Your body language can betray your apprehensions and fears – and you might not even realise it.
We’ve all been there….
It might be a meeting, a presentation, a job interview or a sales pitch. It doesn’t matter; these situations have one thing in common. You – at least for some of the time – will be the centre of attention.
If this is within your comfort zone, you probably don’t need to read on. On the other hand, you might be one of many who become shattered wrecks just thinking about it. Most of us, though, find at least some of these situations test our nerves to the limit.
Where do you stand?
The problem is when you ‘think’ you’re fine and you feel fine but, somehow, your body hasn’t quite picked up the message.
How well do you speak ‘body language’?
Going to a meeting or interview or making a presentation can be a little like visiting a foreign country.
You’ve navigated your way to the destination without any problems. You’re confident you are dressed appropriately for the climate. Good so far.
But then you encounter unfamiliar faces and different ways of doing things and you hope you can speak enough of the language to get by.
Chances are you have prepared carefully for what you will say (your words) and how you will say it (using your voice). That’s great!
Trouble is, if you do nothing else but take care of the ‘speaking parts’, the job’s still only half done.
You might not realise that only about 10% of what you communicate comes from your words.
The pitch, tone and volume of your voice and your pace of speaking account for up to 40%.
But what about the rest?
In fact, a staggering 50%, or more, of your communication is ‘body language’.
An interview can be nerve wracking. That’s even more reason to be aware of what your body might be saying, even though you think your mouth is doing all the talking.
It’s a good example to use, especially as it’s difficult to predict what will happen and impossible to script your responses.
Even though you might not be aware of it, the interview is a situation where your body could be working completely against you.
What you do with your hands says a lot about you. Make sure it’s in your favour.
- The interview will probably start with a handshake, which should be firm but not aggressive
- Hiding your hands in your lap or under the table suggests nervous defensiveness or evasion
- ‘White-knuckling’ and pressing hands together hard betrays anxiety and lack of confidence
- Uncontrolled gesturing, waving and fiddling with a pen or paper indicate poor organisation and untidy thinking; this behaviour is also annoying and distracting
- Lightly supporting your chin with forefinger and thumb shows thoughtfulness, and accompanies other positive ‘active listening’ signals, such as nodding. Don’t overdo it
- Deliberate attempts to ‘stage’ your hands, such as ‘steepling’, will come across as fake.
Eyes are about body language, too
Your eyes will always be an indicator of your genuine state of mind. It’s fairly easy to spot a discrepancy when, for example, the mouth is smiling and the eyes are not, which screams ‘insincerity’
- Steady eye contact, (not a ‘death stare’) shows both confidence and openness
- Looking up through your eyelashes while tilting your head downwards can be interpreted as shyness, submissiveness or flirting (not recommended)
- Some people narrow their eyes when concentrating. This can look like disapproval. You might, quite rightly, disapprove of something that is asked during an interview, but at least be in control of how it’s conveyed. It can also look like distrust, skepticism or straight-out disbelief
- Going to the other extreme, by trying to keep eyes wide open, can send out various messages. You might look permanently surprised or bewildered (not really a good idea), naïve and helpless (that won’t do you any favours) or just desperate to stay awake
- Looking upwards to think is normal; at the wrong moment it looks like boredom. Expert observers look for evidence of creative construction (looking up to the right, in most people); in response to certain questions, however, ‘creative construction’ might be translated as ‘lying’. Looking up to the left usually indicates an effort to remember.
Ask someone to take you unawares to check your ‘eye’ habits.
The mouth – talking without speaking
Your mouth is extremely expressive, even when you are silent. Ask someone who knows you well to offer some observations.
- Some mannerisms, like lip chewing and licking the lips, convey nervousness or dishonesty. Obviously nail-nibbling is a no-no.
- A tight mouth might well be your natural look, or simply a sign of nervousness, but it can give the impression that you are closed or aggressive. Even genuinely warm people are sometimes judged on first impression as being hard and unyielding because of this. To avoid it, consciously relax the jaw and avoid pressing your lips together. Don’t go too far, though; the slack-jawed look will make you appear vacant, or intoxicated
- A light, occasional smile invites and welcomes what is being said; constant smiling looks plain silly. Smiling on one side of the mouth suggests sarcasm.
If you are comfortable without being casual, it will make you look calm, confident and controlled and will allow the person in front of you to feel more relaxed, too.
- Relax the shoulders, or you will look hunched and tense
- Sit up straight (but not ‘to attention’) and avoid the temptation to lean back too comfortably, if you are offered a less formal chair.
- Avoid too much shifting and leg-crossing, and personal mannerisms such as frequent touching of hair or jewellery.
Monitoring and even modifying your body language isn’t about changing who you are. But if you are a newcomer in ