Whether you’re getting ready to give a presentation, go for a job interview or out on a date, knowing what your body language is saying for you is just as important as making sure your handbag and shoes match. Your words can say all the right things, but if your body is saying something different, you might as well stayed home.
Nonverbal communication, things such as where you place your hands, how you sit, your posture and even how you cross your legs, make up about 93 percent of what you say to others without using any words at all. Just the way you lean in your seat can say that you’re disinterested in whatever is going on around you. Think about it, when you are hanging on someone’s every word, you tend to lean forward, look them straight in the eye and really listen to what they are saying. If you aren’t interested, you’re probably slouched in your chair looking at everything but the person talking to you.
On the other hand, knowing what different body signals say can help you interpret what someone is really thinking rather than what they are saying. Having that information can help you ascertain what a client, business associate, friend or significant other is really looking for.
The most important part of nonverbal communication is what people see followed by what they hear. Facial expressions are the first thing anyone notices about you, and what they will probably pay the most attention to.
Smiling is the easiest thing to do to appear friendly, confident and at ease and is appropriate at just about any time. Just be careful not to purse your lips or twist your mouth to one side because you can look as if you are holding something back. You may just be thinking about what the other person is saying, but you will be giving a negative signal.
Another way to appear open is to keep your arms relaxed and at your sides. It’s basic knowledge that if you keep your arms crossed, even if you are just cold, you appear to be closed off from the people around you. Also, while gesturing with your hands can make you seem enthusiastic, it can also be interpreted as a sign of uncertainty or immaturity. You should try to keep your hands where they can be seen and avoid fidgeting. Sticking your hands under your pockets or under the table or playing with your hair can be interpreted as nervousness.
Another way to seem open is to tilt your head to the side. Keeping your head straight will make you come across as authoritative and people will tend to take you more seriously. Don’t forget about eye contact! If you make too little, you will seem insincere. At the same time, you don’t want to seem like you are in a staring contest with someone. Experts say that maintaining eye contact about 60 percent of the time is enough to seem sincere and professional without being too forceful.
Remember all those times your mother told you to sit and stand up straight? Well, mommy did know best. If you are slouched in your chair, you not only look unprofessional, you also look disinterested and tired. Who wants to be around or do business with someone like that?
How close or far away you sit from someone is another important nonverbal signal. Because every culture is different, if you are meeting with someone from another county, you will want to make sure you are familiar with their customs. Typically, people from the Middle East stay about 15 inches apart, Europeans about 20 inches, Americans keep between 25 and 30 inches between them and Asians keep between 35 and 40 inches between each other. But since you probably don’t keep a tape measure in your handbag, an easier way to remember it might be: people from the Middle East are just close enough to hug, Americans are close enough to shake hands and Asians are far enough away from each other to bow.
You may think you aren’t guilty of any of these body language faux pas, but you may be wrong! Ask someone what impression you give when you are listening, watch yourself in a mirror or videotape yourself. Watch everything you do and you just might find something you can improve upon to help you land your next big job!
Photo: Neysa Ruhl Photography
Location: Gateway Quarter
Model: (left to right) Vicki Hiance, Amber Bennett