What we say, verbally, is only a small part of how we communicate with others. The most influential part of communication involves the things we don’t say out loud. It’s what people see that has the greatest impact on how we are perceived.
The nonverbal signals we “put out” conveys our message more powerfully than words. And whether we are conscious of it or not, we send out signals that don’t always match up what we’re trying to communicate—or how we want others to perceive us.
Whether we admit it or not, we make sweeping judgements about people based on their body language. Think about the last time you met someone at a networking event. Did that person maintain good eye contact with you, or was he or she fidgeting and scanning the room? If you’re talking with someone who appears to be disengaged, it doesn’t really matter how good the topic of conversation is, you’ve already formed an opinion of him or her based on their body language—and it’s not likely someone you’ll seek out again.
Our body sends cues to the person we’re talking to that has little to do with what’s being said. It says, “I’m bored and uninterested,” or “I’m excited to meet you!”
No matter what words we use, the body doesn’t lie.
Our body language dictates the way people see us but it can also shape our own beliefs on who we are.
Research from Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that by holding your body in an expansive “power pose”—leaning back with hands behind the head and feet on a desk, or standing with legs and arms stretched open—will help you feel more confident. Striking these “high-power” poses, for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone—the hormone linked to power—and lowers the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Be conscious of how you’re standing. It’s the first giveaway on whether you are a person of power or not. When you stand straight, with your shoulders back and your head up, you are conveying the message that you are confident and at ease in the situation.
If we’re uncomfortable in a situation, we tend to make ourselves smaller—we close up. We slouch, keep our feet pointed away from us, have our arms crossed and avoid eye contact. Although we may not realize it, these signals give the impression that we’re unapproachable, defensive and uninterested.
It’s important to note that that the stories we tell ourselves before entering into a situation can have a huge impact on the way our body responds. If you tell yourself that you can’t do it, your body language will communicate that.
What are you saying with your body language? One way to find out is to take a look for yourself. Have someone videotape you engaged in a conversation, and then take a look at the way you are communicating – nonverbally, that is. Ask yourself how you would view someone who looks, talks and acts like you do.
Adjust as needed.