You walk into a party crammed with folks you don’t know. Is your stress showing? Your body language can be like a gabby friend. At that party, business meeting or presentation, you want to look confident and in control; but if you’re unaware of your body language, your face, limbs and body may broadcast strident messages to the contrary.
How important is body language?
Your words tell people just seven percent of what’s on your mind. Tone conveys another 38 percent. That leaves a hefty 55 percent of the task of communication to your body language.
When you tune into your body language, you’ll communicate better and avoid misunderstandings, says Karen McIntyre behavioral specialist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “We’re missing each other’s messages all the time,” she says. Your business, social and family relationships are all likely to function better when you communicate effectively. “Body language is part of social skills. If you learn that your body is a tool, you can learn how to utilize it.”
What message are you conveying?
“Eye contact is a big part of body language,” says McIntyre. The same goes for your facial expression and how you use your torso, arms and legs.
Positive body language includes:
- Direct eye contact – indicating interest, liking
- Brow, lips relaxed – comfortable
- Shoulders back, head high, leaning into group – confidence, interest, connection
- Feet flat on the ground, looking straight ahead – confident, relaxed
- Maintaining an appropriate distance – respecting others’ personal space
Negative body language:
- Minimal eye contact – not interested, lying, uncomfortable, distracted
- Eyes darting – lack of confidence or belief in the words
- Eyes downcast – discouraged, depressed, low self-esteem
- Brow tense – confused, fearful
- Shoulders hunched, head and chin down – high stress
- Face tense, fixed gaze, set jaw – angry
How often do you look in a mirror as you’re talking or interacting? No wonder so many people are unaware of their body language.
“Press the pause button of life,” says McIntyre. “Focus on being centered and grounded. Take a deep, calming breath; pay attention to yourself. Do a quick body scan.”
Make sure your body language matches the content and importance of what you’re saying. Weak body language can make your message considerably less forceful. If you need more confidence, stronger body language is a positive first step.
“Using assertive body language could bring about an inner change over time,” says McIntyre.
Reading you loud and clear
Actors use “rhythm, force and space” to communicate with an audience, and you can use the same tools. Notice whether you move jerkily or smoothly. Jerky movements suggest discomfort or unease. How forcefully do you move? Do you stomp or walk on tippy-toe?
Do you scrunch up when you sit in a movie or airplane seat, or claim the body space that’s rightfully yours? A neighbor who violates your legroom may be silently conveying “a sense of entitlement,” says McIntyre, “or saying, ‘I’m more important than you.’”
Salespeople and other professionals often study body language to learn how to present themselves and read clients’ unspoken messages. The sales guy showing you a gleaming SUV lays a hand on his heart: You can trust me, says the gesture. He pulls off his jacket, implying: I’m revealing myself to you. I’m ready to get down to business.
Whether you’re listening to a sales pitch or bored in a business meeting, your posture can display interest and openness or a closed-off attitude. If you smile and lean forward, your body says you’re open and interested. Crossed arms and legs and tapping fingers signal that you’re closed off and unresponsive.
To ease you into a more open stance and frame of mind, the other person may use a tactic known as “joining behavior,” says McIntyre. Mirroring your gestures – maybe crossing her arms to match your pose – suggests you’re in harmony. After awhile, the person across the desk uncrosses her arms. You do the same. Your closed stance has been unwrapped like a candy bar. Passing over a paper is another way to persuade a customer to lower those defensive arms and participate.
Knowing how to set a client at ease isn’t necessarily a bad trait, points out McIntyre. “Joining behavior can make the other person feel more at ease.” For instance, mirroring someone’s stance at a party – leaning the same way, or sitting at the same level – may make for a more relaxed conversation.
Wow your audience with better body language
Relaxing isn’t on most people’s minds when it comes to public speaking, but better body language can improve your confidence and leave your audience wanting more.
Whether you sit, stand or walk up and down, keep a good, open body position, says McIntyre. “You’re more believable as a speaker if your body language is positive.” Remember – your body language is your best-ever visual aid. When standing, maintain a good, solid stance. “Crossing one foot over the other is weaker,” she says. “Notice things you’re doing, so you’re choosing it, and it’s not choosing you.” Under this heading comes fidgeting, fluttering hands, or putting your hands in your pockets or behind your back
Remember what your mom said – smile, put your shoulders back and keep good eye contact. Set your body working for you. You’ll feel great and communicate better than ever.