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Body language can be far louder than the spoken voice, so Liz Kentish provides some tips to make sure that you watch what you’re saying, even when you’re not speaking.


04 September 2018 | Liz Kentish

As a seasoned public speaker who often chairs panel discussions at major FM events, I’ve learnt to read the signs – I know when I’ve got the attention of my audience by observing their body language. And the opposite is true – when people are disengaged, you can see it clearly.

Here’s the interesting thing: the person speaking in a panel debate may be fascinating to listen to, but if the other panellists looked bored or maybe have what I call a ‘parked face’, they’re not watching the speaker, not giving listening signs such as little nods, then the audience will switch off.

If you don’t look interested in what someone you’re sharing a stage with has to say, why should we?

If you saw someone doing this in a team meeting when a colleague is giving an update on a project you’d notice it, and it would take your concentration away from the person speaking.

It’s disrespectful and rude and says to that person, and also to the others in the room, that their contribution is not valued.

In an age in which workplace well-being is a major factor in both office design and leadership, this one area of human behaviour can derail the best of programmes, and it can happen even without the offender realising it.

If you held a metaphorical ‘mirror’ up to that person, I’m sure that in most cases the individual would be horrified at the impact their body language had.

Unfortunately there are some people who do it deliberately. It’s a power thing with them, and they use this behaviour to keep people in their place, mainly through fear and intimidation.

Always being dismissive, demeaning and abrupt in their dealings with subordinates. These are the people you don’t want in your business and none of us wants them as our leader.

So let’s create the environment that allows positive behaviours to flourish in your organisation.

Here are my top five tips to help make this happen;

1) Start with yourself 

Ask people you trust to tell you if you exhibit the characteristics mentioned above, and look out for warning signs. If it’s occasional it could be because you are having a bad day, and if that’s the case recognise it and apologise afterwards.

If this is normal behaviour for you, is it any wonder that no one is open and honest with you? You need to change!

2) Pay attention to the people in the room

Technology has transformed the workplace and led to many improvements in productivity, data capture and reporting.

It has also brought about an on-call 24/7 culture, which has created a dependency on being available at all times.

The problem is that there is a fear that if you are not in electronic communication with your business at all times you will miss something.

This is why you see people glued to their phones or laptops in a meeting when they should be concentrating on the meeting itself, or even when another colleague is talking to them.

Your body language shows disinterest because your mind is focused on the gadget in your hand and not on the other people around you. This is dismissive behaviour. If you do it, the others in your team or organisation will do it too.

As Jim Rohn once said, ‘wherever you are, be there’.  Give people the respect they deserve by giving them 100 per cent of your attention.

3) Get to know the people in your team and organisation

Learning about your team members and other colleagues in your organisation takes more than finding out what work they do. It’s also about connecting on a personal level. This opens the door for better communication and day-to-day collaboration.

4) Ditch the fake smile

Give signals that you’re listening; paraphrase, ask questions and nod. Show that you’re ‘in the room’.

5) Be curious

Take a genuine interest in what people are saying; who knows what you might learn? Next time you see me, ask me about one of our FM colleagues who dated a rockstar. 

Liz Kentish is managing director at Kentish & Co.