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The incredible importance of body language

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Body language can say a lot about a person. From how to stand to internal psychology, Jeff Haden explores the benefits of being mindful of how you act.

You’re attending a networking event. A colleague offers to introduce you to a potential client. You walk over to meet him, ready to make a great first impression… but in some ways it’s too late – the person you’re about to meet has already made assumptions about you based on your clothing and on your body language.

Unfair? Maybe, but also the reality: body language has a significant impact on how we’re perceived by other people. But that’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity, especially if you communicate the right messages – to others and to yourself.

So what do you need to be mindful of?

Man standing with his arms crossed

Mirroring

Mimicking the other person’s body language can increase your likeability, and it’s easy to do – in fact we instinctively mimic our close friends’ postures and hand gestures. And there’s a bonus: research shows mirroring can also help you better understand the emotions the other person is experiencing.

Try it

Nod when the other person nods. Use your hands when you speak if the other person does. Smile when the other person smiles. Not only will you be more likeable, you may also find yourself empathising – or celebrating – with the other person.

Aligning

A great nonverbal way to reduce perceived conflict is to position yourself at an angle. Ideally, stand or sit side by side.  Intuitively this makes sense; “squaring up” to another person can come across as intimidating or even threatening.

Try it

When what you need to say could make the other person feel challenged – like giving critical feedback or engaging in a tough negotiation – shift slightly so you’re standing or sitting at an angle. And if you're confronted, don't back away. Simply shift to a slight angle. You'll nonverbally reduce the level of perceived confrontation and could make an uncomfortable discussion feel a little less adversarial.

Bowing

I know. We were all taught to stand tall, square your shoulders, stride purposefully forward, and shake hands with a firm grip.

While it’s fine to display nonverbal self-confidence, go too far and others may think you're trying to establish your importance. That makes your interaction seem like it's more about you than it is the other person – and no one likes that.

Instead, tilt your head forward a bit when you meet someone. This shows that you respect them, establishes that you’re humble and limits any differences in status that are perceived.

Try it

The next time you meet someone, tilt your head forward and show you feel privileged by the introduction. You’ll be surprised by how powerful this can be – after all, we all like people who like us, and by showing you’re pleased to meet the other person, they instantly begin to like you.

Power posing

Spend two minutes standing with your back straight, feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, and placing your hands on your hips in a Superman pose can, according to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, dramatically increase your level of confidence.

Who can’t use a quick boost of confidence before an important meeting, sales pitch, or presentation?

Try it

Pick a situation where you know you will feel anxious, hesitant, or even scared. Stand tall, suck in your waist and expand your chest, and think powerful thoughts. If you don’t want to put your hands on your hips, holding your arms out to the side like Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic works just as well. Breathe deep and visualise yourself succeeding at whatever you’re about to do… just make sure no one is watching.

And then… go and succeed!

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