Why Dr Travis Bradberry is wrong

Dr Travis Bradberry published an article How Body Language Trumps IQ and within 24 hours it had well over 300,000 views. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a successful author and an LinkedIn influencer.  However page views does not make you correct.

Popularity is not a proof

A survey of people 500 years ago asking if the earth was the centre of the universe or that the earth was created in 7 days would produce the answer that both were true. A survey of people 200 years ago about evolution or whether women should get the vote would produce different answers to today. Similarly try asking people in the American South about civil rights 100 years ago or people in South Africa about equal rights in the 1980s. History is littered with examples of people propping up positions for cultural reasons and being unwilling to embrace a future where human beings are considered equals and truth prevails.

His article will get more page views than mine, that doesn’t make it correct. At its core his and other similar articles I have commented on espouse the value of body language and that it is more important than intelligence. This may well back up his book sales but I disagree on a number of levels.

1. It takes us back to primate values. It subsumes the clearest communication of all – articulate speech and the thing which makes us most human – spoken language.  Primates show different parts of their anatomy to be attractive. Do you really want to be considering a person for a job based on primate values?

2. It assesses people on their ability to perform in an interview, not their ability to perform in a job. Too much focus on optimising the interview process and dealing with body language, handshakes, appearance, etc ends up optimising people who are good at stage presenting themselves for a 1 hour interview and not people who are good at actually doing the job. The interview process should optimise for the candidate and recruiter making a decision about getting the best candidate for the job rather than the best person who is good at interviews and dealing with a suboptimal recruitment process.

3. It disadvantages people unfairly. The pseudo crap about a strong handshake means a strong personality. Do you believe that? Really? Better not employ Dr Stephen Hawking then. A strong handshake implies a strong handshake – nothing more, nothing less. A 30 year old rugby player man interviews a 28 year man who plays rugby in his spare time and a 21 year old woman who likes painting as a hobby. Do you think the woman is probably at a disadvantage in the strong handshake stakes? If so, why do you do it? You might as well determine candidates via an arm wrestle, it makes as much sense. This is a good place to start learning about disability in the workplace:  https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign. In the comments section a Senior trial and appeal Counsel  agreed that “I squirm and shift about as I am disabled, what does that do for your body language assessment? People use a variety of connections to assess for different characteristics. My clients find me approachable because I talk to them in their language”. I agree with the legal expert.

4. Promoting a singular body language interpretation promotes one cultural value set and does not respect cultural, ethnic or religious variation. Different cultures have different values. Deal with it.

5. Body language such as the “lean forward” being interpreted as a positive thing. Try that in a wheelchair. Bit hard doing that and shaking someone’s hand when they are standing and you are not and still giving them that oh so important eye contact at the same time. However, not all disabilities are so obvious. That weak handshake, maybe you have MS? Whether you cross your legs or not, maybe you’re not putting up a barrier, perhaps you just have a tired foot. We have the depth and preciseness of language to draw on yet so many people fall back on the easily misconstrued, ambiguous and discriminatory primate tribe selection criteria. 

6. The science does not prove Dr Bradberry’s assertion. Business is littered with successful people with unusual dress codes, body language and appearance. Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Howard Hughes, Angela Merkel, Sir Richard Branson, Larry Page, Steve Jobs. Instead, if you prefer people with confident voices and great body language, you’d instead give a job to Hitler, Josef Stalin, Osama Bin Laden, Mussolini or Jimmy Saville. Do you not agree that despite the oft-quoted facts that body language makes up most of communication that the content of our words is the most important part and that our primate past shouldn’t form a part of the decision making process?  If you say it confidently enough you could end up with confident liars, take a look. What does assessing someone on their dress sense say? It says the interviewer has superficial values. 

7. The article contradicts itself at the most basic level. In an article about body language, the article uses none. In an article about posture, the article uses none other than a stock image. I would have personally preferred a picture of the high achieving lady the article is about as this could have helped to convey the point. Instead we got a Getty stock image of a lady in a blazer under “grab some success” Here it is: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/go-out-and-grab-some-success-royalty-free-image/504242015 “. Was Amy Cuddy’s body language not good enough? Not even a video? You do know that her research has been questioned and mathematically debunked? http://datacolada.org/2015/05/08/37-power-posing-reassessing-the-evidence-behind-the-most-popular-ted-talk/ Being famous does not make you right, especially when the facts are scientifically scrutinised. 

