“Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour, and our behaviour changes our outcome,” says social psychologist Amy Curry. Of all the modes of communication, including tone of voice and the spoken word, body language is most prominent. It affects every aspect of our business and personal lives, and leads to subconscious judgements by others about who we are as people.
Anneline Black, a body language expert based in Berlin, puts it down to the 7/38/55 rule, which states that during face-to-face communication, seven per cent of the message is conveyed through spoken words, 38 per cent through tone of voice and 55 per cent through body language. “When we observe someone at a function, we judge them predominantly on body language (80 per cent) and the rest on grooming and styling,” she explains. “As human beings, we convey messages to one another through how we dress, the colours we choose to wear, how we are groomed, posture, facial expressions, body movements, how we sound and what we say. We also form our first impressions of others in the first seven seconds of meeting them.”
Your body language may determine whether someone initiatives conversation, asks you on a date or offers you a job and with a few simple practical exercises, it’s possible to teach yourself the art of positive and powerful body language.
BODY LANGUAGE IN BUSINESS
When it comes to using body language effectively in business, Abbey Teunis, senior director at LRWTonic in London, has the answers. She says, “No one will take you seriously in a business meeting if you’re slouching and making yourself look small. The key is to sit confidently and enlarge your posture – this will say something positive about who you are and reflect gravitas, even for junior employees.” Echoing Curry’s sentiments, Teunis agrees that we can train ourselves to use positive body language with a view to reach a certain outcome. “It’s all about faking it until you make it.”
By becoming self-aware and more attuned to other people’s body language, we can take their cues and change the course of a conversation when necessary. “If someone is leaning forward with their feet facing you and making eye contact, it generally means they are interested in what you have to say,” explains Teunis. “On the contrary, if they’ve turned their body away from you with their feet facing the door, it’s usually a good indication that you need to change your strategy.”
Body language is one of the best ways to change the outcome of a conversation. Teunis suggests natural hand motions to illustrate your point, making eye contact (without overdoing it) and leaning slightly forward in conversation. In particular, eye contact can make or break relationships. “When speaking to more than one person, it’s important to make eye contact with everyone in the room. It is equally important to keep your eyes on the speaker when listening. By doing this, you’re subconsciously creating a safe space for them, telling them you’re interested in what they have to say,” she says.
Black agrees that too little eye contact can be interpreted as insecurity, lack of interest or even rejection, while too much can seem overly familiar, disrespectful or threatening. She says, “Normal eye contact should be between five and 15 seconds at a time when speaking to one person, and less when you’re in a group.” She also highlights the importance of nodding your head affirmatively while someone else is speaking. Teunis adds that the best way to convince someone of your point of view is to keep your feet firmly on the ground and place your hands flat on the table, while talking.
Human beings are not too dissimilar to other animals when it comes to body language. During a popular TEDTalk, ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are’, social psychologist Curry explains that animals make themselves appear larger than they really are, while trying to impress and convey confidence and power. In the same way, winning athletes crossing the finish line subconsciously raise their arms in the air and lift their heads, which Curry refers to as a high-power pose. In line with such behaviour, social scientists have found that non-verbal communication governs how we think and feel about ourselves. The theory goes that we start to feel powerful when we pretend to be powerful and we start to feel happy when we apply body language such as smiling.
Curry says that by practising power poses even just for a few minutes before important engagements, we can alter our mental state and portray a more powerful version of ourselves. Low-power poses such as slouching over your phone, making yourself look small and touching your neck, will in turn make you feel and act less confident. She recommends preparing for important meetings, like job interviews, by spending two minutes opening up your body, stretching your arms into the air and standing tall. In fact, studies have shown that people who practise high-power poses, as opposed to low-power poses, before and during meetings are evaluated more positively and as more likely to be successful. “Our non-verbal communication governs how other people think and feel about us,” she says.
Positive body language is as powerful in our private lives as it is in the workplace. According to Black, women are masters at reading body language and are generally better at it than men. This means that a woman will know very quickly when a man is interested in her. Men on the other hand often need ‘I am interested’ signals repeated up to five times, before they get the message! “You’re better off simply saying, ‘Hi – I like you!’” she says. So, what are the telltale signs of flirtation? Black says women toss their hair, tilt their heads and expose their necks, while men square their shoulders, jut out their jaws and try to look more masculine.
By putting a few body language secrets to the test, you may very well find yourself going on that dream date, signing a new job contract or presenting in front of a room full of admiring faces.