Body language refers to the unspoken element of human communication that can shed more light into our true emotions and feelings. It includes facial expressions, hand gestures, body posture and other non-verbal signals.
Whether it’s for personal communication with family or friends, or interactions at the professional level, getting your body language right is essential.
That’s because non-verbal cues reveal more about our true intention than spoken word.
So much so in fact, that the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that a paltry 7 per cent of our communication is based on the actual words we say, with tone of voice constituting 38%, and the remaining 55% coming from body language.
While a good part of body language is unconscious or involuntary, the good thing is that with the enough practice, it is possible to polish up your body language to send out the right signals.
The importance of this cannot be underscored enough for those especially in public speaking or leadership positions where your staff looks up to you for guidance and clients try to decipher what exactly is bubbling underneath.
Are you sincere?
Do you really believe in the pitch you are making?
How good or bleak do you envision things to be?
Here are 10 tips you can borrow as a leader to adjust your body language for the better and ensure you are not ‘leaking’ the wrong non-verbal cues.
- Eye contact builds trust
It is said the eyes are the window to the soul. And they sure can reveal a lot.
When it comes to leadership and positive body language, maintaining eye contact during your interactions conveys trustworthiness, an important trait for any person to have. You come across as sincere as opposed to shifty, and people have confidence in you.
However, careful not to turn the eye contact into a staring contest as that can get uncomfortable for everyone involved. The key is be natural at it.
Which begs the question – how much eye contact exactly is enough eye contact? What constitutes natural?
Well, studies suggest to maintain 50-60% of eye contact during a conversation (that’s roughly half the time), especially when listening.
If you are doing most of the talking, during a presentation for instance, try to keep it regular and deliberate with the listener or audience members.
- Keep your posture upright
When sitting or standing, make it a habit to keep your shoulders back and arms unfolded. When sitting, have your arms in front of you and keep them hanging at your sides when standing (without fidgeting).
This conveys an open posture or what’s known as a power posture.
Avoid slouching, a collapse of form which not only projects less power, but also could make you come across as disinterested.
- Use open hand gestures
Hand gestures are one of the most effective non-verbal forms of communication and multiple studies have shown that you are more likely to make a bigger impact when speaking when you use hand gestures.
This especially applies when presenting or speaking in front of an audience, where the use of hand gestures can greatly boost engagement, according to psychologists.
For best effect, it is important to not just learn the right gestures to use, but also when to use them.
For example, open palms held out at a 45-degree angle demonstrates to your audience that you have nothing to hide. Ideal for when you want to be fully transparent, this gesture welcomes people in because you are ‘putting it all out there’.
Another one you can use when listing stuff is finger counting. This one makes it easier for listeners to remember your points as it serves as a visual anchor for your list of items.
The little caveat to be wary of here is to avoid overdoing it. Fake, overdone, or negative hand gestures will send the wrong message. Which takes us to the next point.
- Relax your body
This is one that needs no telling. I know, it can be hard to keep your true emotions at bay especially when the stakes are high – presenting to a client or giving a speech, for example.
But what you need to know here is to avoid those little things that make you look edgy – fidgeting with your hair, touching your face, moving your hands a lot, [hopefully No] biting your nails, etc.
It may be hard for some, but try to project a calm demeanour. That little piece of advice about deep breathing may come in handy in this particular instance.
- Show that you are interested
There are few things that have an impact on people on a personal level than showing genuine interest in what they have to say.
It may sound basic, but you would be amazed by the number of people who don’t give this any regard. But it doesn’t take much; it doesn’t cost much – just your undivided attention (See Point #9).
Giving others attention and showing concern in what they have to say can work for you greatly, but even better, it increases a person’s self-worth.
The effect of that is immeasurable.
- Avoid inconsistencies
While you are busy trying to apply the right gestures and body posture, it is essential that your words and facial (or body) expressions are in harmony.
A disconnect between what you are saying and what you are revealing through your facial expressions and body language in general may lead others to sense that something just isn’t right.
For example, a nervous smile while discussing an employee’s performance over the course of their probation or talking to staff about ongoing restructuring by your company may send the wrong signals.
- Don’t be standoffish. Instead, Lean in
When you are holding a conversation, avoid turning yourself away from the person you are speaking to.
Instead, lean in towards them, otherwise you are likely to come across as uninterested, uncomfortable, unengaged or even suspicious of the person speaking.
When you lean in towards the person, it shows them that they have your undivided attention. Bonus points if you can tilt your head slightly as you give that listening ear. That shows empathy.
- But don’t get too close
Unless you two are close acquaintances, standing too close to someone might suggest that you have no regard for or understanding of personal space.
That’s right, regard for personal space is not just some foreign culture from the East.
Close is anything less than one-and-a-half feet, and in social parlance, it’s cringe.
- Limit distractions that take your focus away
We have alluded to the importance of giving people attention in a few of the points we’ve listed.
It sounds basic, but with the myriad distractions we have today – text messages, phone calls, email alerts and what-not – falling prey to these distractions when interacting with people really is the bane of modern society. And it’s rude.
- Work on your voice
Last but not least, we mentioned earlier that the tone of your voice says a lot about your true intentions or feelings – by as much as 38% according to the UCLA.
This is why it would be remiss to talk about body language improvement and leave out this oft-overlooked but very important point.
You see, what you say is important. But how you say it can have an even bigger effect on the listening parties. If your voice is weak, you may appear weak as well, and that’s not something you want.
As a leader, you need to sound like one, and working on your voice tone is one way to develop the voice of authority. It is possible to be authoritative while remaining ‘warm’ at the same time.
Practice speaking in a way that is strong and confident. This doesn’t mean you have to be loud. But you have to be loud enough to be heard.
It is possible to be weak-voiced and lead a company or organisation. It all depends on your ability to speak in a manner that is elicits attentiveness, respect and trust.
Body language may be involuntary to what we could be feeling at any one moment, but the good thing is with good practice, you can make it work in your favour.
This is one of those areas where the phrase ‘Fake it until you make it’ should come in handy for you. Practice. Practice. Practice. It makes perfect.