Most people understand that communication is important. However, many people make the mistake of thinking communication begins and ends with the written or spoken word. There is another form of nonverbal communication that "speaks" to people just as loudly. Body language is a form of nonverbal communication from a person that is extremely important.
Why is body language important? Body language and posture is important because it often communicates so much more than the words we use. Our bodies are constantly sending nonverbal communication signals. The posture of a person can impact how they make people feel, or how they perceive them. This can be more important than what they say to them.
Understanding body language really means understanding how the body of a person is positioned. The person's body gives nonverbal communication cues to those around them about their interest in what is happening. Most people send these nonverbal cues subconsciously with their body posture.
People read body language all the time, in business meetings, on dates or in social situations. Taking cues from positive body language or negative body language is a great way to gauge the mood or attitude of a person. Reading body language is one of the critical skills people to be successful. If you are hoping to answer the call of leadership then this is one of the tools you absolutely need in your toolbox.
Reading body language
How many times have you had a conversation with someone and they seem distracted? Perhaps you've experienced trying to discuss something at work and your colleague seems opposed to everything you are saying? They might say they are paying attention or that they agree with you but their body language suggests otherwise.
Additionally, you might feel that you aren't perceived the way you wish you were. Perhaps you get unfairly characterized as shy, quiet or insecure. If you feel that you get mischaracterized, your body language might be why. People around you are judging your personality based on your body language.
Being aware of what your body language is communicating to others is crucial to functioning in the world around you. Whether it is building relationships, showing empathy or projecting confidence, you can't ignore what your body or posture might be saying.
If you want to appear more genuine, authentic and confident with others, then working on your body language will certainly help! People will begin to notice the change pretty quickly!
Follow these tips we've prepared below and you will start to see an immediate impact!
Tip #1 - Stop crossing your arms and legs
We are starting with this tip because it is the most immediate change you can make that will have the biggest impact. However, it is also the most difficult habit to break! Crossing your arms or legs in a conversation, meeting or social setting, sends a strong nonverbal communication signal to the people around you. That signal could be conveying any of the following:
I disagree with what is being said
I am unhappy with what is being said
This conversation/situation stresses me out
I'm frustrated by what is happening
Subconsciously, this body language is communicating stress, anger, frustration, anxiety or other similar emotions to others. On a primal level, you are protecting your chest (i.e. your heart) from the conversation or situation by "closing it off" with your folded arms.
If your aim is to connect with a person or show care and concern, you need to show openness. So the last thing you want to do is cross your arms and/or legs and "close" yourself to that person. This body posture sends a nonverbal signal that you aren't interested in connecting with them. Your body needs to be speaking the same language as your words!
If you are finding it difficult to break yourself of this habit, try holding something in your hand(s). Something as small as a pen, can subconsciously keep you from folding your arms. This is an incredibly difficult habit to break but with consistent focus, over time you will get much better at NOT doing it!
Tip #2 - Make the right amount of eye contact
This tip might seem straightforward yet it is incredible how many people can't do this properly. In today's world of heavy electronic communication, proper eye contact when interacting with people in real life is a key skill.
If you fail to maintain proper eye contact, your body language is possibly communicating:
This conversation is boring
I'm looking for someone else to talk to
I'm hiding something from you
I'm not confident enough to look you in the eyes
5-7 seconds is the appropriate amount of time to maintain eye contact with someone during a conversation before it gets awkward. Be sure to casually glance away for a second before returning your gaze to the speaker.
Where you choose to gaze though is important. Looking up, for example, can be seen as a sign of hiding something. Looking from side to side, could be seen as anxiety. Looking down, could be seen as a sign of guilt or lack of confidence.
When breaking eye contact, try simply looking slightly to the left or right of the speakers face for a second before returning. This way you aren't being creepy and staring at the person for too long but you aren't being distracted by looking elsewhere.
Tip #3 - Keep your hands open and visible
Keeping your hands open and where other people can see them is an easy way to convey openness and authenticity. Conversely, hiding your hands in your pocket or clasping them together sends the opposite signal to people.
Similar to crossing your arms, clasping your hands together communicates that you are "closing yourself" to the conversation, meeting, etc. Hiding your hands can be seen as you hiding something or being untruthful. It also sends a message to the other person that you might be insecure about something.
When trying to get a point across or convince people of something, try doing it with open palms. Showing your palms to a person is a subconscious way of showing openness and trust in that person. When you convey trust and openness to another person, they are more likely to reciprocate.
If you want to go "next level" with how you present your hands, try the hand steeple. Simply place your fingertips together and point them either upwards or towards the other person/audience just like the person in above picture. This is a subtle way to project confidence and strength.
Tip #4 - Body language mirroring
One of the best ways to improve your body language, is to mirror the body language of other people around you. If you are talking with a person directly and they are engaged in conversation with you, try mirroring what they are doing. Body language mirroring is a great way to subconsciously connect with another person because they feel you share common interests.
For example, if they are nodding their head in agreement, do the same. If they have their feet pointing towards you, do the same. If their hands are open and out, do the same!
There is a catch to this though, it must be done subtly. Executing this tip improperly will have exactly the opposite of the intended effect and will come off as weird! Don't let that keep you from trying this tip, just start small. Start with a simple gesture like open palms or keeping your feet pointing towards the other person.