In my last write up, I discussed briefly how body language was critical in verbal communication. To read just check it here.
Non-verbal signals can increase trust, clarity, and add interest to your presentation when yielded properly. In this article, I will centre on non-verbal communication with an emphasis on postures and gestures that affect how our audience perceive us. We live in a world of interdependence and we cannot avoid communicating with the people around us whether in a team, a class or audiences we regularly interact with. In order to ensure we are not communicating wrongly with our body language, here are ten worse body postures and gestures to avoid.
1. Avoiding Eye contact - when you don't look someone in the eye it can signal deception or lack of respect. You may not have disrespect in mind but perhaps you were distracted while listening to the other party. It's helpful to apologise and give them your full attention. In presenting to a larger audience, your ability to look
2. Slouching- Bad posture signals to others that you lack self confidence and have poor self esteem or low energy levels. Good posture as in standing upright with chin up is synonymous with confidence and good self esteem. If you've been walking and speaking with your head down and slouching all these years, now is the time to practice and develop that confident upright, chest up, Power-Pose.
3. Weak handshake- A handshake that isn't firm signals lack of authority. One that is too firm also could make you look overly aggressive. The right handshake can give you instant credibility and the wrong one can cost you the job or contract. So no "dead fish" or "bone-crusher" grips please. Many years ago, I recall a gentleman's handshake after a meeting that nearly broke my wrist. Months later, when we became friends, I jokingly reminded him of how he wanted to exhibit his "Tarzan" tendencies on the opposite sex. Remember, while a great handshake is important for all professionals, it is especially key for women whose confidence is evaluated by the quality of their handshake even more than with their male counterparts.
4. Folding of arms- This stance creates a sense of being closed off and may signal to others that you are disinterested in them or don't buy into their message. I know many people think folding of arms is a sign of being confident and have observed this many in social settings which is far from it. Keeping your posture erect, your shoulders back and head held high denotes more confidence.
5. Looking down- Looking down while making a point in a presentation may lose its impact and power and can make you look weak. In everyday interactions, it can make you look uncomfortable and self- conscious. You may be an introvert or shy and in some of our cultural settings, an extended eye contact with a superior may be regarded as inappropriate, however, in a business setting, maintaining 50-60% eye contact is generally acceptable. A recent UK study found photos of people who are looking directly at you more acceptable and the very same faces were found to be less attractive when looking away or off to the side.
6. Angling body away from others- Giving too much distance or angling the body away from the person you are speaking with or not leaning into a conversation shows that you are uncomfortable, distrustful or disinterested in the subject. Research into effects of posture on confidence conducted at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools has shown that leaning into a conversation makes more trustworthy and comfortable with you. Remember, people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than what you are saying.
7. Fidgeting and Touching Hair, biting nails or shaking legs and feet can reveal an excess of energy, which signals discomfort or anxiety. Keeping your movements relaxed, using open arm gestures and showing the palms of your hands are generally silent signals of credibility and candour. So next time when anxiety sets in when you are presenting to an audience, avoid fidgeting, nail-biting and ostensibly shaking your legs and feet.
8. Invading Others' Space- when you are closer than 1.5 feet (36") from a colleague or you treat their possessions and office space as if it were your own, it signals disrespect and that you don't have a clear understanding of personal boundaries. Personal Boundaries allows us to set physical, emotional and mental limits and protects from being manipulated, used, or violated by those we interact with. Many men fall into trouble at work because they unknowingly or knowingly invaded the space of the opposite sex and are hit with a harassment lawsuit. Avoid intruding in other people's space by being too close for comfort.
9. Glancing at the clock or your watch or looking past a person who you are speaking with will communicate disinterest, rudeness, or arrogance. If you find you have to leave the conversation or interaction due to lack of interest, politely ask to leave and exit accordingly. If you are speaking to a wider audience who start looking at their watch, don't just ignore it. It could be a sign of boredom or disinterest. Act on the signals you are receiving and re-strategise accordingly.
10. Frowning or Scowling - This when done often unintentionally and unconsciously, communicates unhappiness and disagreement. A smile or laughter on the other hand, signifies a welcoming, approachable and accepting personality. I often say in my presentations "your smile is your new logo and your personality your new business card." The human brain prefers happy faces as we can spot a smile 300 feet away - the length of a football field. Research from Duke University proves that we like and remember those who smile at us. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile back at you generating corresponding positive feeling. If you are the kind of person who often frowns or scowls, then make a deliberate effort to smile regularly. Practice this till it becomes second nature.
When properly used, body language can be your key to greater success. It can help you develop positive business relationships, influence and motivate the people who report to you, improve productivity, bond with members of your team, present your ideas with more impact and help you project confidence, credibility and exude a positive personal brand.
About Em Bartels
Em Bartels is the founder and Executive Director of Excell Consulting GH, Excell Branding GH, a Personal Branding Expert and Executive Coach with a track record of building incredible personal brands that help executives to Stand Out, become visible and attract a passionate tribe.
An ardent public speaker and elocution expert, Ms Bartels supports executives and professionals in the art of oral delivery and diction.
She is the founder of GPA Awards, a Professional Development Organisation that promotes Creativity, Innovation and Excellence.