Is what you say actually as important as the way that you say it, as well as how you carry your body when you do? Studies show that the answer is usually no. Our body language is often far more important than what we actually say.
Experts estimate that up to 55% of all human communication is non-verbal, and further 38% is tone of voice! After all, as mammals we have a lot more in common with our primate cousins than we often realize, and like them, we tend to use gestures, posture, facial expressions (and yes, even grunts and huffs) to express exactly what we mean. That leaves only 7% of what is actually communicated directly linked to the specific words that we choose.
I am sure you can think of an example of this in your own life—someone saying “have a nice day” in a way that conveys that they are actually wishing you the very opposite. Or maybe you can recall a time that someone was clearly out of sorts with discomfort as they told you a blatant lie? Tone of voice, physical expression, and general demeanor—these can all speak volumes, even when their message is unintended by the individual. Most of us are rather good at determining what a communicator really means, their words aside.
The main types of body language & what they say about you
Whether you intend to communicate certain emotions or not, your posture, gestures, and overall body language can tell your audience exactly what you are thinking. Here are the most common examples of body language and what they convey.
• Crossed arms across the chest
If you have heard about one type of body language, it is likely this example. Crossing your arms across your chest indicates that you are being defensive, feeling threatened or are irritated at the other people in your vicinity.
• Nail biting
Have you ever found yourself nibbling at your nails when you are feeling nervous, insecure, and/or stressed out? The people around you will certainly notice that you are engaging in this nervous habit, and they will instantly perceive your emotional state.
• Resting your hand on your cheek
Gripping your chin, placing your fingers over your lips, or resting your hand on your cheek? You are likely lost in thought or deep in concentration about the situation in question.
• Tapping or drumming your fingers
Tapping or drumming your fingers on an available surface (or fidgeting in another similar way) clearly demonstrates that you are growing bored or impatient. Keep this habit in check if you don’t want to offend.
• Open palms (facing upward or outward)
When you present your open palms to another person you are demonstrating honesty, sincerity, and submission. You are quite literally showing the other party that you have nothing to hide. This gesture can be used to diffuse a tense situation in a nonverbal way.
• Nodding your head
Subtly nodding your head while another individual speaks clearly demonstrates that you are in agreement with the ideas being conveyed. A smile and a nodding head can really start to build excitement and develop your relationship.
• Picking lint, examining split ends or similar action Picking lint or split ends shows the communicator that you think your micro tasks are more important than what they have to say. If you do not want to let your boredom show through, try to limit these kinds of actions.
• A lowered head Lowering your head (and therefore limiting eye contact) can indicate that you are hiding something. While this lowered head may actually be the result of shyness or humility, it can easily come across as shame or secrecy. Try to keep your head level and your gaze steady.
Improving your body language
You could be communicating all kinds of emotions, moods, and opinions to the people around you without even realizing it! A quick perusal of the body language list demonstrates that subtle movements and nervous tics can be making you appear shifty, dishonest, and timid.
If you are about to meet with a client, begin salary negotiations, or even go on a first date, you will want to avoid ‘negative’ body language and work on bolstering the kinds of body language that convey strength, honesty and character.
DO – practice with a power pose. Harvard professor Amy Cuddy has shown that just two minutes of ‘power posing’—standing tall, holding your arms out or toward the sky (or even standing in a Superman stance with your hands on your hips) can really increase your self-confidence. This is a great pose to employ before you enter into a situation that might make you nervous.
DON’T – gesture above your shoulders. While ‘talking with your hands’ is a great way to emphasize your message and keep your meeting focused, gesturing too wildly will make you look unhinged.
DO – Smile! Grimacing, frowning, and glaring will all send a negative message, but you may not realize that these expressions will also send negative signals to your brain. Tasks will become even more difficult if you have a negative expression on your face, but there is a cure—smile! Forcing yourself to smile can actually help to improve your mood and help you to conquer even your most dreaded tasks with ease! Furthermore, you might need to ask a friend what you're ‘resting face’ resembles.
DON’T – Fidget. Just like an uncomfortable child, when an adult fidgets while listening, it very clearly sends a message to those around them that they are bored and unprofessional. In the event that you are a constant fidgeter, consider this your number one challenge—spend time practicing standing and sitting still.
Body language & sales – Closing the deal
What does the above information mean for individuals who rely on using their body language to close sales deals? For one, you need to always remember that even if you are not conscious of your body language, your clients certainly are. While your words may convey a spectacular proposal ideally suited to their event, if your body language is communicating worry, doubt, and anxiety you are likely going to kill your sale. Be mindful, radiate confidence, calm, and skill—and you’ll increase your sales and your bottom line.