Do you ever pay much attention to your body language? Most people aren’t consciously aware of theirs, but whether you like it or not, our facial expressions, gestures and posture send non-verbal messages to others.
That job interview you thought you’d aced but didn’t get a call back? Maybe your body language suggested that you weren’t all that enthusiastic about the offer. Or the party where you wondered why no one came up to talk to you? Perhaps your body language was saying “I’m not in the mood to socialize.” See the pattern?
Not everyone of us is blessed with the skills of a people person, but fortunately by understanding more about your own body language, it’s easy to appear as friendly as the person you really are. Joan Bird, who is one of the UK’s leading experts in behavior and language and success coach, offers expert insight into some of the common body language scenarios you may adopt and what vibes you’re giving off:
1. Crossed arms and legs
What it says about you: Keeping your arms and legs crossed might be second nature to you but to other people, it can make you look defensive, warns Bird. If you want to appear approachable, adopting a crossed posture is a big no-no.
2. Eye contact
What it says about you: Making eye contact during conversations shows your sincerity and interest in the person you’re talking to and also helps you fake confidence. But beware of overdoing it: Holding intense eye contact can make people feel uncomfortable. “Prolonged eye contact can be disconcerting or even aggressive if you remain still and don’t blink,” warns Bird. She also highlights the body language often adopted by liars, who may over-compensate by holding eye contact for longer with no pauses to come across as honest and above board. Unless you want to be tarred with a similar brush, intense eye contact isn’t always a good move!
3. Angle of your body
What it says about you: As Bird points out, leaning forwards can have positive impact that says, “I’m really interested in you and want to hear what you have to say” or “I really want to interact with you and share what I know.” You can quickly establish a rapport this way but be careful not to lean too far towards the other person, as this can be intimidating or come across as being too desperate. Watch the other person to ensure that you’re not invading their personal space, advises Bird.
Leaning backwards can make you appear more relaxed and confident but beware of leaning too far back as you can look over-confident or uninterested. “If you’re saying very little and avoiding eye contact, it could also denote aloofness or even look like a display of superiority or power play,” says Bird.
4. Touching your face
What it says about you: Constantly touching your face and neck can make you seem nervous, especially during conversation. For a female, touching your neck and stroking your hair can also be seen as a sign that you fancy the person you’re interacting with, says Bird. If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, try using them to back you up while you’re speaking.
Your body language as a package
If you’re horrified to discover that you have a habit of adopting a less-than-friendly posture, say crossing your arms when you talk, don’t fly into a massive panic just yet. People don’t necessarily read body language gestures in isolation, says Bird. Instead, we read them in conjunction with other non-verbal cues, which make up the vast majority of our communication.
Meaning your crossed arms and legs aren’t damning on their own — as long as the rest of your body sends a positive signal. When in doubt, flash a warm smile! It’s the universal language of friendliness and it’s contagious.
Establish a good rapport with people by learning about non-verbal cues.