Body language is a subtle and subconscious form of communication that drives the quality of our interactions in daily life. Not many people realise that our body language has a profound effect on our self-esteem, confidence and general feelings about ourselves. Understanding our own body language and the gestures of others helps us attain better control over our emotions, feelings and attitudes towards others. In fact, people who enjoy successful careers, run thriving businesses or savour satisfying personal relationships are all adept at reading signals and being mindful of the signals that they, in turn, send out. When body language is used consistently and in conjunction with other nonverbal cues, they can have a significant effect on the way we feel about ourselves and others. According to a popular study on body language conducted by Albert Mehrabian at UCLA University, body language and nonverbal communication contribute to about 55% of our communication with voice tone, etc. accounting for roughly 38%. Actual, spoken words contribute to only 7% of communication! In effect, people speak more with their bodies.
As a mother, body language is important on several counts. We need to use our own gestures and postures to communicate with our children, spouses, relatives and friends. Young children, as a matter of fact, are extremely intuitive at reading body language and will unconsciously react accordingly. By choosing to transmit the correct messages and understanding nonverbal cues, we can enjoy greater peace of mind in our daily lives. There are fewer chances of misunderstanding and miscommunication with people and consequently lesser chances of experiencing stress. Gaining insights into the secrets of body language has long-term, lasting effects on our lives. If you’re thinking of returning to work, using the right body language can help you create a killer first impression and help you bridge communication gaps across age groups, ethnicities and professions. Using suitable body language and targeted gestures can help accentuate our communication while minimising ambiguity. Our facial muscles, for example, are capable of showing as many as 10,000 expressions.
Men and women tend to differ in their expression as well as understanding of body language. For example, men prefer to be approached from the side while women like to be approached from the front. Similarly, men usually nod to indicate agreement while women nod to show interest in the conversation. Women’s voices also tend to become very high-pitched and squeaky under stress while men stay within a certain voice range. Very often, our body language may contradict our verbal communication and the recipient may be confused; this happens much more than we realise.
Body language can be subtle or blatant and can be consciously or unconsciously sent or received. Our responses and behaviours are largely driven by this subconscious communication and inner beliefs and attitudes will be clearly revealed.
Let us understand how body language helps us in various powerful ways:
Body language and attitude
Just like negative feelings such as anger, sadness or diffidence can affect the way we hold our heads or shoulders, the converse is also true. Changing our body language can send empowering messages to the brain. Head held up, making eye contact with people, walking with a spring in your step and smiling can help reinforce positive self-talk and, when we practise this regularly, we begin to believe in what we’re telling ourselves. People who use positive body language are perceived as more likeable, pleasant, confident, persuasive and more likely to attract friendships.
Body language has an impact on hormones.
As a matter of fact, empowering body language reduces cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and increases testosterone (women’s bodies also have testosterone), which is known to boost self-confidence. If you’re thinking of going back to work, it’s a good idea to practise some positive gestures and postures (we will discuss these later) to enhance clarity of thinking, boost decision-making and reduce nebulous thinking. The increased balance of hormones in turn helps you to keep your cool and function under pressure. These effects are not only applicable to an office environment, but also to home and children. A sick child, juggling chores and staying up all night can leave us feeling stressed and confused. Positive body language helps us relax and cope with work and domestic pressures better.
Improved Communication and Relationships
Conscious usage of body language and clear understanding of nonverbal cues help us forge more compassionate and empathetic connections with others. We are able to identify the behaviours that precipitate insecurity, fear and hostility in others. This is even more important because we are able to consciously avoid behaviours that send negative signals.
Career and Business Success
Whether you are looking to return to a career or start a business of your own, positive body language can help you feel more self-confident and assured. Your posture, tone of voice, gestures and manner of making eye contact can add depth and meaning to your verbal communication. If you are in sales or customer services, you can learn how to establish trustworthy and friendly rapport with prospective clients and improve the chances of making successful sales.
The right body language can also help you develop more confidence for public speaking (while making presentations on stage, for example) and help you communicate with your colleagues. Those who practise mindful and conscious body language make effective team players and leaders and are ideal candidates for being trained for wider responsibilities. People who use their body to communicate the right emotions and feelings develop a high emotional quotient.
Body language can achieve the following end results:
- Validate, echo or underline verbal communication
- Substitute actual words
- Contradict or conflict what is being said
- Accentuate or moderate language
Positive Body Language in the Workplace
If you’ve been busy raising a family and are now ready to get back to work, the first key step involves paying attention to your body language. Read on for useful tips on how to use positive nonverbal communication for career and workplace success.
Body Language during the Interview
- You can extend your hand first for a handshake. Offer a soft but firm handshake. Avoid squeezing too hard as this indicates dominance or insecurity. Please avoid crowding into people’s personal space. Maintain a respectful distance.
