The famous actor and social commentator, Will Roger, once said, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Often people make split-second decisions, including whether they like and trust you or not, based on your appearance.
Discover how your body language might be harming your career and much more.
How much is your body language worth?
Albert Mehrabian in his study to understand the relative impact of facial expressions and spoken words declared non-verbal communication accounts for 93% and verbal only 7%.
We may question these figures. In fact, Mehrabian himself said these numbers were dependent on the context. But the fact remains that the major impact is not so much due to what we say as how we say it. In other words, the visual and the vocal have a greater impact than the merely vocal.
Non-verbal communication accounts for 93% and verbal only 7% according to Albert Mehrabian
Make a positive difference with positive body language
Therefore, whether it is in an interview, a presentation, an important meeting or establishing rapport at work or home, positive body language makes a big difference, because it reveals:
Luckily, we can be trained to recognise as well as improve our body language and associated communication skills.
Let’s understand some facts about Non-verbal Communication (NVC)
The different ways we communicate non-verbally are:
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Locomotion or movement
- Proxemics or the physical space we allow each other
- Paralanguage including our intonation, audibility, pitch and tone of voice
Even our adornment, the choice of our clothes, colour, accessories, etc. are static NVC. The other area of NVC where we have very little control is that of our physiological responses which include blushing, sweating, shaking hands or even stuttering.
Some Differences between Verbal And Non-Verbal Communication
Unlike verbal communication, NVC:
- Cannot be turned off
- Does not allow instant feedback
- Is not all learned but exists from the moment of birth
- Cannot be easily self-corrected
Five Important Roles of NVC
When you use descriptive gestures to reinforce the meaning of your words, you are repeating the message.
When you say you are fine, but with anguish clearly written on your face, your body language is contradicting your words. A word of warning here. People tend to believe their eyes more than ears.
If you pat someone on the back, shake their hand or give them a high five as you praise them, you are adding to your message.
If you want to indicate subtly that the speaker should end his talk, you can silently signal your message through gestures without a need for words.
If you bang on the table when angry during a debate or use other strong gestures you are emphasising your verbal message manifold.
Control the first impression you make
An interesting Forbes article warns us that our unspoken words may be sabotaging our career. Dan Burns, career expert and author of The First 60 Seconds: Win The Job Interview Before It Begins says:
“In many cases the decision to hire a person is made within that first 60 seconds of the time they meet.”
If first impressions are so critical that they could even win or lose us our jobs, we need to work on our body language.
How to Overcome the Top Eight Negative Non-Verbal Signals
1. Not Making Eye Contact or Staring
In certain cultures, if you fail to meet eyes, you could be perceived as dishonest and untrustworthy, or at the least nervous and lacking in self-assurance.
On the other hand, staring can be unnerving and seen as being aggressive.
Both extremes can make your audience uncomfortable or suspicious. It is a good idea to alternate between looking at the person you are talking to for a few seconds, looking away and again back at them.
You don’t have to gaze into their eyes. It is enough to make face contact, i.e. you can look very slightly above or below their eyes. But do not look down, up or past them. Bear in mind that in certain cultures not making eye contact is considered respectful.
Bear in mind that in certain cultures not making eye contact is considered respectful
2. Crossing your Arms
Often you could be perceived as being closed to ideas, defensive or disinterested. However, in some cultures, particularly in the east, you could come across as passive, even submissive.
Learn to have your arms loosely by your side. Focus on the talk and you will forget to be awkward with your arms.
Focus on the talk and you will forget to be awkward with your arms
3. Touching your Nose or Face
According to body language experts, both of these can be perceived as either lying or hiding something. It could even be seen as self-consciousness or anxiety.
Children clap their hands on their mouths when they lie. Adults have refined this by arresting the hand before it reaches the mouth and half-covering their mouths by touching their nose or face instead. Become aware of your mannerisms and work on stopping them.
Children clap their hands on their mouths when they lie. Adults have refined this by arresting the hand before it reaches the mouth
4. Poor Posture
Posture is very important to convey confidence and comfort. If you hunch over, sit at the edge of your chair, stretch out too much, lean too far forward or sit up ram-rod straight, you will give the respective impression of either being lazy, scared, arrogant, aggressive or uncomfortable.
Practise sitting with your bottom firmly at the back of the chair and then leaning forward just a little to show interest. Have your arms on the arms of the chair or loosely on your lap. When you are standing, mind your back. Straighten your spine, square your shoulders, own the floor and stand like a winner.
Have your arms on the arms of the chair or loosely on your lap
Tapping on the desk, shifting in your chair, shaking your leg, playing with your pen or hair, etc. suggest you are impatient or bored.
Again, understand your mannerisms, watch yourself in the mirror or ask your family and friends to warn you if you do these, and consciously work on overcoming them.
Tapping on the desk, shifting in your chair, shaking your leg, playing with your pen or hair, etc. suggest you are impatient or bored
6. Poor Handshake
The importance of a firm handshake cannot be over emphasised. A limp handshake or a painfully hard grip can both convey negative impressions of a weak or aggressive personality.
Practise a firm and friendly grip
Practise a firm and friendly grip. This makes the other person instantly feel they like you and can trust you.
Be aware of invading personal space of others. Depending on the culture or the context, you need to make sure you are neither uncomfortably close nor too far away so as to break rapport.
Remember it is not so much what you say as how you say it. So, your intonation should be warm and friendly; you should be audible, and the pitch of your voice should be low rather than high.
High pitch may sound argumentative, or at least emotional. Low pitch, conversely, sounds calmer and self-assured.
I Speak Two Languages: Body and English…
As the Hollywood actress Mae West famously put it, “I speak two languages: body and English.”
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that body language cues are not interpreted in isolation but in clusters.
The four C’s of context, culture, cluster and congruence finally determine how your body language is read. Therefore, the tips given here are more as guidelines. The fact is we all use body language whether we are conscious of it or not.
As the Hollywood actress, Mae West famously put it, “I speak two languages: body and English.” Understanding our own body language signals and those of others goes a long way in establishing rapport and creating lasting impressions.