Body Language

December 12, 2016
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WORDS BY VICKY MCFARLANE

If you think you have the gift of the gab, but you are still not where you want to be in your personal relationships or professional life, you might want to take a look at your body language. Your body, through non-verbal cues is communicating up to 50% of the information you are transferring to other people – whether you like it or not.  Every last movement – whether it’s a slight tilt of the head or a pursing of the lips, or just plain twitching – is telling a story about you.

According to experts, people read your body language, either consciously or subconsciously, in order to decide whether you’re likeable, trustworthy or competent, and this judgment may happen within milliseconds of meeting someone.

But making your body language work for you and not against you is a challenge because the way we hold our body is a habit, and our movements have become subconscious. It is only when we speak about body language that people become aware of their posture. I know that while reading this you held your head that little bit higher, and pulled your shoulders back – and immediately you would have appeared more confident and energetic. That is the good news about body language , it only takes small nonverbal changes to make a big difference in how people perceive and relate to you. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so lets take a look at what you might be telling others with your body language – and what others are may be telling you with theirs. Let’s start from the top.

The position and angle of the head speaks volumes. A head tilted to the side can indicate interest, while an overly tilted head is a sign of sympathy. A lowered head can indicate a lack of confidence, so remember to keep your chin up!

We all know that eye contact is vital in effective communication. When you look directly into another person’s eyes you are displaying self-assurance, however if you avert your eyes while talking you are telling the other person that you are not confident in yourself, are scared, or feel guilty.  Be warned – staring can be seen as an aggressive gesture too.  Did you know that a person tends to blink more often if they are uncomfortable?  Keep an eye out for the furious blinker in your next meeting.

If you are proposing an idea to someone and they touch their nose, this may indicate that the person is not too keen on your proposal, however if they touch their chin they may be trying to make that all-important decision. Alternatively, a tug on the ear can indicate that the person is not too sure either way –meaning you may have room to maneuver.

The position of arms and shoulders is also very important. Pushing back one’s shoulders can demonstrate power and courage while folded arms creates a sort of barricade and can mean that the other person feels defensive – note that it can also simply indicate that the other person is cold  – so don’t jump to conclusions on this one.  Generally, hand movements that are upward and outward signify positive and open messages while downward facing palms can indicate one’s wish to stop and not approach.

The way we stand can also communicate powerful messages. Research from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, discovered that “posture expansiveness,” or the positioning of oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, was actually more important in hierarchical rank in influencing people’s perception of power.

There are countless other body movements, including leaning towards or away from someone, that can be analysed, however the fact of the matter is that body language has a huge effect on all of your personal interactions. There is simply no way to fully separate non-verbal communication from influencing an interaction. So, whether you’re applying for a job, asking for a raise, or meeting with a new client, being mindful of your body language can influence the other person’s perception of you and can set you up for either success or failure.

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