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What is your body language telling others about you?
Last week I wrote about how to read other people (you can check that out here.) But being able to evaluate other people’s body language just ain’t real helpful if you’re sending off all the wrong signals yourself.
So let’s get a better understanding of what you’re unconsciously telling people and how to present a better you. We’ll learn what body language can make you more influential, make you appear like a leader, and even make you more attractive.
First off, let’s find out if you’re turning people off. What body language makes you more likable?
Let’s get to it…
Alright, we’ll start simple: smile.
Yeah, you knew that. But it’s even more important than you thought. When I spoke to Robin Dreeke, who headed up the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, he said you gotta grin to win:
The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.
And the research agrees. You know the old saying, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”? It’s kinda true. Research shows smiles are contagious:
The NYU students smiled, on average, a little over once a minute when they were with a smiling confederate and averaged only a third of a smile per minute when they were with a confederate who did not smile. We judge people and objects to be more pleasant when we are smiling in comparison to when we are frowning, so if you want your interviewer to think positively about you, try smiling.
(Want to improve your smile? Smile slower.)
So what else did Robin say? You want your body language to be open and comfortable. Think “expanding.” Body movements that go up and out are good. Anything that compresses or squeezes is bad:
I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.
Smile and expand. Don’t frown and squish.
(For more from FBI behavior expert Robin Dreeke on how to get people to like you, click here.)
I like you more already. But what body language makes a difference at the office? How does the way you move affect your ability to influence others?
You hear a lot of advice on the interwebz about how to be influential. But when it comes to body language, if they’re giving you one-size-fits-all advice, they’re probably wrong.
Noah Goldstein (co-author with Robert Cialdini of Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive) says the research shows the best body language for influence depends on your goal. Plain and simple:
If you want to increase the attractiveness of an offer, think upbeat and sales-y.
Animated movements. Lean forward. Move quickly and speak quickly.
If you want to reduce resistance to what you’re suggesting, it’s the opposite. Think calm and authoritative.
Precise gestures. Lean back. Move slowly and speak slowly.
Does all that seem too hard? Then just mimic the other person’s body language. This is incredibly powerful for both building a connection and closing deals:
Retail salespeople who subtly mimic customers’ speech and behavior are more successful at selling… 78.8% bought such a product from mimickers, compared with 61.8% from nonmimickers. Afterward, customers who had been mimicked were more positive about the salespeople and the store.
Overall, the most important thing is to make sure your body language matches your words. If they’re aligned, everything is more effective. If they’re not, everything gets worse:
We argue that when a verbal influence strategy is embedded in a nonverbal style that fits its orientation, this boosts the strategy’s effectiveness, whereas a misfit attenuates its impact.
Upbeat to sell, calm to reduce resistance. Or just mimic.
(To learn how to ethically influence others from the #1 authority on the subject, Robert Cialdini, click here.)
So you know the body language secrets to help you at work. But what if you run the office — or want to be running the office? What body language makes you look like a leader?
Most everything you read says you need to appear powerful to be seen as a leader. And that’s true — but it ain’t the whole story…
Coming across as powerful and cold can make people resent or envy you. And if you don’t have any warmth — or the real power to back up that appearance of power — it can lead to you being exploited or harassed. (Fakers take note.)
So to really be seen as a leader, it’s important to balance an appearance of power and warmth.
When first introduced to a leader, we immediately and unconsciously assess him or her for warmth and authority…. So the best leadership strategy is to embody both sets of traits—and to do so early and often.
What body language conveys authority? Good posture, taking up space, a firm handshake and a purposeful stride.
As a leader, you show authority and power by your erect posture, command of physical space, purposeful stride (like that of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs as he moves across the stage during a presentation), and firm handshake, and through an array of hand signals including “steepling” and palm-down gestures that send nonverbal signals of authority.
Now what communicates warmth? Most of the same things that Robin recommended for increasing likability.
As a leader, you communicate warmth nonverbally with open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, a full-frontal body orientation, positive eye contact, synchronized movements, head nods, head tilts, and smiles.
