Body language plays a massive role in who you are and how you come across to others.
The amount of confidence and openness your non verbal signals portray can help (or hinder) you in getting hired, closing a deal, networking, getting a pay rise, influencing a stakeholder, or even winning the girl.
In fact I’d go as far as to say your body language defines your presence. Woah – Bold statement?
Consider this scenario – two interviewees for the same job, both demonstrate competency and answer all the questions in exactly the same way. The first looks at her feet and constantly wrings her hands together. The other sits up straight and looks you in the eye. Who would you employ? The latter.
Another one – would you rather go to a presentation (of exactly the same content) where the presenter stands behind a podium and talks in a monotone voice, or one where the presenter moves around and adjusts the tone, speed and volume of their voice? The latter right?
Finally – you are in a bar with a guy getting frustrated at you being served before him, he is facing you at 45 degrees. Same situation but he is directly facing you front on, in both situations he says the same words at the same pace at the same volume, but which one is more aggressive? Again – it’s the latter.
See – your body language defines your presence.
So, what to do if your typical body language is reserved and you are not a naturally confident person?
Yep that’s right. Cheat. Here’s how:
1. Make eye contact
In business this is not just a good idea – it’s critical to your success. The good news? Because making eye contact is a voluntary movement it can be improved with practice.
Not only do our eyes sometimes send stronger signals than what we say, they can also be as informative as the whole of the rest of our face put together.
Baron-Cohen et al. (1997) had individuals trying to read emotions from photographs, sometimes seeing the whole face and sometimes just the eyes:
“For complex mental states, seeing the eye alone produced significantly better performance than seeing the mouth alone, and was as informative as the rest of the face.”
Bottom line: Looking someone directly in the eyes during a conversation is the key to making any social, professional, or romantic connection. We rely on eye contact to communicate and connect with one another on a conscious and unconscious level.
2. Stand up (straight)
This can be a challenge especially if you’ve been a sloucher all your life, but get over it. Standing up straight is perhaps the most important means of communicating confidence. Concentrate on pushing your shoulders back slightly when standing and walking. Nothing major, just a little. That one simple motion does wonders for your posture. Try it in front of the mirror – you’ll be surprised how much more confident it makes you look and feel.
Bottom line: Standing up straight is a super easy way to project confidence through body language.
3. Spread your legs (Erm no – not in that way girls)
Standing with your legs apart provides a stable base. Standing with feet shoulder width apart is a normal, relaxed pose. Slightly wider indicates that the person feels grounded and confident. Wider still makes the body appear bigger and is a signal of power and dominance. This also takes up more territory and shows domination. Taking this super stable position could also be the caveman inside us being prepared in case the other person attacks, or it could just be your way of flirting. Open legs displays and makes the genitals vulnerable. This can be a sexual display (especially men to women) or a show of power (especially between men).
This can also be applied when sitting. Sitting with slightly open legs is a relaxed position, showing you are comfortable. One or both legs may be flopped down sideways as far as they can go.
Sitting allows a wider opening of the legs and can thus be even more of a sexual ‘crotch display’. If the person is a bit worried about this, then their hands may cover the genitals. Or not…
Bottom line: If you want to portray confidence or flirtiness (is that even a word?) Stand or sit with your legs wider apart.
4. The forehead stare
It can be difficult to reprimand people or push back on senior stakeholders requests, especially if your words are fluffy and non-specific. This is where you can use body language to back yourself up. If you want to demonstrate superiority, look from one eye to the other then at the forehead when you talk to them.
Bottom line: Looking at someone’s forehead briefly will demonstrate superiority. Staring at it for too long will make them uncomfortable.
5. The head tilt
Got a dog or cat? Make a weird noise and watch how they react. Chances are their ears will prick up and they will tilt their head to one side. Unless you are Spock, you won’t have such control over your ears, but you do over your head. So when someone is talking to you tilt your head to one side and it gives the impression you aren’t just listening, but hanging on their every word.
Bottom line: To feign interest, tilt your head.
6. The foot point
When someone has your attention your feet point towards them. When you’re not engaged/ distracted your feet point away from that person, just like your focus. If your feet are pointing towards an exit, it’s clear that’s where you would prefer to be going. If you want others to feel comfortable use a 45 degree position. This allows them to think and act independently, without feeling pressured. But, conversely if you need to exert pressure turn to face them. Full frontal.
Bottom line: To act present, point your feet at the area of focus, at 45 degrees, unless you want to apply pressure.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually condone making a habit out of regularly faking being present, feigning interest or pretending to be confident when your not. Integrity is something very important to me in the workplace, however we all need a little help every now and then, and sometimes applying these simple body language cheats comes in very handy. Hope you enjoy playing with them.