Besides our age and lifestyle habits, our bodies reveal much more about us than we think. There’s a reason why phrases like “dragging our feet”, “shouldering a burden” and “your emotions are written all over your face” have come into being. All these refer to the instinctive physical reactions that are initiated by our feelings.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, we are constantly sending out cues with our body language. And while our actions may at times betray our true feelings when we’re trying to hide them, they can also be harnessed as a tool for better communication.
How, then, can we control what comes to us naturally? It simply is a matter of being more aware of the negative signals we send unintentionally and then making it a point to reinforce those that are positive. Good body language can help you win the trust and liking of others more easily — isn’t that enough of a benefit to make you want to learn it?
1. Take note of your handshake
Handshakes are crucial because you’ll make the first contact with new people you meet via them. Too limp a hold sends across a message that you’re weak, while a bone-crushing grip will ensure the other party remembers you for the wrong reasons. A good handshake has a firm but light grip, lasts about three seconds and takes around three pumps — any more than that could make things a little awkward.
2. Maintain eye contact
You’ve heard this before — the eyes are the windows to the soul. Interpersonal communication skills training consultant, John Sih, says that establishing visual bonding with the person we are communicating with (for at least three to four seconds) is very important because it shows interest, confidence and a willingness to connect.
3. Avoid “closed” body language
You might not be aware but these gestures project insecurity or a hostile attitude: Crossing your arms, assuming the “fig leaf” position (placing or crossing your hands in front of your groin), covering or rubbing your face with your hands, and not responding positively by nodding and smiling appropriately.
4. Read other people’s body cues
Communication is a two-way process — besides mastering your own body language, you’ll also need to learn to decipher others’ gestures. Try mirroring the body signals the other party is sending you — but only the positive and open cues.
5. Use “open” gestures
Other than using the mirroring technique, Sih says it’s good to also throw in “open” gestures (but do not get overenthusiastic with these!): Smiling, nodding, adopting a relaxed stance, leaning a little towards the person, using positive words and appropriate touching (such as a pat on the arm).
6. Look out for micro-expressions
Your face can give away your emotions, despite your efforts to conceal them with language and gestures. There are two kinds of expressions —macro and micro. The former are clearly detectable and actively modified by the person, while the latter are split-second reactions that reveal the true inner emotion.
7. Ask for feedback
As much as you think you know yourself best, there’s no way you can observe your own body language in action. Ask friends, family and colleagues for their observations about you. “Normally, a consistent answer — be it positive or negative — will emerge. I was told many times by other people that I look very fierce and too serious. Having learnt that, I made sure to smile more often, and that solved the problem,” shares Sih.
8. Be genuine
The human body isn’t built for lying. “What we think and feel inside should manifest what we show outside. My advice is: Be sincere, don’t lie… we don’t need to use ‘tricks’ to hide our true thoughts and feelings. To establish instant rapport, maintain a positive attitude. That way, we will automatically exude credibility, warmth and friendliness,” advises Sih.