Play with the two so you can find a balance that works for you. I know what some of you are thinking: Isn’t that straight-up acting? Sounds like I’m supposed to be phony.
Their research suggests that some very good leaders repress certain personality traits, or develop ones they were not born with, in order to run their organization effectively (Farkas and Wetlaufer, 1996, p. 114). Farkas and Wetlaufer (1996) hold that until scientists discover a gene for leadership the debate about personality will persist. This is unlikely to occur. Their research indicates that leaders are not driven by what they are like inside but by what the outside demands (Farkas and Wetlaufer, 1996, p. 114).
(To learn how to avoid the most common error leaders make, click here.)
Okay, you know the body language that makes you likable, influential and leader-tastic. What makes you attractive?
The quick and dirty answer? Guys, look at the leadership section above. Ladies, review the likable section.
And don’t get them mixed up or the research says you’re going to get very bad results:
…happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males. In contrast, pride showed the reverse pattern; it was the most attractive male expression, and one of the least attractive in women.
It was found that males who successfully made “contact” courtship initiation with females exhibited different body language in this precontact phase than did males who did not make contact with females, including significantly more glancing behaviors, space-maximization movements, intrasexual touching, and less closed-body movements.
What can women do to make men approach them? Research shows eye contact and a smile usually does the trick.
On a date, ladies, it’s smart to take a tip from the influence section above and mimic his body language. Women who did this were rated as more attractive and the guys felt the meeting went better overall:
Data revealed that the men evaluated the dating interaction more positively when the woman mimicked them, and that mimicry was associated with a higher evaluation score of the relation and the attractiveness of the woman.
Little things can make a difference — like the position of your chin. Research shows men are rated more attractive with their chin up but women are more beautiful when their chin is down:
As predicted, tilting female faces upwards decreased their perceived femininity and attractiveness, whereas tilting them downwards increased their perceived femininity and attractiveness. Male faces tilted up were judged to be more masculine, and tilted down judged to be less masculine.
Want the closest thing to a magic bullet? Eye contact can make people fall in love with you:
In two studies, subjects induced to exchange mutual unbroken gaze for 2 min with a stranger of the opposite sex reported increased feelings of passionate love for each other.
(Take this too far and you will be a weapons-grade-creeper. Moderation, please.)
And what about when you’re trying to look good for Instagram pics or online dating photos? Which side is your best side? Your left:
Your best side may be your left cheek, according to a new study by Kelsey Blackburn and James Schirillo from Wake Forest University in the US. Their work shows that images of the left side of the face are perceived and rated as more pleasant than pictures of the right side of the face, possibly due to the fact that we present a greater intensity of emotion on the left side of our face.
Please angle your selfie-stick appropriately from now on.
(To learn the scientific secrets that will make you better at flirting, click here.)
Alright, you’ve learned a lot (and I’m well on my way to a pair of carpal tunnel braces.) Let’s round it up and also learn why “just be yourself” is the worst way to “just be yourself”…
This is what you need to know about your own body language:
Now some people will turn their nose up at all this and say you should “just be yourself.”
You don’t want to be a phony. I’m with you. Faking your way through life is a bad idea. Not only is it insincere, it might just kill you. Manipulative narcissists and sociopaths beware — faking smiles can make your heart explode:
The authors examined whether facial expressions of emotion would predict changes in heart function… Those participants who exhibited ischemia showed significantly more anger expressions and nonenjoyment smiles than nonischemics.
So don’t be a faker. But sometimes you feel down, cranky or just not yourself. In those cases, a little bit of effort to be a better you can really pay off. Research shows putting your best foot forward actually reveals the real you:
In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.
Not only will it help those around you see the real you but there’s an even better result — you’ll be happier:
Results generally supported these hypotheses, and suggested that the (best possible self) exercise may be most beneficial for raising and maintaining positive mood.
Don’t run around pretending to be James Bond or Jane Bond. But a little work to be the best you that you can be leads to better relationships and a happier life.
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