8. When I’m “hiring” ie choosing to use, a doctor, dentist or other professional I look at their qualifications, experience, reputation and understanding of my needs. How they sit, the strength of their handshake, the way they cross their legs, other arbitrary body functions are of NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER and it makes me astonished that someone of Dr. Travis Bradberry‘s reputation promulgates the ideology that because this is how a number of people behave it is acceptable to continue in this fashion. It used to be acceptable to keep slaves, deny women the vote and have segregated areas for ethnic minorities and thank goodness those practices are now illegal and socially unacceptable. If you followed the “body language” hypothesis that most communication is non verbal, then noone would value Dr Hawking. Body language is riddled with opportunities for misinterpretation. An experienced communicator will put into clear and unambiguous speech what they want to say rather than rely on the ambiguities of non verbal communication. Crossed legs? Is that a barrier you’re putting up there or maybe your foot is sore? Weak handshake? Is that a sign of a weak person or maybe you have a disability? Clear speech is what matters. The rest is noise.

9. In an era when we should be promoting Digital working to help reduce congestion, help the environment, give people more flexible work options and help the disabled into work, why are we placing so much emphasis on handshakes and face to face contact and face to face meetings. Are they really necessary? I’ve had 5 offers in succession that have gone from phone interview straight to offer. I don’t turn down face to face interviews, but at the end of the face to face interview I wonder why it was really necessary to travel 800 miles just to shake someone’s hand and the rest could have been done with Skype. Placing too high an emphasis on physical contact is a tradition that is fading out. 

10. If such respectable hiring managers rigorously applied these great criteria to themselves, they should fire themselves straight away! The candidate is hiring you to supply a job, just as much as you are hiring the candidate to fulfil it. 

Thanks, Craig

I leave you with comments made by others, many successful in their chosen fields. Oh and the picture at the top? It serves to remind us that words are more important than how the person was standing, and all men (people) are indeed created equal.


Let’s not forget that among the most convincing people out there are con artists and psychopaths. They have gotten all this “why you should trust me” stuff down to a fine art. As business manager or recruiter, you have to ask yourself what your hiring priorities are. If you only want someone who can look and sound the part, then the above advice is all you need.

This assertion is not supported by the research. I refer you once again to Hunter & Schmidt’s 1998 meta-analysis of the factors behind workplace success. When organizations are persistently recruiting for this kind of fluff instead of what the literature actually shows, no wonder hiring is such a hit-and-miss affair!

“Working to improve your body language has a profound effect on your emotional intelligence.” Really now! Look at Stephen Hawking, who by the way has a disability, and we all know he is very emotional in his talks, down to earth and very intelligent. Maybe you should listen to one of his lectures. What about Helen Keller? Ludwig van Beethoven? Ray Charles? Stevie Wonder? And on and on I could go. YOU CAN BET THEIR BODY LANGUAGE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR INTELLIGENCE. “Studies show that people who use positive body language are more likable, competent, persuasive, and emotionally intelligent.” I take this statement as one who does not use, nor have positive body language skills, are less than all others, how unfair. Think about all those who are disabled!  “Learning to use positive body language will make people like you and trust you more.”
HOW CRUEL. Wow! Again I say think of all those who are disabled.

For the sake of balance, I’d like to point out that there was a (much larger and more powerful) failed replication of the power pose: http://datacolada.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/5110-Ranehill-Dreber-Johannesson-Leiberg-Sul-Weber-PS-2015-Assessing-the-robustness-of-power-posing-no-effect-on-hormones-and-risk-rolerance-in-a-large-sample-of-men-and-women.pdf There was also an analysis of the original study and they suggest that the first result was likely a false-positive (they found a result by chance, rather than because of their manipulation): http://datacolada.org/2015/05/08/37-power-posing-reassessing-the-evidence-behind-the-most-popular-ted-talk/ IQ is a very robust and well established concept whereas the evidence for power-posing is very weak. I’m therefore sceptical about the ability of body language to “trump” IQ. Also EQ is a contentious concept at best.

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