Learn how to read other people’s body language. And understand what you’re doing with your body so you can communicate more effectively.
When greeting someone, smile, look them in the eye and introduce yourself in a confident voice. Also, remember that in most western countries (the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, etc.), a firm handshake is seen as a sign of confidence and trust; and a limp handshake could make you appear weak, submissive or disinterested.
It’s important to hold the correct amount of eye contact. If you stare, the other person might feel uncomfortable; and if you don’t maintain enough eye contact, they could think you lack confidence or aren’t interested. In general, you should maintain eye contact between 70 and 80% of the time.
Make sure your body is aligned with the person you’re talking to. This means that your body should be facing them, with your feet pointing towards them and your shoulders angled at them. This shows you’re interested and focused on them. On the other hand, if the person you’re talking to turns any part of their body away from you (their eyes, knees, feet, shoulders, etc.), it could mean that they aren’t interested, or they want to leave.
In social situations, focus your gaze on the triangular area between your listener’s eyes and mouth. This is known as the “social gaze”. It’ll make you appear friendly and confident. Avoid dropping your gaze below the mouth as this could be misinterpreted as something more than just friendly interest!
Try to keep a positive look on your face so it looks like you’re interested. In order to avoid a blank look, keep listening carefully to what the other person is saying, and comment on the information or ask questions.
Personal body space
Be careful not to stand too close to the person you’re talking to. People from certain countries expect more personal body space than others. For example, in the US, experts have calculated that good friends usually stand between 45cm and 120cm from one another; but for acquaintances or business colleagues, it’s between 120cm and 350cm. These figures may vary from country to country.
A bag, papers, an arm or a drink held in front of your body acts like a barrier to others and can make you appear cold, protective and distant. Keep objects away from the front of your body to project a more positive image and to appear more open.
According to body language experts, when we’re interested in something or someone, our pupils involuntarily dilate (become bigger). The opposite can happen when we’re disinterested (our pupils contract– become smaller). If you notice someone’s pupils dilate, it could be a sign that they like you.
If you’re sitting down, try to keep your feet, hands and legs under control. This will make you appear calm and confident. Avoid shifting about too much, drumming your fingers or bouncing a foot up and down as they’re all signs of boredom, discomfort or nervousness.
Involuntarily touching a part of the body (particularly the face) is often a sign that someone is under stress or nervous. And a quick touch to the mouth, eye, ear or nose as someone answers a direct question could be a sign that they’re lying. So, if you notice the other person touch their nose, ear or neck when you ask them a question, they might not be telling the truth.
Mirroring involves copying what the other person is doing. For example, if the person you’re talking to folds their arms, you do too. Or, if they lean forward, you do the same. We tend to mirror people involuntarily when we trust or like them. And research has shown that subconsciously we think that people who mirror our movements are more persuasive and honest than those who don’t. So, if you notice the other person is copying the way you sit, move or talk, it could mean that they trust and like you. On the other hand, you could use mirroring to show the other person that you’re trustworthy. So, if the other person leans forward, you could lean forward too. If they place their hands on their thighs, you might do the same. However, don’t make this too obvious. And be careful – people who know about this could notice you doing it. Also, the other person might be deliberately mirroring you in an attempt to make you think that they like or trust you. Watch out!
Communication is complex. But an understanding of body language can make it easier!