Words Can’t Say It All

The Telling Truths of Body Language

How you look affects how you feel, and how you feel affects certainly how you behave.  These are simple truths; we all know about the need to energize your mood and pull together an outfit that radiates confidence on a Monday morning, when maybe spirit and stamina are not at optimum levels.

Another way to present yourself well to the world: if you want to walk into a boardroom with poise, make a pitch or nail a presentation, use your body. When you are speaking, your words are telling your listeners one story, while your body language may be telling another. Most people rehearse their speeches or go over key points before a meeting – but awareness of their body often goes straight out the window.

Nonverbal communication makes up a startling 93% of our communication. So it is critical that we understand the message we are sending others, and that they are sending back to us. It’s an advantage in any conversation – particularly so in business – to be able to decipher the hidden messages others unconsciously send your way, through their body language.

Following are some ways to enhance your own “body language presentation” so that the image you project brings to mind self-assurance and grace under pressure – not jangled nerves or exhaustion!

Ten Things That Will Change The Way You Communicate Relax This is the most important point on the list. The more relaxed you are, the more present you allow yourself to be in the conversation. You’re sitting up straight, your airways are open and you’re breathing easily. When you are relaxed, you are comfortable, and therefore more apt to speak your mind.

Assume a Two Minute Power Pose Find a pose that makes you feel powerful. Lean back in your chair with your feet on your desk or stand up, hands on your hips (“The Wonder Woman” pose). Research from Harvard and Columbia Business, led by Amy Cuddy, a TED speaker, shows that holding your body in a “high power” pose for two minutes causes a hormonal shift, leading to lower anxiety levels and increased feelings of power: http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/13/fake-it-til-you-become-it-amy-cuddys-power-poses-visualized/

Shoulders Back, Eyes Up, and a Firm Grip These three physical moves automatically achieve the famous “fake-it-until-you-make it” maneuver, no matter how nervous you are. Why?  Simple: these moves demand respect. Using these moves, you will get it.  Fear may be the biggest problem for women in the workplace. So ignore it; throw your shoulders back and show everyone that you mean business.

Sit at the Table This is especially important for women, because they often tend to unintentionally fade into the back seats of a room.  Look at it his way: you feel relaxed, you’ve already taken your power pose, and so you came into the conversation with confidence. Now take a seat that shows that you have merit in the conversation. Don’t sit on the sidelines; be assertive and create opportunity for yourself.

Create and Break Rapport You create a rapport with someone else by mirroring body position. If you agree with someone,  or you are hoping to engage someone in particular, adjust your position to match him or her. You will be surprised by the reaction you receive. On the flip side, breaking rapport by disengaging from that shared position shows disagreement. This can be a powerful tool to show your dissent without actually having to speak up in outward protest!

Remove Barriers Barriers create distance between yourself and the other people in the room, making you seem closed off and unapproachable. You can unknowingly create a physical barrier by placing your laptop in front of you, or by crossing your arms and legs. Also, on a mental/emotional level, people around you can tell when you are distracted, so when you are in the room, be in the room. Turn off your phone, leave incoming emails for later, and stop making a mental to-do list in your mind. You lose credibility instantly when you seem distracted from the conversation.

Move and Transition Movement signifies change. If you want to change the subject or move onto a new point, change positions in your chair — or if you are standing, transition to a new area of the room. This accommodates a smooth shift in the conversation. Conversely, if you want to show authority, stand your ground and minimize your movement.

Use Your Hands Studies show that hand movement triggers the “Broca’s area” of the brain, which influences speech production. This is a particularly nifty tactic: your hand gestures may well allow you to come up with better verbal content as you are talking.

Your hands are also useful when you want to show that you are open to hearing another person’s point of view, or to give the impression that you are speaking honestly. Simply show the palms of your hand and – voilà– you open yourself up for candid conversation.

Pay Attention Take time to also focus on others’ physical cues.  Are they open or closed off? Are they fidgeting? How are their hands positioned? Are they engaged in the conversation? Shuffling and fidgeting may indicate that someone feels uncomfortable. Scratching may mean that he or she is stressed out. Pay attention to these subtle hints.

Practice How can we constantly monitor our body language when we are trying to make a solid argument with our words? Practice. It takes six weeks to form any habit, so practice in your every day conversations. With time, you will be a master of nonverbal language and you will have the ability to change the outcome of any conversation. Take advantage!

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Contributed by: Maggie Anderson 

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