Friday, May 2, 2014

Body Language: Does the crossed-arms pose project confidence or defensiveness?

Over the years, I’ve handled arrangements for many leadership photo shoots.  As often as not, I’ve worked with a photographer, perhaps an art director or graphic designer, and of course, the subject of the photo.

Usually, the one whose photo is being taken already has some thoughts about how he or she would like to be photographed.  One CEO once made it very clear he did not want to be shot from eye level or below.  He was very self-conscious of how such angles made his neck and chin look. Another was very aware of her “good side” and knew how to tilt her head in such a way that when she was photographed the shot emphasized the left side of her face.

I’ve come to expect that most senior executives and leaders have had their photograph taken so often that by the time they assume the top job that they’ve learned how to “turn on” the smile expression they like best for photographs.  I’ve seen more than a few subjects preoccupied with some business issue or side conversation switch from looking frustrated or perplexed, to likeable and welcoming in milliseconds when the photographer was ready to snap the photo.

Still, there is one pose that not uncommonly comes up in photo shoots.  It’s the crossed arms shot. 

You probably have seen it in countless business publications.  Stock photo libraries are filled with thousands of options of the stock pose.

Those who like it think it makes the subject look confident and strong.  Detractors feel it sends a non-verbal cue that the subject is subliminally defensive.

My feelings on such body language are more the latter.  Tied to this is context.  If the caption or content that accompanies the photo is bad or negative news, the last thing I want the subject looking is defensive.  Not even a hint.  There are other ways to show transparency and confidence.

Such body language is not exclusive to the U.S.  In places like India, the pose is thought of in much the same way.
So, if you have a photo shoot planned any time in the near future, one thing you may want to remember is not to bring out the tired old cliché of the crossed arms photo and try something fresh.

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