You know that you can pick-up cues about the people around you from their body language.
So it stands to reason that they can do the same with you.
Obviously, you don’t want to come across “fake”, but chances are you probably don’t always put your best foot forward when it comes to body language.
It’s not just about projecting positive signs, and avoiding projecting negative signs, to the people you interact with.
There’s increasing evidence that by adopting positive body language, you also hard-wire your brain to believe in the impression you’re trying to project.
By acting more confident you become more confident.
As Nietzsche said “There are no actors, only actions.”
Many books about body language have been written by people who know much more about this than myself, and I recommend that you buy/borrow a few. Some of these tips come from What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro, which is an excellent place to start.
Nonetheless, here are some tricks to increase trust and rapport, along with some “common sense” advice that you may already know, but not actually be using. (That’s often the problem with common sense…)
Before eye contact’s even possible, a smile is noticed. Studies even show that a smile is recognizable from a distance of 300 feet.
Your smile gives the impression of confidence, as well as being friendly and attractive.
It also shows that you have social skills, which has got to be positive!
Smiling is truly contagious – a genuine smile (By genuine smile, I mean one where the corners of your eyes crinkle-up) is a force to be reckoned with. A study in Sweden showed that people have difficulty frowning when faced with a smile.
And in door-to-door sales, nodding while smiling is a well-known compliance technique.
Smiling also has the power to boost your own mood.
Since we’re seldom happy when we’re nervous, angry or stressed, smiling “tricks” your brain into believing you are happy and confident in the situation you’ve found yourself in.
In his book “59 Seconds”, Professor Richard Wiseman quotes a slightly bizarre study from the 1980s where participants held a pencil between their teeth in such a way as to force their faces into a smile. The results of the study showed that participants tended to experience the emotion associated with their expressions.
For the strongest effect, holding the smile for 15 to 30 seconds is better.
Dale Carnegie’s Self-Improvement classic speaks much of the power of a smile…
Confident people are not afraid to look directly into people’s eyes.
Submissive people avoid eye contact.
Lots of people, and men particularly, avoid eye contact with people they believe are dominant.
It’s not just confidence that strong eye contact indicates – lack of eye contact suggests you are not interested, or still worse, implies shiftiness.
This takes a little practice if you are not used to it. So try it every opportunity you get, not just when you’re at an important job interview.
If you make a point of making strong eye contact (I hope it goes to say, without staring…) with absolutely everyone you meet, you’ll be amazed at the increase in rapport you feel with people in general. And you’ll start to notice the effects almost immediately.
Your posture gives away a lot.
Good posture projects confidence, and even charisma.
Whereas stooped posture indicates a lack of confidence, a lack of energy, and a lack of effort.
If your ambitions lie in any sort of leadership role, those are clearly not the impressions you want to project.
It’s not the case that you need to be tall to “stand tall”, in fact the world is full of people who are short on stature, but who successfully project confidence due to how they carry themselves.
Hollywood, the music industry and politics are all great places to look if you want proof that you don’t need to be tall to have “presence”.
A good confident posture is about standing with your legs shoulder-width apart, standing upright with a straight back, and shoulders pulled-back somewhat – but not too much unless you’re looking for a career in the military.
Just as important as your standing posture, the way you sit creates an impression, and has a extra mine-field to negotiate.
We find ourselves sitting down in job interviews, negotiations and dates, and your success in all of these will often be partly-determined by your posture when seated.
Here’s there problem – if you appear too “compact” in your space, it projects insecurity.
But if you take up too much space, it can appear as arrogance.
Particularly for men, keeping your feet apart by several inches shows you are comfortable with yourself.
In men, it’s been found that sitting-up straight with both shoulders back boosts happiness and confidence, and also projects these feelings. (Less so with women, presumably due to an increased self-consciousness when pushing-out the chest.)
Open body language is important – instinct drives us to protect our vital organs when we are nervous, making it one of your “tells” if you are not feeling at your most confident.
Make sure you don’t fold your arms – classic “closed” body language – and always turn your abdomen to the person you’re speaking with.
Hands and Arms
Your hands are speaking, even when you aren’t.
Fidgeting appears nervous, so must be avoided at all costs.
Closed body language is also a no-no, as we’ve discussed.
Waving your hands around enthusiastically is not always appropriate.
And touching the face, hair or legs are also quoted as negative body language.
So naturally, many people struggle to know what to do with their hands when they need to impress.
After all, virtually everything has already been ruled-out.
Planning other things you can do with your hands when they are not being used to help communicate what you are saying can be very helpful.
Here’s a couple of ideas:
- If seated, rest one arm on another nearby seat. This gives the impression that you are confident in your space, and not nervous. (In the majority of situations, it’s probably best if that seat is vacant.)
- Mimicking the body language of people who do use body language to their advantage.
Donald Trump, for example, often uses a “steepling” hand gesture.