Body language isn’t a mere set of “techniques” or a show to put on for others. It is how you move in this world, and how you move, in many ways, dictates how you feel, what you say, what you strive for and what you allow to escape your grasp. Just as form follows function, so does your inner life — your emotional state, your confidence, your vivacity — follow what your body is doing.
For instance, when you hold your body with confidence, you will actually feel more confident. If you slump your shoulders and hang your head, looking down, your brain will read that as sadness and depression, and you will actually FEEL sadder and more listless. Furthermore, as is widely shown by research, your body language — by an overwhelming margin — is the most instant and visceral way that people assess who you “really” are.
A weak limp-fish handshake, for example, will immediately cause us to peg someone as ineffectual, unconfident and untrustworthy. By contrast, someone who crushes your hand and booms their self-introduction will immediately cause us to either cower to power, if we are the subservient type — or see through the bluster and surmise that this fellow is deeply insecure and overcompensating.
How you move your body is a language of its own, and one that is interpreted by others non-stop. And whether you seek more influence and power in your professional life, or more intimacy and clarity in your personal or intimate life, self-awareness in your body language is crucial.
As someone who has coached hundreds of people in personal and professional success, let me give you five of the most important body language “expressions,” so that you can more easily live the life you desire.
1. Do you show up as open or closed?
In my work around dating and intimacy, I begin by moving people away from the language of right and wrong, and more into the language of “open and closed.” For example, does what you say or do “open” the other person’s heart or close it.
Similarly, your body language signals to anybody you encounter whether your heart or being feels open and receptive, or closed and anxious, judgmental, or afraid. “Open” body language signals trust, warmth, solidity, and comfort in being yourself and it feels inviting to others. “Closed” body language, by contrast, signals coldness, insecurity, isolation, and it makes the other person feel outside your sphere, pushed-away and unaccepted.
So, what are some ways you can start to cultivate open body language?
A. Do your eyes say “Welcome!” or “Scram!”?
Oftentimes the first form of connection with another person will be through your eye contact. Clearly, squinting suspiciously will convey that you are initially closed to another. By contrast, warm, relaxed eyes, and an easy slow smile when you encounter someone, will make them feel welcome and accepted.
B. Is your chest open to the other or closed off?
Think about a person with arms crossed tightly over their chest. Do they feel warm, receptive and friendly? Or guarded and judgmental?
Uncrossing your arms, and not holding anything in front of you (like a drink, or books or folders) signals that you’re open to interact with people and ready to face what the world brings, whatever it brings. However, when you block your chest (your heart) with folded arms or objects, it may seem like you’re trying to protect yourself from something consciously or not.
C. How is your posture?
Think military posture. Think an invisibly thin steel cable from the crown of your head straight up to heaven. Think a straight spine. Think eye-level. Think feet planted solidly on the ground, with your weight evenly distributed. This kind of posture conveys strength, solidity, alertness and confidence. By contrast, if you hunch your shoulders and head is drooping down, if if you’re weight is uneven, you convey a lack of sureness, a lack of solidity.
2. What is your voice saying?
Words matter, but meaning is always dependent upon tonality. In workshops, I have students say “I love you” like a toddler, a murderer, a lovesick schoolboy, a dying wife after 50 years of marriage. How you say it matters as much as what you say.
It’s the same with daily expressions such as “No,” or “I disagree.” Try it with multiple emotions, and you’ll see how important tonality is. If you want to convey authority, practice that with common expressions. If you tend to come off as cold, and you want to convey warmth, practice that. If you want to inject more positivity into your interactions, then add positivity .
Start noticing the tonality of your voice and others and the social dynamics in your life will start shifting. Importantly, those with whom you interact will notice too. This article on Vixen Daily shows you how to use body language to become more well liked by everyone around you.
3. Add a personal touch.
When people communicate, it’s out of a desire to connect with each other — even if for a brief moment. To raise the level of connection people feel with you, try establishing touch. Now, there are many kinds of touch — and some of it can feel unwelcome. You may remember George W. Bush’s unwelcome massaging of Angela Merkel’s shoulders.
To create a sense of appropriateness, start slow. Simply high-fiving the person when you both agree on something you really like gives them to opportunity to join in the initial touch, and that’s a two-way interaction rather than forced upon them. Or, at a moment of agreement or laughter or sudden closeness or understanding you can briefly touch someone’s upper arm. A simple touch like that is usually not felt as intrusive and it can quickly deepen the connection that you’re having with another person.
Studies show that simple touch increases feelings of good will — something that every savvy restaurant server knows. That touch on the shoulder along with the check? It adds between 19–28 percent great tip, according to some studies. For insight into the best body language for negotiating with people, check out this article.
4. Are we far apart or close?
Whether you know it or not, the physical distance that you’re close or far away from a person influences the kind of impact you have on them. The closer you are to a person when you’re communicating, the deeper the connection will be felt between the both of you. If you’re farther away, the lesser the connection will be.
Of course, the “Seinfeld Rule” holds true here — which is that an overly “close talker” can feel inappropriately intrusive. Try modulating your physical distance and see for yourself. Speak to a friend then get up and slowly distance yourself from your friend as you’re speaking. You’ll feel a psychological difference, and they will too.
Here’s another spatial-intimacy trick of the trade. Instead of standing directly opposite someone, which can create a primal “confrontation” feeling (especially if you physically larger), try standing to a person’s side and speaking with them, which half-looking out at the world together. It’ll have the both of you feel as if you’re a team.
This article has great body language tips to apply to your life.
5. “Oh! We are alike!”
In our brains, we have what we now know as “mirror neurons.” These mirror neurons help us understand one another and the gestures we make to each other. Simply put, mirror neurons induce us to “mirror back” speech patterns or physical gestures as an unconscious was to create a sense of “tribe” or likeness.
So how can you use them to your advantage to create a sense of connection? Simply mimic the gestures, key words, vocal tonality, and pace of speech of the person you’re talking to. Doing this will deepen the connection level between you two because we all have a similarity bias, which means that we tend to like people whom we find our similar to us.
If the person to whom you’re speaking speaks quickly, try matching that pace. If they use an unusual word like “indubitably,” find a way to work that into your vocabulary while talking with them. If they pound the table while enjoying a joke, do the same. If they lean in to listen closely, then you lean in to listen closely to them.
These may seem like insignificant gestures, but they create a tremendous amount of familiarity and comfort — which is a way of saying primal safety. You may convey all kinds of messages with the words you speak — when you speak — but your body always broadcasts frequencies of information about you twenty-four-seven.
The question is, which frequency — friendly or unfriendly, safe or unsafe, authoritative or submissive — do you want to send? These five fundamental body language secrets will speed your toward your goals.
Featured photo credit: bad boy Look by Ryan McGuire via imcreator.com