What your body language says about you

Body language of people standing together

We all know that body language is important. In face to face communication it makes up 55% of your non-verbal cues, while 38% is your tone of voice, and only 7% is accounted for with your words. To help you succeed at work you need to be aware of what your body language is saying at all times. Is it telling a different story to the words you are saying? Is it saying a whole lot even when you keep quiet?

Your body language can even affect how you feel about a situation. Imagine if you could give yourself extra confidence before a job interview; or before your next annual review. There are tips and tricks that you can, and should be using on a daily basis.

It’s written all over your face

The first thing you can do is to be more aware of your own face. You will find that your face makes more expressions than you think, even when you are trying to keep it in a natural expression. When you are bored, angry, or frustrated, it is incredibly noticeable. Both very positive and very negative emotions are much harder to hide. Often when we decide not to say something, that reaction still shows on our face. Make sure to keep the professionalism by monitoring what your face is doing.

Be body aware

Start being more aware of the actions you do automatically without thinking about it. Start to pay attention to when you do it, or how you feel when you perform the action. By paying attention, you can get a better understanding of not only why you do it, but also what it means. You may find that when you feel the same way, you perform the same action. For example when you get bored in a meeting, you start fiddling with your pen. By being more aware you can stop yourself, and refocus on your conversation.

Mirror the other person

If you have ever attended sales training, they say the best way to subconsciously engage with your client is by mirroring their movements about 15 seconds after them. So if they fold their arms, you fold your just after them. Cross their legs? Same idea. You want to be a mirror image of that person. Your conversation partner will start to subconsciously feel flattered and will engage with you more.

This can also happen in reverse, and this is something most people don’t know. When your conversation partner starts to buy in to what you are saying and engaging with you, they will actually start mirroring your movements. It is a non-verbal cue to you that they are interested in what you are saying and want to learn more.

Obviously if you are planning on testing this out, be subtle. Don’t copy every move. That will just make your conversation partner nervous and makes you feel disingenuous.

Walk with confidence

Imagine seeing 2 different types of walks – someone walking briskly and upright, or someone strolling while looking at the floor. One says that you are engaged in an internal dialog and appear nonchalant or are slacking off; the other shows confidence in both thought and direction. It’s not hard to work out which goes with which. If the only thing your boss is able to see every day is how employees walk around the office, which impression would you want them to have of you?

Respect the space

When you meet someone, if you invade their space straight away you put them on the defensive and they will instantly put you into the “predator/enemy” category. This is an instant gut reaction left over from our caveman days. We may not outwardly react anymore, but that internal dialog is still telling us the same thing. So start off slow. Shaking hands allows you to enter their personal space without getting their defences up. Offer your business card, as it also allows you into their space for a second time. By introducing subtle touches to shoulders and arms, you can quickly start to build trust with that person.

It can be difficult to introduce yourself to a group conversation. By reading the groups body language you will know if you are welcome to interrupt or not. A 2-person conversation is that, only for 2 people; unless they are both have their body open or angled to the room – this indicates they are open to an interruption. 3-people conversations are open on all 3 sides for an extra person; unless they have their heads tightly leaned in together. A 4-person conversation makes a castle of solitude – don’t even bother.

Can you fake it until you make it?

Even if you are the most qualified person on the planet, your body language could be doing you a disservice. If your non-verbal signals are timid or submissive, it can be hard for a Manager that only works with you occasionally to understand how you can lead a team. By being more aware of your body language you can work on the signals you are sending out, and correct them for more positive ones.

Not all of us were born with truck-loads of confidence. A lot of people have had to learn how to panic less before every interview. There are non-verbal expressions of confidence that can actually help you with all of this. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, talks about just how standing in a “power pose” for a couple of minutes a day can boost your feelings of confidence even if you don’t actually feel confident. It is a way to convince yourself of your confidence, until you start to believe it is true.

Mark Bowden, an expert at body language, argues that you can employ specific behaviours to change a person’s perception of you. He actually urges you to be “more inauthentic” with your body language. Our primitive brain takes visual cues within seconds of meeting someone new, and instantly puts them in one of four categories: friend, enemy, potential partner, or indifferent. Your primitive brain places almost everyone into the indifferent category. If you have something important to say, this is not the category you want to be in. By changing how you present yourself, you open people up to keeping you in the friend category and paying attention to what you say. You should also choose not to be indifferent to others – be open to giving them a chance and actively listen to them.

When you do this – people see this

Your body language is constantly sending out non-verbal messages on your behalf, whether you like it or not. Below are a couple more examples of different actions you may be doing on a daily basis and how they can be preserved.

  • Slouching – it makes you look insecure or as if you are trying to take up less space so you aren’t noticed.
  • How you tilt your head – if you tilt it slightly to one side, it shows you are listening intently and interested. Too much and you look submissive. Keeping you head straight up shows you are confident in what you are saying.
  • Lean into a conversation – when you lean in you are showing that you are more involved and interested in a conversation. When everyone in a conversation is leaning in, it becomes more lively and enthusiastic. When you lean out of a conversation it shows that you are done participating in it.
  • Make eye contact – don’t stare someone down because that is just uncomfortable. But avoiding eye contact gives the impression that you are being insincere or lying. Make eye contact with everyone involved in the conversation to show you are paying attention to what they are saying. On a side note, it is general subconscious behaviour to look up when you are trying to remember something; while you look down when you are lying.
  • Relax your shoulders – it is a sign of stress and tension when they are raised. It sends a signal that will put your conversation partner on edge too.
  • Make your handshake firm – this is another move that shows engagement and confidence. Too tight and it will be viewed as aggressive, while if it is too loose it communicates complete lack of interest.
  • Mind your hands – keeping your hands clasped behind your back shows confidence; while in your pockets can show over-confidence or boredom. Hands clasped over your belly area looks like you are trying to protect yourself from an attack, and will put your conversation partner on the defensive.

But remember don’t try to be a mind reader. These are general guides and no one gesture is universal. While blocked arms may signal someone is closed off, they could really just be cold. Try not to take every piece of body language literally. You want to read all of the person’s interactions as a whole.

So put down your phone during your next meeting and start reading the room for all the cues your coworkers’ body language is telling you. You will be surprised what you can learn.