- Make regular eye contact but break away occasionally and look away. The eye contact should be confident without staring at the other person (this may be perceived as intimidation). Avoid looking down when you respond as you may appear insecure, shy, indecisive, unsure or diffident. If there are multiple interviewers, make brief eye contact with each one in turn.
- Sit all the way back in your chair with your back straight. Avoid slouching or angling your body towards the door as this indicates a subconscious wish to escape. Lean slightly forward as you answer questions; this indicates a healthy attitude of engagement and curiosity.
- Keep your hands on your lap and avoid clenching your fists or waving your hands about. Dramatic gestures would come across as inappropriate. Please avoid biting your nails as this indicates extreme nervousness.
- Avoid too much nodding. Nod only when you agree with what is being said. If unsure, simply mirror the body language of the person who is speaking to you; this will establish a constructive rapport.
- Avoid sitting with your arms crossed (this is a closed-off gesture that implies defensiveness) and do not play with your hair, jewellery or watch, etc. Sit calmly and quietly without distracting gestures.
Unique Body Language Tips for Career and Business Success
- While making formal presentations, try moving towards the audience and then move away to signal a change of subject. For maximum impact, blend movement and pauses in order to break the monotony. Before an important meeting or presentation, breathe out through your mouth in order to release tension in your neck and shoulders.
- If you observe someone who moves forward to the edge of the seat or positions their knees, they are probably indicating that they want to leave. In that case, finish your conversation early.
- In order to exude authority, place your feet hip-width distance apart. This helps you breathe easily, amplifies your voice and calms down the nervous system. Taking up more space (traditionally a stance associated with males) helps demonstrate authority.
- If you’re working with a team, keep your body language relaxed, open and inclusive. Human beings have an instinctive habit of mirroring gestures and postures. Hence, if you display friendly body language, your team will automatically display friendliness too.
- Make eye contact with any person that you’re speaking to. If you are speaking to a group, make eye contact with each person briefly.
- Nodding, smiling, palms open, etc. can indicate engagement or agreement and can help conclude a meeting successfully and punctually. Nebulous or doubtful body language (chin tucked in, shoulders hunched, arms crossed, etc.) often results in confusion in interpretation; other team members or your customers may be unsure of how you actually feel.
- Focus on the person that you are engaged with rather than paying excessive attention to yourself. This will help you understand the other person and, consequently, you can mindfully control your own body language.
- If you want to defuse a tense situation, try realigning your body so that you slightly lean in towards the person or sit or stand side-by-side. Women tend to stand facing each other when they are in a confrontational mood.
Important Body Language Mistakes to Avoid
The following gestures may give the wrong impression to other people.
- Avoid texting or checking your mail on the phone as this is considered a sign of disrespect as you are withdrawing your attention.
- Slouching or sitting low in the chair with your legs extended in front of you may be perceived as apathy or a don’t-care attitude.
- Keep your lips loose; pursed up or tight lips may indicate disapproval or disagreement.
- Avoid leaning backwards or away as people speak as the gesture may be perceived as disinterestedness or boredom. Lean in slightly without crowding into people’s space.
- If you wish to demonstrate authority, avoid over-exuberance and excessive enthusiasm in your voice. Overexcited or impassioned gestures can exhaust or overwhelm your audience. Keep calm and quiet and restrict your gestures to waist level instead of gesticulating wildly with your hands.
- Shifty eye contact, hands covering your lips, jerky changes in breathing, repetition of certain words several times (trying to validate the lie to yourself), excessive pointing, talking too much and shuffling your feet, etc. often indicate deceptive or lying behaviours. Be mindful of your own behaviour and watchful of others during meetings and negotiations.
Body language is subtle, complex and multi-faceted and may project itself as a continuous communication or in disconnected units. We use our body language all the time even though we are unaware of it. Paying conscious attention to your gestures, postures and voice helps you to reinforce your presence at work, bond better with colleagues, family and friends and subtly motivates others to trust you. Empowering body language can help you feel confident and boost your self-esteem as well as help you project charisma and charm. The way you carry yourself reveals a lot about how effective personal and professional relationships and interactions are going to be.
Our body language not only indicates how we feel about others, but also how we feel about ourselves. In other words, people rarely merely say something; they convey feelings or emotions along with their statements and these invariably make a crucial contribution to the overall communication. The wrong body language can often contradict our words and take away from the intended impact of the communication. Learning how to stand, walk, talk and sit and speak in the correct tones can help reinforce the meaning of our spoken words. Body language and nonverbal communication are difficult to quantify and work on a subtle level, but have a profound impact on day-to-day communication. Mindful gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and eye contact can help minimise conflict, misunderstandings and confusion at work. In today’s multicultural and multi-ethnic workplace environments, knowledge of body language and nonverbal cues can help clarify communication and establish trust and warmth.
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