Whether we realise it or not, how we conduct ourselves physically has a bearing on how others perceive us. If you didn’t realise how important body language is, take a look at Donald Trump’s actions over the last year or two – and you’ll see acres of media real estate concerned with the Donald’s movements – from his firm handshake to his relationship with the first lady.
While the eyes of the world won’t be quite as glued to your every move as they are to the U.S. President, it’s worth discovering a few key points about what to do with your body to help convey the right message – and to know a little about the subconscious messages others tell us by their movements.
First impressions count, and if you’re heading into a new business meeting check your ‘tude as well as your dress. In brief, the key points to win over a person when you first meet are to smile, maintain solid eye contact (without being starey or seeming a bit threatening. There’s a fine line between the two!) and also practice a good solid handshake.
Lowering your vocal pitch has been proven to work, as has maintaining an open posture. It’s a no-brainer that if you sit through a meeting with your arms crossed, the other person will probably think you’re disinterested or being protective.
It was none other than Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, who first examined body language, in his 1872 book, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”. But today, it’s questioned whether it is indeed a language. Tightly crossing your arms might just mean you’re cold, right, or a button might have fallen off your shirt? You have to put most people’s actions into context. Someone might not be able to maintain eye contact due to an eye condition, and we can’t assume people’s subconscious movements are a reaction to us, or what we’ve said.
It takes work to send and receive body ‘language’ messages (encoding and decoding) and interpreting non-verbal messages can be difficult to learn. The secret is practice. Scratch your ear when someone is arguing with you, or telling you off, and if they start scratching their ear, you’ll know you’ve distracted them, and they are paying subconscious attention to your movements. However, they might also have an itchy ear, too.
This mirroring is hard wired into everyone. A sure-fire way to win someone over is to mirror their stance, their actions and the way they sit. This process also works with dating, so be careful not to overdo it.
Think about it. How many times have you yawned when you see someone else yawn? This is human desire to empathise going into overdrive, and you should use it to your advantage in winning people over – and winning that gig.
Before a meeting, Harvard Uni psychologist Amy Cuddy recommends striking a power pose in front of the mirror – not in your favourite superhero costume, instead just putting your hands on your hips, tilting your chin up, and making yourself as tall as you can get. Go on; we can see you doing it now.
Even better: throw your arms in the air like you just don’t care – up and out. In her studies, Cuddy found that “power posing” for two minutes was enough to increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol, making people feel more in control. Put simply: the way you hold your body can change how you feel about yourself. But can it really? Just like Darwin’s theory of body language has been questioned, a heap of studies into Cuddy’s ‘power posing’ diss her thoughts. The studies replicated her work and didn’t find that standing like Wonder Woman made you perform like her. Science, as ever, is there to be questioned, and Cuddy’s stance may have been kicked in the shin, but there’s still a lot to be said for standing tall and breathing deeply.
Whatever you do, try to break any nervous habits, like twiddling your hair, wagging your foot or fidgeting, unless of your course you’re auditioning for the role of an addled person in a play.
Whether or not you believe in the power of body language, knowing a little more about it will only serve to boost your confidence, and that has to be a good thing, right? And don’t forget to smile. As Gitte Falkenberg puts it: “Smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Your body language helps determine your state of mind.”