleFluent.

photo credit: LaVladina via photopin cc

#TChat Preview: Managing Your Personal Brand’s Softer Skills

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT). The #TChat radio portion runs the first 30 minutes from 7-7:30 pm ET, followed by the #TChat Twitter chat from 7:30-8 pm ET.

Last week we talked about how to maximize the cowbell principle.

This week we’re going to talk about managing the softer skills of your personal brand.

What rings true today in a world gone social that demands transparency and authenticity is the fact that your reputation is your personal brand. And vice-versa.

But with everything so “on” and online virtually all the time, what happened to body language? Nothing actually. In fact, it’s more important than ever, because we spend so much time online. Body language conveys everything from confidence to approachability; it’s more honest than the spoken word.

Literally in the blink of an eye, we can make someone feel quite valued or unceremoniously dismissed. That’s why developing our softer skills is the new differentiator.

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-creators and hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as we learn about how to manage the softer skills of your personal brand with this week’s guest: Deborah Thomas-Nininger, founder of DTN Productions International-Hallmark of Etiquette, a “Reputation Management” training company.

Sneak Peek:

Related Reading:

Alex Freund: Can Body Language Be Learned?

Meghan M. Biro: The Future Of Work Is Boundaryless

Leo Widrich: The Secrets Of Body Language: Why You Should Never Cross Your Arms Again

Diane Gottsman: Office Etiquette: Nine Ways To Strengthen Work Relationships

Carol Kinsey Goman: 10 Powerful Body Language Tips

We hope you’ll join the #TChat conversation this week and share your questions, opinions and ideas with our guests and the TalentCulture Community.

#TChat Events: How To Manage The Softer Skills Of Your Personal Brand

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, January 21st — 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT Tune in to the #TChat Radio show with our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman, as they talk with our guest: Deborah Thomas-Nininger.

Tune in LIVE online Wednesday, January 21st!

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, January 21st — 7:30 pm ET / 4:30 pm PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and Deborah will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: Why is body language such a critical personal branding soft skill? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: How has social technology impacted business etiquette over the past few years? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: What effect has social media and brand awareness had on reputation management? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Until the show, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our new TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!

photo credit: anamobe via photopin cc