Do you ever wonder why sometimes no matter how hard you try, your message is just not getting across the way you want it to? It might have something to do with your body language.
Research suggests that your body language – postures, gestures, and facial expressions – have the highest impact in conveying your message.
Words can mean different things to different people. Hence, the message can take on different meanings depending on how it’s been interpreted by those to whom you are speaking.
But body language is so powerful that it is capable of directly displaying your emotional state of mind, thereby impacting the way others perceive you.
Nonverbal communication is mostly subconscious. So, it becomes all the more crucial to master the art of body language. According to research, 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal, comprising body language and voice tone. (1)
Here are some powerful tips to improve your body language and communicate effectively in your daily interaction’s family, friends and coworkers.
- Become aware of your body language. The first step toward changing your body language is to become aware of it. Notice the way you sit, walk, talk, stand and use your hands and legs. More than likely your body language has developed over time, and you are unaware.
- Set your intention. Determine the message you want to convey. Think about how you want the other person to feel. Once you do this, it is easier to adjust your body language accordingly. Mirroring the other person's body language shows that you are in agreement and lessens the chance that you are at odds with each other.
- Fake it until you make it. Practice the body language you want to adopt. Practice in front of a mirror. Feelings and body language work backward, too. For instance, if you are feeling sluggish, sit up straight, and you will soon start feeling energetic. When you’re sad, try smiling, and you will feel happier. When you’re anxious, try walking slower to feel calmer. Being intentional about how you want to feel is a crucial step in becoming the person you want to be and the messages you want to convey to others about you as a person.
- Visualize yourself the way you want to be. Close your eyes and visualize yourself the way you want the world to see you. To become it, you must first know how you want to be in your mind. The thought comes before the action.
Sit, stand or talk like that version of yourself.
- Think of past success to motivate you. When feeling unmotivated, think of past success to feel confident, upbeat and positive. Recall the power you felt at that moment and imagine how you looked and sounded. Recalling it will help you embody the feeling. Try doing this before a meeting, when you need to look confident and powerful. Reimagining a pleasant event releases hormone into our body that makes us feel better.
- Strike a power pose. Put your hands on your hips or position your hands behind your head. Both these postures are power moves. They convey authority, confidence, and self-assurance.
When done for more than two minutes, these postures can reduce stress and make you feel good.
- Observe others. Observe people with good body language. Notice what they do and what they don’t do. Observe and learn different things that you like from different people. Then, try using what you have learned. The most celebrated orators of our time have used postures to convey their message and command our attention.
- Make eye contact, but do not stare. When you speak to a person or a group of people, look into their eyes. But make sure not to stare, it might creep people out. Less than three seconds is a good rule. Look away at regular intervals. Not making any eye contact might make you look insecure. Eye contact helps build trust, create a connection and make others feel recognized and heard.
- Smile genuinely. Smiles are powerful and resisting it is hard. They make you appear approachable, trustworthy and warm. Smiling affects the way people respond to you, as facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings. So smile, and most importantly, smile sincerely and genuinely. A genuine smile starts slowly and wrinkles the skin around your eyes and lights up your face. A sincere smile can boost your confidence and improve connections with others.
- Use hand gestures. Hand gestures help emphasize certain points in your message. Also, gestures are linked to speech, so gesturing while talking will help you power up your thinking. Gestures help reduce fillers (‘ums’ and ‘uhs’) in your speech. They help you think clearly and speak in tighter sentences. Use open arms and show the palms of your hands. Individuals with open arms are perceived positively, and open palms indicate you have nothing to hide.
- Shake hands to connect better. Research suggests that touching someone’s hand, arm or shoulder for 40 seconds can create a bond. A good handshake is an effective way to make a lasting and positive impression. Make it firm but not crushing. People are more likely to be open and friendly with those who shake hands.
In some cultures, a hug or even a kiss would be more in order than a handshake. Avoid using the politician’s handshake (two hands shaking one), as not many people like it.
