I cannot believe the latest column I did for Gannett/USAToday seems to be sparking an online squabble over dog training techniques.
Let me make one thing clear: This column is not about dog training techniques. Now, read on if you want to know how to establish your credibility through body language.....
When Cesar Millan, known on TV as the Dog Whisperer, walks into a room full of canines, the four-legged followers know immediately that he's in charge.
His voice, his posture and his gestures all convey his top-dog status.
But Cara Hale Alter says the two-legged beasts of the world also could learn a thing or two from Millan.
Alter, founder and president of SpeechSkills, says that one of the clear things that puts Millan in charge is his lack of head movement.
This level-headed position is one of the best ways that Millan conveys his "executive presence" to a pack of dogs — exactly what we should be doing in our careers if we want to convey the same thing to the workplace pack, she says.
"You can't raise or lower your chin, which can appear aggressive or submissive," she says.
Alter, whose SpeechSkills is a San Francisco-based communications training company, says many people are unaware of such subtle clues. But she has done research on how we all can do a better job of establishing our authority and capability and put it in a new book, "The Credibility Code" (MeritusBooks, $19.95).
One way to keep your head still is to fold a thick pair of socks and balance it on your head. Then try to talk for several minutes without the socks slipping off, she says.
"Many people are unaware of the negative things they're doing," she says. "They don't understand how their image is being formed by the way they move or speak."
Alter offers this advice for those seeking to look more credible:
• Stop filling in. A stray "um," "uh" or "you know" can make you sound unsure.
Don't be afraid to pause while you search for the next word. At the same time, avoid using "like" as in "it's like, so wonderful, to like, be here."
• Don't sound like a teenager. Ending a statement with an upward rise of the voice used to be common among teenagers but has filtered into adult conversation, Alter says.
This "up talk" is easy to pick up, so make sure you haven't adopted the bad habit. Try reading an article out loud, making sure you end statement with a downward inflection of your voice.
• Control your space. Just as Millan conveys authority with little head movement, you can convey more personal power by controlling a tendency to shift your weight from leg to leg or bob your head.
Such movements comfort you, but Alter says you appear more calm and confident if you're still.
At the same time, stop trying to reduce your presence by tucking your arms to your sides, placing your feet close together or dipping your chin. Those kinds of behaviors say that you feel threatened in your space.
• Open your posture. If you feel nervous, you may start to play with your clothing or jewelry, clasp your hands or wipe any expression off your face.
The more gestures and facial expressions you have, the more comfortable and relaxed you appear. Alter suggests going to places such as a farmers' market or a shopping mall and interacting with others to practice your skills.
Once you become more comfortable, you'll be able to use those skills in business settings.
• Maintain eye contact. Don't drop your eyes in a business setting because you appear to step away from the conversation.
Give speakers and listeners your full attention. To practice keeping your eyes at horizon level while speaking, put blank Post-It notes on your office wall. Ask yourself questions and then hold your eyes on the notes while you give an answer.
Your eyes can move from note to note, depending on the sentence structure.
Finally, Alter suggests videotaping yourself to spot conversational glitches or habits that may be undermining your credibility.
"I've had a lot of people tell me they don't think they have any issues, and then I film them," she says. "Once they see themselves on camera, then they're very eager for coaching."