Is your body language holding you back?
Non-verbal cues, or body language, can have a powerful impact. It can change the way people view you. Did you know that over half of all communication is non-verbal – the actual figure is around 93% (1). That means we spend over 50% of our time communicating using body language and facial expressions, so it's surprising we don't think about this very often. How often have you thought about or practised expressions and gestures before an important event such as a presentation or job interview?
Whilst there is no such thing as 'wrong' body language, being aware of how others might interpret your expressions, motions and gestures is important. It can be tough to examine your own body language and even tougher to change ingrained bad habits, but could it be that your body language is holding you back?
What is body language?
Body language covers all types of non-verbal communication, such as your posture, gestures, facial expressions – even eye movements. The way you use the space around you is also classed as body language, so if you're pacing or swaying on the spot, this could be interpreted as nervousness or uncertainty.
What's your body language saying?
When you meet someone, you usually form an opinion of them in less than a second (2) based on their body language and non-verbal cues. This explains why we take an instant dislike to some people before they have even opened their mouths! Of course, your opinion might change once you get to know them, but it makes sense that stand-offish body language can make a negative first impression. Here are just a few examples of typical body language 'mistakes' that could give people the wrong impression when they meet you:
- Avoiding eye contact – This can make you seem nervous or untrustworthy, so you could always try to hold eye contact a bit longer. We're not saying you should be staring, that is off-putting in itself!
- Crossing your arms – Whilst this is something many of us do when we are nervous or stressed, it can make you appear defensive and closed off. Keeping your arms in a neutral position, at your sides, is far more welcoming and relaxed
- Nodding a lot – Again, this can be a sign of shyness and nerves, but nobody wants to look like a nodding dog! Nodding too much can seem disingenuous, so try peppering the conversation with “I see” and “mm-hmm” rather than nodding constantly!
- Holding your hands behind your back – This makes you appear unfriendly and closed off. If in doubt, keep your hands at your sides
- Standing with your hands on your hips – This is usually seen as aggressive and intimidating, so it should be avoided unless you're deliberately trying to be authoritative at work
Tips for more positive body language
There is no magic way to make people warm to you, and no secret to learning more positive body language – it's all about making small changes to your body language habits. We uncover a few things you can change that will help you to make a more positive impression.
Smiling – and we're talking an authentic smile here, not a fake one – will automatically make you feel happier (3) and makes you seem more approachable. People are more likely to view you as friendly, and more likely to do what you ask of them or help you out if they see you smiling.
Use your hands to express your feelings, but don't become one of those people who wildly gesticulates with every word; that's not appealing! Keep your movements controlled and definitely don't fidget or fiddle with your hair or clothes, as this conveys nervousness and uncertainty. Use your hands to make bold, articulate gestures that emphasise what you are saying and help you to get your point across.
It can be tempting to sit with your legs crossed and many of us do this regularly. But did you know that tightly crossing your legs makes you seem closed off? Sit with your feet firmly on the ground and try to avoid restlessly bouncing your leg or tapping your feet – this can make you appear bored or disinterested.
Blankly staring at someone is the quickest way to make them feel uncomfortable, not to mention it's downright creepy and could make someone angry! But avoiding eye contact can make you seem shift – there's a balance to be struck. Many people assume that if someone is lying, they won't be able to look you in the eye. This isn't actually true (4) but most people still assume that good eye contact is a sign of telling the truth, so it's something worth mastering.
You might think that nobody notices your feet. Sure, on a conscious level, we probably spend no time at all looking at somebody else's feet, but body language is often picked up by the subconscious, and your feet can actually signal your mood and intentions to others! Your feet usually point to where you're going, or where you would rather be, so if you notice someone's feet pointing away from your during a conversation, that's a sign they're disinterested. When talking to someone, your feet should be forming a “V” in their direction to welcome them and show interest in the conversation.
Can body language really help you get ahead?
So, you're working on changing your body language and including more positive gestures and habits in your non-verbal communications. But can this really help you get ahead in life? Body language can tell others about your attitude, your personality and your goals. In fact, in business, body language can make or break a deal – you may not be saying anything, but your gestures are speaking volumes (5)! Working on developing a confident handshake, good posture and eye contact will ensure clients and colleagues view you as trustworthy and reputable. Fiddling with your hair or tie at a job interview might make potential employers question your ability to do the job, as you'll seem nervous and unprofessional. So body language really can impact on both your personal and professional life. If you're failing in business or can't seem to get past the first date with a new partner, perhaps it's time to take a look at your body language and see what it's saying about you!
READ THIS NEXT: Hey, it's okay to be an introvert