Thursday, February 28, 2008

Body Language Speaks Volumes

It’s one of those awkward situations we’ve all found ourselves in: we’re standing around at a company function, and all of a sudden the top brass shows up and heads our way. Suddenly we don’t know what to do with our arms. Our hands are some strange appendage that hang uselessly, or flutter nervously. How did our necks get to be too short for our bodies? When did we become unable to smile without an eye twitching?

All this is, of course, a natural reaction under stress. We want to make a good impression, but our bodies seem determined to make total twits of us in front of some pretty important people. But if we just remember some simple rules about body language, these situations can be brought under control.

There are a number of ways we can make a good impressions without saying a word, whether it’s in a social situation, or a formal business meeting. The most common mistake people make is that they don’t adjust to the situation, to the person they are speaking to. For example, when making small talk, body language is very important. But when it’s a serious matter, then it’s not as critical because the message becomes more important.

Still, the most effective users of body language use gestures and speech patterns similar to the other person in the conversation — especially critical when the other person ranks higher in an organization.

Some of the key ingredients to using body language effectively include:
· Facing the other person squarely. Show your interest by looking directly at the other person. Tilt your head to one side, arch your eyebrows and nod every once in a while to show you’re listening. Keep your face relaxed, and smile when appropriate.
· Assuming an open posture. Researchers have found that when negotiations are going well, participants unbuttoned their coats, uncrossed their legs, sat forward in chairs, and moved closer to the other side of the table. Such body language was often accompanied by comments expressing common needs and advantages.
So, the way you stand and walk can convey your openness to what the other person is saying. Standing tall and walking with shoulders back shows your confidence, and usually those who walk rapidly and swing their arms project confidence.
· Leaning forward. When you want to show interest, lean forward slightly in your chair, and lightly clasp your hands in your lap or place your hands near your knees. If you lean back, place your hands in a “steeple” position, then you’re showing your indifference.
· Maintaining eye contact. The last thing you want to do is have your eyes shifting all over the room when you’re talking with a boss. When we’re nervous, our eyes typically meet the other person’s less than 40 percent of the time. As a result, we begin to make people feel uneasy, or make them begin to distrust us.
· Touching. Some people are afraid to touch another person because of sexual harassment claims, but with a friend or close working buddy, touching on the shoulder can deepen a contact. It's a good idea to take the lead from the other person, especially if it’s a leader. If they touch you on the arm, it's probably OK to do the same to them.
Still, since a handshake is often the most acceptable form of contact in the business world, make sure yours is not limp, or clammy. Keep your handshake firm and brief, hold it about three to five seconds, then release. And no trying to crush the other person’s fingers in some kind of power play.
· Remembering to relax. This may be difficult to do when the CEO is headed your way and you suddenly can’t remember your own name, but take a couple of deep breaths, and concentrate on standing straight, with shoulders back. Spread your feet a bit and don’t lock your knees — keeling over at the boss’s feet like a downed tree won’t be good for your career. Keep your arms and hands still, and keep an open and welcoming look on your face.

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Anonymous said...

Hi, Anita,

Now if we could just find a way to translate all of this
to our virtual connections! :)


Anita said...

Maybe we'll all be using video e-mail before long!