- Steeple your hands. Steepling your hands is a powerful hand gesture.
When you steeple your hands (where the tips of your fingers touch, but the palms are separated), it projects conviction and sincerity. It signals that you are certain about the point you are making.
- Hold your drink at waist level. You can evaluate people’s confidence in the way they hold their drink. A person who holds his drink at waist level appears to be more comfortable than one who holds his drink in front of his chest. This holds true for anything that acts as a barrier. Holding anything in front of your heart will make you look guarded and distant.
- Maintain a good posture and take up more space. A good posture helps make you look confident and powerful. Keeping your posture erect, shoulders back and head held high projects self-assurance. Also, if you take up more space by moving around or sprawling out, it adds to your image. Sit or stand with your legs apart, widening your arms away from your body. When you spread out, you seem to claim more territory. Sitting or standing with your feet close together makes you look hesitant and unsure.
- Lean, but don’t overdo it. If you want to show that you are interested in what someone is saying, lean toward the speaker. Turn your head and torso to face them directly.
But don’t lean too much or you might appear needy and desperate if you want to convey that you are confident, relaxed and calm, lean back a bit. But similarly, leaning back too much can make you look arrogant and distant.
- Don’t stand too close to people. Don’t invade other people’s personal space. When you stand too close to someone, you are doing just that. Standing at least four feet away is believed to be a good distance unless you know someone. Our personal space is within a range of 18 inches to 4 feet.
- Mirror the other person’s body language. Usually when people get along with each other or when they start bonding, they unconsciously imitate each other’s body language. It’s a nonverbal way of saying that they like or agree with each other. To make a better connection, you can try to mirror the other person’s body language consciously. Observe the other person’s gestures and subtly let your body take on the same gestures and facial expressions. When you do so, it makes the other person feel they're understood and accepted.
For instance: If the person you are having a conversation with has crossed his legs, you might cross your legs. If he uses hand gestures while speaking, you can subtly imitate it. But don’t mirror each and every body movement, as you would appear weird and make the other person uncomfortable.
- Nod while listening to people. Nodding is a nonverbal way to show that you are engaged and paying attention to what is being said. Nod once in a while to signal that you are listening. But don’t overdo it, as excessive nodding signals that you are worried about what they think of you. Speaking softly also makes the other person listen more intently.
- Keep quiet and slow down. People usually get overexcited and jumpy when trying to get appoint across. You generally tend to rush and talk over the other person. The key here is to listen to the other person closely and respond after a pause. This shows that you were listening to them attentively. Keep your response slow and calm. Doing this will make you look confident and self-assured.
- Avoid touching your face. While in a conversation, keep your hands away from your face. Rubbing or scratching your head or face will make you look nervous and anxious. It’s also very distracting for the other person. Also, holding your hands over your mouth or eyes can suggest that you are hiding something or lying. Keep your hands open appearing confident and trustworthy.
- Lower your pitch. Speakers with high-pitched voices are judged to be less powerful and more nervous than those who speak with a low-pitched voice.
- Avoid crossing your arms and legs. Crossing your arms and legs make you appear negative, defensive and guarded.
This kind of body language will make it difficult for you to elicit trust in any negotiation. So, uncross your arms and legs and keep some distance between them so as to appear open-minded.
- Do not fidget. When under stress, people usually tend to display nervousness and anxiety through increased feet and hand movements. Some examples are stretching and curling your feet to relieve tension, shaking your legs or winding them around the chair, tapping your fingers on the table or constantly moving your hands and legs. Avoid such fidgety movements that make you look nervous. Plus, they can be distracting for others in the conversation. Remember to smile, breath and relax. Relax and keep your legs calm and your hands limited to gestures that help emphasize a point or convey confidence.
1. Yaffe P. The 7% rule: fact, fiction, or misunderstanding. ACM: Digital Library. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=2043155.2043156. Published 2011.