10 Powerful Body Language Tips

body language

The effective use of body language plays a key role in effective communication. Here are ten tips I’ve learned during the past two decades of coaching teams around the world:

1. To boost your confidence, assume a power pose
Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that simply holding your body in expansive, “high-power” poses (leaning back with hands behind the head and feet up on a desk, or standing with legs and arms stretched wide open) for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone—the hormone linked to power and dominance—and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Try this when you’re feeling tentative but want to appear confident. In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, these poses lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. The study also found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying.

2. To increase participation, look like you’re listening
If you want people to speak up, don’t multitask while they do. Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding, and tilting your head are other nonverbal ways to show you’re engaged and paying attention. It’s important to hear people. It’s just as important to make sure they know you are listening.

3. To encourage collaboration, remove barriers
Physical obstructions are especially detrimental to collaborative efforts. Take away anything that blocks your view or forms a barrier between you and the rest of the team. Even during a coffee break, be aware that you may create a barrier by holding your cup and saucer in a way that seems deliberately to block your body or distance you from others. A senior executive told me he could evaluate his team’s comfort by how high they held their coffee cups. It was his observation that the more insecure individuals felt, the higher they held their coffee. People with their hands held at waist level were more comfortable than those with hands chest high.

4. To connect instantly with someone, shake hands
Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. Touching someone on the arm, hand, or shoulder for as little as 1/40 of a second creates a human bond. In the workplace, physical touch and warmth are established through the handshaking tradition, and this tactile contact makes a lasting and positive impression. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. The trade show researchers also found that people react to those with whom they shake hands by being more open and friendly.

5. To stimulate good feelings, smile
A genuine smile not only stimulates your own sense of well-being, it also tells those around you that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. A genuine smile comes on slowly, crinkles the eyes, lights up the face, and fades away slowly. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.

6. To show agreement, mirror expressions and postures
When clients or business colleagues unconsciously imitate your body language, it’s their way of nonverbally saying that they like or agree with you. When you mirror other people with intent, it can be an important part of building rapport and nurturing feelings of mutuality. Mirroring starts by observing a person’s facial and body gestures and then subtly letting your body take on similar expressions and postures. Doing so will make the other person feel understood and accepted.

7. To improve your speech, use your hands
Brain imaging has shown that a region called Broca’s area, which is important for speech production, is active not only when we’re talking, but when we wave our hands. Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as we talk can actually power up our thinking.

Whenever I encourage executives and others to incorporate gestures into their deliveries, I consistently find that their verbal content improves. Experiment with this and you’ll find that the physical act of gesturing helps you form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences with more declarative language.

8. To learn the truth, watch people’s feet
When people try to control their body language, they focus primarily on facial expressions, body postures, and hand/arm gestures. Since the legs and feet are left unrehearsed, they are also where the truth can most often be found. Under stress, people will often display nervousness and anxiety through increased foot movements. Feet will fidget, shuffle, and wind around each other or around the furniture. Feet will stretch and curl to relieve tension, or even kick out in a miniaturized attempt to run away. Studies show that observers have greater success judging a person’s real emotional state when they can see the entire body. You may not know it, but instinctively you’ve been reacting to foot gestures all your life.

9. To sound authoritative, keep your voice down
Before a speech or important telephone call, allow your voice to relax into its optimal pitch (a technique I learned from a speech therapist) by keeping your lips together and making the sounds “um hum, um hum, um hum.” And if you are a female, watch that your voice doesn’t rise at the ends of sentences as if you are asking a question or seeking approval. Instead, when stating your opinion, use the authoritative arc, in which your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence and drops back down at the end.

10. To improve your memory, uncross your arms and legs
Body language researchers Allan and Barbara Pease report a fascinating finding from one of their studies: When a group of volunteers attended a lecture and sat with unfolded arms and legs, they remembered 38% more than a group that attended the same lecture and sat with folded arms and legs. To improve your retention, uncross your arms and legs. If you see your audience exhibiting defensive body language, change tactics, take a break, or get them to move—and don’t try to persuade them until their bodies open up.

If you follow these 10 simple and powerful body language tips, I guarantee you’ll increase your nonverbal impact in the workplace.

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About The Author

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, leadership consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt How You Lead, and most recently, The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them. For more information, contact CGoman@CKG.com or visit: http://www.nonverbaladvantage.com/ and http://www.ckg.com/

20 Comments »

  1. avatar

    The power pose isn’t supposed to be done in front of people rather used more as a private 2 min booster before a meeting etc. Just a note those thinking the author is saying to sit like this in meetings etc.

  2. avatar

    In the first tip, it may make the person doing the pose more feel for confident but when I go into an office and the person is sitting like that I think they look ridiculous and respect for them plummets.

  3. avatar

    4 me

  4. avatar

    How about instead of “looking like your listening” and ACTUALLY listening?

  5. avatar

    Very informative article for me. On raising pitch at the end, I should say that the French do this all the time, and that is a pleasant attention getter for me, not a turnoff. That mannerism is one of the reasons I like French speaking so much.

  6. avatar

    Lets read the rest. Don’t leave me hanging.

  7. avatar

    You forgot the most important thing. Eye contact when speaking. Confidence.

  8. avatar

    This is excellent. I rarely say that about self-help articles/blogs, but your advice here is good and noteworthy.

  9. avatar

    I am interested in learning about body language and welcome this site.

  10. avatar

    Production Manager

  11. avatar

    Very Good website.

  12. avatar

    Body language is pseudoscientific nonsense.

  13. avatar

    These are all true. Mirroring another person and a quick touch via a pat on the arm or shoulder works wonders. I learned all these tips 20 years ago selling cars. It all really works. Don’t forget to listen for real…………that is the # one tip. I love to sell anything. I hated sales at first but I had to do it 25 years ago to make a better life for myself. I am not a natural salesperson………it can be learned. I am proof.

  14. avatar

    Body language has always fascinated me- especially the unconcious type. It certainly gives the language reader insight into the mind of the sender. Suggest the book “What every BODY is saying” by Joe Navarro- great tools to pay attention to when trying to detect deception.

  15. avatar

    Thanks a lot for this. I will keep this in mind.

    Monina Shaughnessy

  16. avatar

    Excellent tips. Since the life long impact of these pointers could be as or more important than many formal academic training one receives, would it be crazy to think that kids (perhaps upwards of 6th grade) should be taught this as a subject? I think incorporating these body languages at an early age while personality is developing will be perhaps the most effective.

  17. avatar

    My favorite tips are number 1 – Power Pose, 7-Use your hands ( I do that all the time) and 10- Uncross your arms and legs. I had read that when people cross their arms they aren’t open to what you are saying. Very interesting that uncrossing your arms and legs means you retain more.

  18. avatar

    :P …oops I just noticed that I got a little to tipsy with the word tips…

  19. avatar

    I agree with Scott…All of these tips are awesome tips…
    Thanks…

  20. avatar

    Wow! Something useful, complete, well-written and easy to understand. I think I will actually print this, and recommend it to people. Tip #1 alone is fascinating. Who doesn’t want higher T? I like how there were references to research to back up some of the points. I don’t always believe that research findings are definitive, but they are at least suggestive.

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