Body language is really important and surprisingly perhaps, the best possible advice is just to forget about it! Here’s why.
- Everyone thinks they know about body language and some want to learn various ‘moves’. Beware! If you’re not very careful and very skilled, you can look at best incredibly stupid!
- The real message will leak out through your body language so, if you say something you don’t entirely believe, be aware you may be giving inconsistent messages. The body language will usually win. Therefore, rephrase your message so that you’re comfortable with what you are saying and then your vocal and body language messages will be consistent.
- In addition to inconsistent messages, your audience will only be distracted by your body language in a few, particular circumstances:
- If it is bizarre – you doing something which is not naturally you.
- If it is irritating, such a pen clicking or your nerves show or you have an unpleasant habit!
- But by far the most common reason is when you are boring them!
In each of these, the audience will be distracted and not listen and then may focus on how you look or stand or speak or dress etc.
- When listening, show it by nodding or making appropriate noises e.g. ‘uha’ etc
- Sitting opposite someone is considered more adversarial than sitting beside them.
- When standing, keep your distance. Maintaining handshaking distance will ensure you don’t get inside the other person’s space.
- When standing and speaking to someone, ‘square on’ indicates you do not want to be interrupted by another person, while and ‘open stance’ invites someone to join you.
- And now for some specifics:
- Do hold eye contact as a way of making your point and showing that they can trust you (assuming they can!).
- Hold good pauses. They are a sign of a very comfortable speaker and can enormously enhance your gravitas.
- Don’t cross your arms, even if it’s comfortable or you’re cold! The body language ‘experts’ out there may well draw the wrong conclusion.
- Don’t point with your palm facing down. It can appear aggressive. Much better if you wish to point that you do so palm up.
- Be careful when trying to read other people’s body language. Rely on your instinct and common sense. Trying to identify subtle behaviours will take your focus off the meeting and may make you appear intrusive.
- Always be conscious of cultural differences when both reading body language and exhibiting it. For example, some cultures are much less comfortable with eye contact than others, so be prepared to adjust accordingly.
Remember, your body language is really important. It should be authentically yours and not ‘put on’. While you might say one thing, the impact will frequently be measured by your body language, so, get the words right and let the body language follow naturally.