Don’t lose out because of your body language

It doesn’t matter how good your CV is on paper, you can destroy all hope of being successful through negative body language. After all, over 90% of our communications are conveyed by tone of voice and body language, or ‘non-verbal communication’. While most of us can recognise the obvious body language signals, it’s important to be conscious of the signals that you’re giving, as well as reacting to those that you are receiving. 

In business, your colleagues, boss, suppliers and clients will all be reacting to your gestures and mannerisms and mentally calculating:

• Are you trustworthy?
• Is what you’re saying credible?
• Do you have their interests at heart rather than your own?
• Can they believe in your message?

So how can you make sure that you come across as an honest, trustworthy, credible and believable person?

Positive body language

• Sit or stand tall and strong
• Offer a firm (but not crushing!) handshake
• Make eye contact but don’t stare. Look at the space between the eyes if it helps.
• Speak clearly and confidently. Don’t mumble.
• Simple manners go a long way. If someone gives you something, say thank you. If you ask for something, say please. If you don’t know somebody, introduce yourself. If you need to interrupt, say excuse me.

Negative signals to avoid

Fidgeting is a sign that you are not comfortable – drumming your fingers, tapping your foot, playing with your pen and darting your eyes around the room are all indications that you would rather be somewhere else.

Touching your face, rubbing your nose, eyes and ears or scratching your head shows doubt in what you’re saying or hearing.

Closed postures such as crossing your arms suggest you are not open to discussion, you are not listening, or you are not interested. It can also be a defensive gesture.

Nodding impatiently to rush the other person to finish what they are saying so that you can answer, or looking down, preparing an answer while they are still speaking are antagonistic gestures.

Once you become aware of these habits, it will be easier to control them, and focus on displaying positive mannerisms.

Signs the meeting is not going well

If you are in a meeting, or being interviewed, these are all warnings that you are not making the positive impression you hoped for:

• Your interviewer is leaning back, looking around
• Fiddling, pen tapping, jiggling feet
• Not making eye contact
• Little or no friendly conversation or smiling
• Frowning and pushing themselves back from the table
• Confused face, pursed lips

What to do?

If you are conscious that somebody is not responding well, change your tack. Don’t plough on regardless, ignoring all the signs.

If the person you are talking to seems disengaged, try asking a question to bring their attention back.

If you’re faced with a confused or frowning face, offer clarity. “I can see that I haven’t explained this very well – can I give you a better example?” Don’t suggest that they are at fault for not understanding. That will alienate them further.

When 2 people are getting along, they often subconsciously copy each other’s gestures. ‘Mirroring’ is a technique that is often used to consciously create rapport. It is widely used by those that practice Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and it can be very effective. The essence of it is to subtly copy (or mirror) the gestures of the person in front of you. For example, if they stand with their hand on their hip, you do the same. If they lean against the desk, you follow. However, it should be approached with caution, as it can be too obvious and you may end up offending them! It’s worthwhile observing others interacting though, to see if you can spot this in action.

A longer term strategy is to indulge in a bit of people watching – observe interactions between others and see which behaviours you can spot. What works well? What makes people react badly?

In summary

Looking and sounding positive and confident will convince others that you are – and even if you’re not feeling 100% confident, acting in a positive way will help you achieve much more than you would if you give in to negative thoughts.

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