Body language might sound like a frightening topic, but it is possible to use it to your advantage. Both looks and behaviour influence your appearance.
And while it might not be possible to greatly alter your appearance without something radical like surgery, you can work to ensure that your physical behaviour portrays you as a confident, honest and friendly person.
Understanding other people’s body language as well as your own, can make a significant difference in any part of your life.
Researchers believe about 90% of emotional communication is non-verbal and ability to recognise emotions is a crucial determinant in making some more successful than others.
The best body language is often evident in those who lead a public life such as actors and politicians. Actors and actresses need to be masters of body language to convince their audience of the verity of their emotions.
But you don’t need to be an actor to use body language convincingly.
Body language is inextricably linked to emotional intelligence – the ability to read and interpret people’s feelings and being in touch with your own.
Once you are comfortable with these capabilities, your body language should reflect this and enable you to communicate more effectively because your verbal, emotional and physical messages will be in harmony with each other.
As body language includes posture, touching and gestures, it has many cultural nuances. In general the British and the Japanese are the most inhibited when it comes to touching the safe body zones, ie between the elbow and the shoulder.
And those of a Middle Eastern culture tend to stand much closer to each other when speaking – this can be unnerving for Westerners, who prefer space.
Of course body language is also gender specific. Women are four times more likely as men to touch a female friend, and it’s unusual to see sober men touch each other unless they’ve just scored a goal.
While interpreting body language can be a complex art, it is not that difficult to learn the fundamentals and use them at work. Even a basic understanding will help you develop better relationships with your colleagues and boss, navigate office politics and interview more successfully. One of the better books on the marketplace, Understanding Body Language In A Week, by Geoff Ribbens and Richard Thompson, and published by the Institute of Management, aims to show how body language in the workplace betrays your true attitudes.
It illustrates how you can use body language to become a more effective communicator and provides guidance on interpreting other people’s actions to enable you to read situations more effectively.
Projecting confidence in an interview or meeting is probably one of the most important qualities you can exhibit.
Always enter the meeting with confidence, walk with your head up and meet the eyes of your counterpart with a direct and level gaze. A firm handshake is well respected in the US and the UK, demonstrating a positive attitude, conviction, strength, openness and honesty.
When you have your interview or appraisal, etiquette also dictates that you shouldn’t sit down before the person you are meeting. When you do sit, it is recommended that you sit upright, yet not uncomfortably so.
If you lean too far forward you will seem too aggressive, and if you lean too far back or slouch you will come across as nonchalant and too casual.
Keep both feet on the floor and if possible practice what Ribbens and Thompson refer to as mimicry – the act of copying the other person’s behaviour, an indirect way of confirming one’s common ground with the person to whom you are speaking. Try to avoid foot tapping, pen clicking or fidgeting in your seat – all gestures which tell the interviewer you are nervous, lacking in composure.
Of course a bit of ‘stage fright’ is good, as that should give you just enough edge to be alert and perform at your best. You should also be aware that covering your mouth with your hands or touching your nose are gestures associated with deception.
Finally, recognise that your general appearance is as important as your body language. Jacqueline de Baer, whose eponymous corporate clothing business has advised many FTSE-100 companies on work wear, believes that your clothes are a part of your own personal brand identity.
She also argues that what we wear is an expression of our character and advises people to make sure they dress with respect to their environment and colleagues.