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While being a smooth talker is important, you have to match what you say to your body language. Mismatched words and body language may sometimes spell disaster. Communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and just 7% actual words spoken.
In this article, we will tackle the basic body language you should be employing when around people.
1. The Face
When smiling, make sure that you give a ‘full smile,’ teeth exposed, eyes pulled back, and your wrinkle lines beside the eyes show. A ‘semi-smile,’ like a tight-lipped smile without exposed teeth, can be misinterpreted as a fake smile or that you have something to hide.
Smiling indicates you are happy and not a threat. You are implying openness to conversation and building a new relationship. As a result, you are reciprocated with a smile virtually every time.
If even by giving a full-smile, you are reciprocated by a ‘semi-smile,’ don’t be quick to judge that it is a fake smile. It may be the person is caught off-guard, not used to wearing a full-smile, or just embarrassed of their wrinkles. Whatever the reason, you should still give a full-smile every time.
2. The Head and Eyes
When conversing with someone, it’s a good practice to do a ‘head nod.’ A head nod is like a hindered bow done slowly and repeatedly. It signals agreement, positive feelings, and good for creating rapport. It is also contagious, therefore a good arsenal to use when trying to convince someone to agree with you.
To show the other person you are interested in the conversation, you can also employ the ‘head tilt.’ A head tilt is similar to a dog’s head tilt when hearing a strange sound. When doing the head tilt, you are sending a signal to the speaker you are intently listening to what he has to say.
Avoid doing the ‘head up’ or ‘head down’ gesture. A head up gesture is where you have your forehead held high and you are looking at the person down your nose. It signifies aggressiveness and superiority. The head down gesture is where your chin is held down. It signifies you are judgmental and aggressive. Maintain a neutral head position.
Always look at the person you are talking to directly in the eyes. The combination of looking directly in the eyes, head nodding, and head tilting will make the person feel you are genuinely interested.
3. The Arms and Hands
If you are around people, do not cross your arms on your chest. Crossing the arms makes a barrier to block out what we perceive as undesirable or awkward situation. It also indicates insecurity and disagreement. Do not put objects, such as a handbag, in front of your chest. It also makes you form a barrier, even if the object is held with only one hand.
For shaking hands, make sure to give a strong grip, but not too strong that it will hurt the other person. You may slightly touch the person’s elbow with your other hand, or touch the back of their shaking hand with your other hand. This displays you are happy to meet them and can instantly build rapport.
Never hide the palms to show openness. Always show the palm when conversing. It shows you are sincere and truthful. When men tell a lie, it is noticeable that either they put their hands in their pockets or cross their arms to hide the palms. This is a sign they are being defensive.
4. The Body
If you are in a seated position while conversing, lean towards the person speaking. This indicates you are genuinely interested. Leaning backwards, on the other hand, indicates disinterest. While leaning forward, it is a good combination to do the head tilt or head nod.
On a standing position, do not stand head on. That is, do not face each other directly if you are talking to an acquaintance. This can mean aggressiveness. Stand at a 45-degree angle to each other. This is considered a neutral position.
You may, however, stand facing each other directly if you want to express intimacy. Make sure the other person is comfortable and open to intimacy or it can be misinterpreted as aggressiveness.
5. The Legs
Just as with the arms, do not cross the legs. For men, crossing legs while standing expresses inferiority. For women, it may express unwillingness to accept what is presented. Standing with feet apart is similarly undesirable. For men, it indicates aggressiveness or dominance. It is advisable to have a neutral stance, with feet close to each other. This signifies willingness to listen.
When sitting, you should also avoid crossing the legs. It expresses you are not open to others’ opinions and aggressiveness.
It is important to note that a single isolated gesture is not enough to gauge a person’s mood. The combination of all the gestures is necessary. Also, be mindful that some cultures are not in line with what is written in this article. A head nod may mean ‘yes’ to Westerners, while Bulgarians use the ‘no’ gesture to mean ‘yes.’
If you want more information about body language, I recommend “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease.
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