“The body always speaks well before the mouth ever opens”

Some days I ask myself just where the short term memory went. It’s scary.  Except that the long term memory is great.  I remember an article I read in the New York Times Magazine section on Sunday from October 1, 2000. (Thank you Internet for finding it)  It was an interview with Charlene Barshefsky, ambassador, cabinet secretary and chief trade negotiator for the US State Department.

Charlene was asked by the interviewer, Eric Schmitt, “You’ve conducted trade negotiations all over the world, in places with widely varying social mores. Have any of your counterparts in other countries ever had difficulty accepting a woman as a legitimate government authority?”

Charlene responded that there were some things that played to her favor.  The most significant message to me was her response – “The body always speaks well before the mouth ever opens.”

These words were like music to my ears. It was exciting to read that she was attributing much of her success to her attention to physical expression. She goes on to say it is important to be aware – to watch, to be more perceptive about people, more aware of your surroundings, and more sensitive to body language – physical expression.

It is well documented that as a species we are highly sensitive to reading body language – often without ever even knowing we are doing it.  And others are doing the same with us.  What if we were to pay much more attention to our own physical expression?  What do we want others to ‘read’ from us?  How do we get people to believe that we are a legitimate authority – the expert in our area of expertise?

Relying on the words and message alone won’t cut it.  Physical expression employs the effective use of our body, face and voice.  It’s what provides clues as to our intention, attitude or state of mind.  For example, it may indicate attentiveness, boredom, pleasure, amusement, aggressiveness, a relaxed state, among many other cues.  Use the language of your body, gesture, movement and facial response to tell your story, deliver your message.

Be intentional. Pay as much attention to your physical delivery as you do your content when preparing for your next high stakes interaction.  Feel the difference.  See the pay-off.

Read the NYT Interview here:


Leave a Reply