The Power of Body Language, by Richard Webster
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
Understanding and using body language gives you a powerful tool that will improve your life in many ways. You can observe the body language of others to determine their moods, motivations, and feelings. You can also use body language to project whatever it is you want others to see. If you feel nervous and insecure, for instance, you can hold your head high and stand straight to convey an image of confidence. Other people will assume you are confident, and because your body is expressing it, you'll feel confident, too.
We all use body language unconsciously. If you meet a friend unexpectedly, you'll know instantly if he or she is happy, sad, angry, frustrated, or irritated. This is easy to do with friends and family, but you also constantly read the body language of strangers. You might notice someone in a shopping mall and know right away that he or she is feeling sad. Have you ever started to approach someone, and then hesitated or moved in another direction? Without a word being spoken, the other person's body language told you that it wasn't a good time to interrupt him or her. It's usually a simple matter to tell if someone is happy, even if he or she isn't smiling. You can probably tell if someone's smile is genuine or forced. You can sometimes tell from the person's body language if he or she is lying, or telling the truth. If you've ever noticed people freeze in terror, tremble with rage, shrug their shoulders, tap their fingers, raise an eyebrow, stiffen their upper lip, flush with embarrassment, or raise their chin, you've observed, and probably interpreted, their body language. Consequently, you, like everyone else, are already good at reading body language.
However, even though you possess these skills, good is not enough. Imagine you're a salesperson, and you're subconsciously sending out a message telling people that you're not approachable. You may have a habitual scowl on your face, and not know that it's turning people away. It's a simple matter to remedy that, and if you did, your sales would immediately increase. As a salesperson, you know that you need to gain rapport with your customers to make a sale. Certain body language techniques, such as mirroring the customer's posture, and listening with your eyes, are good ways to gain rapport.
You might be looking for a partner, or maybe just a date. Your chances of success will improve if you look happy and keep your arms and legs uncrossed. Crossed arms and legs create a barrier, and subliminally tell people you don't want to be approached. Salespeople learn techniques to make people uncross their arms, because they immediately become more open when the barrier has been removed. I find it fascinating that the biggest problem people have when seeking a partner is an inability to recognize the non verbal messages that are being sent to them. They either misunderstand them, or fail to recognize them. Speaking generally, women are better than men at picking up messages of this sort. If you study body language, your chances of getting a date improve enormously.
A few months ago, I met a friend for lunch. I knew she'd been finding it hard to get work, but all the same, I was surprised at how despondent she looked when she came into the restaurant. After ordering her a drink, I asked her how she was getting on.
"It's so hard out there," she told me. "It's almost impossible to get an interview, and even when I do, I can tell right away that they're not interested in employing me."
"Maybe you're sending out the wrong vibes," I said. "I saw you come in from the car park. You looked down in the dumps. What do you do when you get an interview?"
"I'm just me, I guess. I get nervous, and find it hard to give good replies to the questions they ask me."
When I found out she had an interview coming up, I offered to teach her a few body language tips that would make her feel more confident and at ease during the interview.
"Some may seem almost too obvious," I said. "Naturally you should appear happy, smile, and make good eye contact. When people are nervous, they find it hard to appear positive. You also need to start doing this before you even enter the building. You have no idea who may be watching you arrive. Stand tall, keep your head up, and walk with a sense of purpose. If you do that, you'll feel more confident, and that will carry on throughout the interview."
"That wouldn't fool anyone," she said.
I laughed. "Funnily enough, it will fool you. When you start acting in a confident manner, you'll feel confident, which means you'll be confident. When you're confident, you'll be able to sell yourself well at the interview."
We discussed a number of other ideas she could use to help sell herself at the interview. As it turned out, she didn't get that particular job, but she was excited when she spoke to me about it.
"I felt so different in the interview," she told me. "I kept both feet on the floor, sat upright in my chair, and kept my hands in my lap. I felt relaxed. I even asked questions, something I've always found hard to do in that sort of situation."
She also observed the body language of the person interviewing her. "I noticed his hand gestures, and how he nodded his head slowly when he wanted me to keep talking. He leaned forward and smiled frequently. I know why he did all those things now. It's funny—I never noticed things like that before."
It took her two more interviews before she was offered a position, and by that time she'd lost her fear of interviews. She's now observing her own, and other people's, body language everywhere she goes.
Knowledge of body language is useful in every area of life. Bodies really do speak louder than words. Once you've learned the basics, you can use your knowledge of body language to charm, captivate, and influence others. Other people will find you more approachable, and your dealings with others will be smoother and more successful than ever before. You'll feel in control in any type of situation.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2014. All rights reserved.