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Fluent Body Language a Valuable Executive Skill

The Financial Post
March 26, 1994
Katherine Gay

TRUE style isn't a veneer. It's a way of behaving with grace and, equally important, making others around you feel comfortable.

A broker takes a group of wealthy clients out to lunch. He has ordered the meal in advance and the first course is vichyssoise.

There is a shriek of rage from a client: the soup is cold.

Everyone's soup is whisked away, heated and returned. No one says a word. Now that's style.

"You can always hide your ignorance at a cocktail party because you just zoom in and out," says Adeodata Czink, president of Toronto-based Business of Manners, a firm specializing in international etiquette and social graces.

"But if you're sitting at a formal table for two hours and there's an artichoke in front of you, you have to know what is expected of you.".

Czink's clients include executives who suddenly find themselves promoted to positions requiring new or more elaborate social skills.

The proper graces include knowing how to carry yourself. "Every time you enter or exit a room, you're making a statement -- it could be 'I'm worthwhile' or it could be 'Please don't look at me,'" Czink says. She suggests developing a stage presence: when entering, open the door wide, don't slide sideways through a narrow opening, and walk with confidence, head up. "Keep your chest area open for a gunshot wound," Czink laughs.

Posture is one of the most neglected power tools, says Roz Usheroff, president of Toronto-based Signature Style Image Consulting Inc.

Keep your chin up and your hands at your side, not in your pockets jingling change (looks nervous), not clasped in front of your crotch (called "figleafing" and looks vulnerable) or clasped across the waist (looks timid).

When standing, ground yourself by spacing your feet apart.

Have a vision of how you'd like to be perceived, and act it. In times of stress, think of someone you admire, and emulate him or her.

Usheroff will often pretend she is Norman Schwartzkopf or Audrey Hepburn to allay her nervousness.

"The people you admire generally have the same qualities as you. They've just fine-tuned them," Uslieroff says.

When shaking hands, look the person in the eyes and smile. Usheroff is aghast at the numbier of people who avert their eyes while shaking hands or grasp the other's hand only to the knuckles (Thatís saying "I don't trust you"), or do not shake a woman executive's hand or grasp it softly (we're not wimps).

Be conscious of your body language. The effect of non-verbal body language has been written about extensively. Oakville-based Reid Publishing's Managing Anger suggests that actions such as getting up from a table and walking around, peering over your glasscs and stroking your chin are sure-fire ways to make others feel they are under a magnifying glass.

Other pointers: don't invade someone else's physical territory. People around a table or in an office unconsciously stake out their space, and are threatened if others lean or move into their comfort zones.

In the same vein, never touch a business associate, outside of shaking hands.

Territorial people will often put their feet on their desks, lean over the desk, place their hands behind their desks, or sit on their desks or an arm chair. Use the "right-hand man" psychology: when meeting one other person, don't sit directly across from them -- it's confrontational -- but to the person's right side, with a moderate amount of space between you.

When meeting with a larger group, sit on the same side of the table as an adversary, with one or two allies between you.

And finally, be conscious of behaviors that compromise your sense of presence and confidence. Averting your eyes when asked a difficult question is commonplace, as are habit-formed fillers like "um."