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Leadership

Body Language: What it says about you and how to improve it

Andrew Wallbridge - Last Update: 18 Nov 2021

Contents

What is body language?

How can your body language influence someone’s perception of you?

Why is it important to be conscious of body language?

The importance of body language in public speaking

Why is body language important in meetings and online calls

What steps can you take to improve your body language?

 

 

 

Andrew Wallbridge.jpg
Andrew Wallbridge

As a leader, you may be used to watching the words you use when you speak to your team. But have you ever thought about how your body language could impact how you’re viewed as a manager?

Sub-consciously, you could be giving out messages to your colleagues without even being aware of it.

What is body language?

Body language encapsulates all non-verbal communication like your gestures, your tone of voice and your posture.

You may have heard of the now famous statistic from a 1967 study that stated 93% of communication is non-verbal.

While that figure is widely contested today, it’s undeniable that body language plays a big part in the message you’re giving out to your co-workers.

Can you remember the last time you sat through a presentation where the speaker was so nervous that they barely looked up from their notes? The audience would immediately know that the speaker is uncomfortable and therefore, they wouldn’t feel relaxed either.

Being conscious of your own body language and being able to gauge how others are feeling from their body language can help you to communicate with your team more effectively.

You should keep in mind that if you have any neurodiverse team members, their body language may be individual to them.

For example, although tapping on a table may be interpreted as boredom, in a neurodiverse person, this might be an action that eases their anxiety.

How can your body language influence someone’s perception of you?

Your body language can tell someone a lot about the way you’re feeling. But it can also impact the rest of the team, either positively or negatively.

For example, if you’re sitting in a team meeting with your arms crossed and a blank expression on your face, you’ll come across as bored or annoyed. However, if you’re smiling and nodding along with your colleagues, you’ll look much more engaged and give out a more positive impression.

Both positivity and negativity are infectious so if you consistently look as though you’re not motivated or engaged in the workplace, you might notice this quickly spread throughout the rest of your team.

Why is it important to be conscious of body language?

Although our words carry a lot of power, body language commands a conversation.

So, if you’re chatting to a colleague and they’re saying ‘yes, I agree with you’ but shaking their head, instead of nodding, you’ll find that you pick up on their disagreement, even though they haven’t voiced it.

Your body language when meeting someone for the first time can give a lot away too. For example, if you stand away from them and fold your arms, you could be seen as hostile and closed off, rather than confident and welcoming.

Instead, lead with a firm handshake and mirror their actions to start building an instant rapport with them.

The importance of body language in public speaking

Try to keep your posture open when giving a presentation or speech. Rather than closing your body off by clasping your hands together in front of you, use your arms to gesture or leave them at your sides.

Similarly, hunching your shoulders and trying to appear smaller can make you seem unsure of what you’re saying and not confident in the points you’re making.

Make eye contact with the audience as much as you can to build a connection with them and keep them engaged.

Why is body language important in meetings and online calls

Meetings provide an opportunity to put ideas forward and voice any concerns so your body language can make a massive difference when it comes to how others perceive you.

Keep your hands on top of the table if you’re at an in-person meeting, or at least on the arms of the chair. Placing your hands in your lap or under the table can come across as timid or as though you’re less confident in the points you’re putting forward.

With the prevalence of online calls in the last couple of years, we’ve adjusted to chatting to others through a screen, but this doesn’t make your body language any less important.

In fact, since there’s little else to focus on than each other, your body language can almost be magnified.

It can be harder to convey emotion via video so be aware of your facial expressions and try to keep as much eye contact as possible, rather than looking at other screens or staring off into the distance. This will show your co-workers you’re engaged and paying attention to their comments, rather than being distracted.

What steps can you take to improve your body language?

Firstly, start to become more aware of your body language including your posture, your tone of voice and the hand gestures you use.

Becoming more conscious of the way you hold yourself will prevent you from unwittingly coming across as hostile, negative, or unassertive.

  • Lengthen your spine to give off a more confident appearance and maintain eye contact with the people you’re speaking to, as much as possible without appearing intimidating.
  • Remember that an open posture will help you to appear more engaging, friendly, and approachable.
  • Pay attention to the tone of your voice too. If your tone goes up at the end of a sentence, you might sound unsure of what you’re saying as the intonation can sound like a question.
  • End your sentences by dropping down a tone and you’ll sound much more assertive. By keeping your voice low and calm, and your speech slow, you’ll also help your colleagues to relax and see that you’re capable of handling high-stress situations.

Finally, you can use power poses to enhance your confidence further and help you become more comfortable with assertive body language.

In Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED Talk, she describes the impact of power poses using a study she conducted.

Just two minutes of high-power poses increased testosterone, the dominance hormone, and reduced cortisol, the stress hormone. Meanwhile, low-power poses had the opposite effect, proving that your body language really does have a huge impact on the way you feel about yourself, as well as the effect you have on others.

Changing your body language can help you to be seen as more of a leader by those around you.

Try a Wonder Woman pose before your next big meeting and see what it can do for you.