Oh, the wonderful world of non-verbal communication and proper body language.
Did you know your words only account for 7 percent of effective conversation? Others can accurately read your body language and tone from across the room, long before you get a chance to open your mouth.
We make judgements about whether we like someone based on their body language in seconds. It’s easy to spot if someone is angry, sad, excited, or happy without them speaking. But how often do you notice what your own body language says to others?
To be an effective communicator, you must show congruency between your words and your posture. Most people are surprised to learn how tiny tweaks can make tremendous differences in how rapidly we build trust and rapport with others.
Our bodies betray us constantly. While we’re entrenched in what we say, we often completely forget what our bodies are saying.
By simply being aware of your body language during a conversation, you will instantly notice a difference in how you’re perceived by others. Whether it’s standing a little straighter, focusing on eye contact, or smiling more, keep reading to learn five simple fixes to your most common body language mistakes.
Try these simple tweaks to your body language and see what happens!
1. Proper Posture
Let’s start with an easy fix. Start standing and sitting straighter. You’ve been told to sit up straight since grade school. Just because your mother isn’t there to remind you doesn’t give you the okay to slouch.
If you walked in to a boardroom full of high-powered professionals and saw everyone slouched in chairs and holding up their heads with their hands, you’d think you walked into the wrong room. Sitting up straight shows you are interested and engaged.
You can easily spot when someone is staring dreamily out the window and lacking in attention. Knowing this, how often do you take time to consider your body language during your weekly office meeting?
Next time, lean slightly forward and keep your feet planted flat on the floor to avoid too much movement. Imagine your spine being pulled straight up by a wire attached to the top of your head. This posture shows you’re interested in what the other party has to say and you are engaged in the conversation.
It’s just a small tweak, and it may not get noticed the first time. But if you’re consistently the one who shows up for meetings on time, and physically show your attentiveness, your boss will take notice.
2. Open vs. Closed Body Language
Showing others you’re friendly and approachable is as easy as opening up your body when talking to someone. Uncross your arms and legs, take your hands out of your pockets, and don’t be afraid to take up some space. This shows others you’re confident and ready for a conversation.
Crossed arms and closing your body toward others show you are uncomfortable or upset. If you see someone with a closed stance, it means they are probably not open to chat or to new ideas at the moment. These are the people you naturally try to avoid when you enter a room full of new people.
When looking to ace a first impression, be conscious of opening your body. Move a little slower than normal and with a purpose. Don’t fidget with your hands or sway back and forth. Imagine standing on a newspaper. Every step and shuffle will make a loud crunching sound.
Think Superman, not Sméagol.
Have you ever watched an interview and noticed when both parties are perfectly in sync?
One person crosses their legs, and then the other does the same. One leans forward, and the other follows suit. When people are comfortable around each other, they involuntarily mirror the movements of whoever they are speaking with.
Knowing this, use it to your advantage the next time you’re looking to build trust or rapport during a conversation. Now don’t go overboard and mimic every motion they make.
Just be subtle. If you mirror them for the first few minutes, you can “check” on your level of rapport by crossing one leg over the other (always pointing toward them, not away) and see if they take your lead.
If you notice that they’ve mirrored your actions, great! Now don’t worry so much about forcing the mirroring. Get back to focusing on the quality of the conversation you should be having.
4. Watch Your Hands
Your hands are much more useful in conversation than you give them credit. Have you ever had that awkward feeling when you’re suddenly aware they exist and you’re not sure what to do with them?
Step one: keep them in view at all times. Hidden hands give the impression that you have something to hide or that you’re not being honest.
Fidgeting with your hands is an obvious sign that you are nervous or anxious. If you simply can’t help it, clasp them in front of your body. Don’t fear using them during your discussion; we were born to communicate with our hands.
In analyzing TED talks, the most popular speakers used more than double the hand gestures during an 18-minute speech as their not-so-popular counterparts.
One last tip: when looking for suggestions from others, face your palms up. When making your points, display palms down to show confidence.
5. Where are your feet?
Next time you’re in a conversation, look down at where your feet are pointed. Then look at your partners. Are their feet facing yours, the door, or pigeon-toed toward each other?
If they’re pointed toward you, they’re most likely enjoying the conversation (review mirroring in step 3). If they are pointed toward the door, they are probably ready to leave the conversation.
They may be bored or simply need to wrap up the talk. If they’re pointing toward each other, you might be making them uncomfortable.
Remember: feet are only a slight tell that it’s time to wrap up a dialogue. If you see the other person glancing at their phone, watch, or you can see their eyes glazing over, they’ve probably checked out of the conversation and you should wrap it up.
Stay present during the talk and focus on making eye contact to keep your partner engaged.
Is your body language helping you become an effective communicator?
The key to conveying effective body language is simply being aware that your words and body need to portray the same ideas.
If you ask for input on your idea and want feedback, make sure your body isn’t showing aggressive or closed signals. Through practice, you’ll become more adept at reading and showing proper body language without extra effort.
Body language truly is a language of its own. But it will come in handy more than the Latin you learned in High School, I guarantee it!