If we are trying to make a good impression – both socially and in business – we often smile and hold contact the other person’s eyes as we shake their hand. The difficulty is that we give off thousands of other unconscious signals through our body language that other people will ‘read’ instantly and instinctively.
By shaking their hand or standing in a particular way, we might trigger off old memories in the person we are trying to impress. Maybe an old friend stood exactly like that, in which case our advances might be treated sympathetically. But if we stand like the back-stabbing colleague who has treated them badly, our advances are likely to be treated as hostile.
So there are two reasons why body language is helpful.
Firstly, to understand how we come across to other people and be able to send the right message – “Trust me, I’m not out to get you!”
And secondly be able to read the signals that another person is sending back.
By adjusting the way we stand, move, dress and interact we can make encounters with other human beings (and probably most animals too!) much easier and smoother.
So, what exactly is Body Language?
Body Language is all the non-verbal communication we make – both conscious and unconscious.
HOW WE JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE AND HOW THEY JUDGE US:
A huge part of our judgements of other people and their judgements on us are VISUAL. Studies have suggested over 50% of these judgements are VISUAL.
How do we stand? How aggressive or non-threatening are our gestures? How do our eyes, skin, hair, clothes and shoes look? Do we look happy or sad, clean or untidy, confident or nervous, tired or awake?
Another large part of these judgements will be made by listening to someone’s VOICE – the resonance, timbre, volume, pitch and pacing.
Just how important is it?
And some studies suggest that only 7% of our judgements are based on WHAT WE ACTUALLY SAY! To be fair these studies were usually taken when the body language was not CONGRUENT (that means where the body was giving signals that were disagreeing with what was being said).
The actual figures can be disputed but there is no doubt that a huge part of an audience’s judgement is VISUAL and VOCAL.
People spend hours honing a script for their speech, choosing exactly the right words – and of course that is highly important – but, it must be worth also paying close attention to the VISUAL and VOCAL judgements that audiences are making of you every time you stand up to speak!
Different types of body language
There are basically five types of body language. You will probably be able to recognize the more obvious signs:
CLOSED – AGGRESSIVE body language
- Hands on hips
- Legs too wife – too macho
- Invading personal space – too close
- Aggressive gesturing – finger pointing
- Standing ‘over’ someone
- Over firm handshake
- ‘Eye balling’ – out staring
CLOSED – DEFENSIVE body language
- Crossed arms or legs
- Hunched shoulders
- Poor eye contact
- Leaning away
- Tight voice
CLOSED – NERVOUS body language
- Nail biting
- Dry throat – swallowing / coughing
- Blushing – face/neck/chest
- Weak handshake
- Avoiding eye contact
CLOSED – BORED body language
- Looking around the room
- Looking at watch
- Drumming fingers
- Shifting weight
- Rubbing face
OPEN – INTERESTED body language
- Firm handshake
- Good eye contact
- On the same level
- Confident stance
- Confident gestures – chosen gestures
- Showing interest – head nod / slight lean in
And from personal experience
We all know that we ‘close off ‘ in a lift to feel safer as our personal space is invaded. We look up or down and cross our arms. This is an obvious case of ‘closed’ body language. It might be appropriate in a lift but in most other situations, it will ‘close’ the other person down. They will not respond to our advances. So learning to give ‘open’ signals will literally ‘open’ people up to our ideas and advances.
Most of us know the well-recognized ‘closed’ or ‘aggressive;’ signals, but we give off far more subtle signals all the time that we might not even be aware of.
Getting is right
Your body has to be in CONGRUENCE – that means we’re giving off signals that are in tune with what we are saying.
If you say, “This has been a terrible month.” We would probably take it on face value (literally what your face is saying) and be downcast.
But if you said, “This has been a terrible month” followed immediately with a smile and a wink of your eye, we will assume it has actually been a great month.
A smile needs to fill the whole face. If you say you’re happy but your eyes are cold – even though your mouth is smiling – we will believe the eyes.
If you nod when saying yes or shake your head when saying YES, we believe what the head is doing, no the words you have used.
Seeing is believing
We always believe what we see far more that what we hear.
In the 1960 TV debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, both candidates answered well. But on a poll conducted the next day, there were completely different results between TV and radio audiences – between those who had seen and heard and those who had only heard.
Listeners on radio were convinced Nixon had won the debate, his arguments were clear. And viewers on TV were convinced Kennedy had won, he came across as likeable and believable. This was despite the fact that Nixon’s arguments were probably clearer. People believed Kennedy more – they bought into his body language and the signals he gave of. They didn’t trust Nixon from the body language he was using.
Influencing other people:
We can learn be aware of how we come across and the signals we give. We can even influence the behavior of other people by gently MIRRORING back their body language.
You will have seen couples who are newly in love literally mirroring everything the other does. If one reaches for their wine glass, the other will follow. If one touches their chin, the other will. It’s a sign that they’re getting on – that they are quite literally, in sync.
You can change your body language
You can change your body language to show empathy and to influence someone by slowing down your movements or taking away any unintended aggressive body language of your own.
You can learn to relax, calm and excite other people purely by the way you hold yourself, the way you move and the way you interact.
Working with a coach can be really helpful -the coach is a mirror, feeding back how the world ‘sees’ you.
Finally, learning about body language is not all hard work.
Remember, it takes 42 muscles to frown but only 17 to smile!
Try it – it works!