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, 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.
Different types of body language
There are basically five types of body language. You will probably be able to recognise 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
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.
Influencing other people:
We can learn be aware of how we come across and the signals we give. We can even influence the behaviour 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!