Interview with Carol Kinsey Goman: Collaboration & Body language expert

Carol Kinsey Goman Ph.D, is an author and international keynote speaker on leadership, collaboration and the impact of body language in the workplace. She helps executives, entrepreneurs and sales professionals build stronger influence and impact skills. Her programmes offer strategies and techniques for leading collaborative teams, managing continuous change and using body language to become a more effective leader and communicator. Carol is a leadership contributor for Forbes, the creator of’s video course “Body language for leaders’’ and author of 12 business books including “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language can help or hurt- How you lead”. She has been cited in media such as Industry Week, Investors’ Business Daily, CNN and Washington Post. More on Carol’s work at


You’ve written on some unique issues that are rarely spoken about such as the high cost of deception at work for individuals and organizations. What are some of the lies people tell at work and in your experience why do people lie?

People tell lies and show dishonest behaviour all the time from before they join the organization till they leave. Embellishing resumes, claiming to have degrees that they don’t have are all dishonest. In exit interviews, people may not tell the truth about why they are leaving because of not wanting to burn their bridges.  There are some bad lies too, such as lies of omission by a manager who may decide not to be honest about the downside of a change process, a manager taking credit for the work of others or team members gossiping about each other and saying things that hurt the credibility of others. People tend to lie to look better, fit in, protect other people, or sometimes to get out of things they don’t want to do. The reality is that some lies -some may say ‘soft or social lies’ are good for building relations and maintaining social interactions.


What forms of honesty are most critical to organizational success if we assume we can’t eliminate lies completely?

Dishonesty is destructive. Collaboration is ever so important and is built on trust. Lies will erode trust and innovation that comes from people working together in a transparent way. It’s important for people to feel they have permission to be open and candid with each other.


How can one spot when a lie is being told and any tips on how to handle the conversation that should follow? 

It depends; you’ve got to think about what you want from the interaction. What you choose to do may depend on what outcome you want. Do you want the person caught and punished? Do you simply want them to know that you know they are lying? You may also wish to think whether the person has a strong reputation in the organization and you are therefore unlikely to be believed if you say this person lied. You may also consider what upper management response is likely to be when this is brought to their attention. When the individual being dishonest is a top producer or expensive to replace, management may unfortunately hesitate to act.

But that doesn’t mean you should never report liars. It just means that if you are going to do so, you should have a more solid reason then “she or he hurt my feelings.” You should show how the liar is creating discord in the team, hurting innovation and productivity, or damaging the organization’s reputation.


The other issue you’ve written about is non-verbal language at work. What are some ways that non-verbal language from the boss may be giving a different message from what’s being said?

There are two sets of body language; first, Authority status and power demonstrated in erect posture, strong eye contact, ways of speaking etc and second, warmth, empathy and likeability, which is displayed in smiles, head nods, open gestures, etc. People look for warmth and caring before the other form of body language. If you want to develop close business relationships, you have to show warmth and a collaborative approach and adjust your body language to reflect a more personable personality. If you wanted to display your competence and confidence (when presenting your team’s ideas to senior management, for example) you would be more effective if you looked confident and powerful. So a combination of warmth and authority status is required. Teams will have your back and be more competent and confident that way.


How can a leader use body language to build trust and credibility with employees and make the behaviourial changes that helps them lead by example?

Any message has a verbal and non-verbal component and the two need to be aligned. If you say you’re open but your arms are crossed as you say that, your audience will have to make a decision based on what you say or what they see and body language always wins. Unfortunately, people don’t take this very seriously, but in my work when I have shared with clients research-based evidence on the impact of body language, they’ve become more open and realized how powerful a small change in shifting their behaviour can be in making a big difference in how they are perceived.


Employee disengagement is a challenge organizational leaders struggle with. Are there early signs managers can look out for before things get out of hand?

Engagement and collaboration isn’t everyone agreeing. It’s an environment where people feel trusted to say what they want. Polite nodding is a warning sign as people feel their opinions don’t matter. When people are too complacent or can’t speak up, it’s a sign they don’t trust you. If a manager finds him or herself in this situation, I would advice that he or she acknowledges to the team that he or she has made some mistakes and work with the team on what good team collaboration will look like, the rules of engagement, how the team will treat each other and hold each other to account.


Leaders’ role in organizational effectiveness and success is assumed. What do you see as the profile of the employee of the future important for such success?

I think there’ll be an emphasis on social skills. Many are coming to the workforce having used mostly texting, skyping and other types of social media. They have less experience of face to face interaction and therefore not able to pick up on social sensitivities. An organization can either recruit those who naturally have better face to face social skills or train the employees they have. Also in the era of global teams, a manager leading such teams should get the team together face to face from time to time because technological link ups are not enough.


In multicultural environments how does one reconcile what might be different meanings/interpretations of seemingly similar non-verbal language?

There are certain emotions that look the same no matter the culture; joy, sorrow, grief etc. Eye contact, greeting behaviours and emblematic gestures on the other hand may have different meanings depending on the cultural context. More than trying to create a ‘universal’ language, be aware of the differences and how to work with them.


You speak about the “non-verbal future of leadership” and that all generations bring change.  What do you see in that future and how can upcoming leaders prepare?

This is about the need to be non-verbal savvy which is more necessary now than in the past or with technology holding so much sway. You can enhance or distort your communication and behaviour by the non-verbal cues you send consciously or not.


You obviously don’t gaze into a crystal ball….but what would you say are some things that organizations are obsessed with now that will not matter in the near future?

This is more of a personal wish. I hope that this incredible need we seem to have to be busy, doing a thousand things and multitasking all the time, will be proven as not making us as productive as we think. We need to look at ways to let go, to give ourselves a chance from time to time to reflect on what we do well and what mistakes to avoid.


For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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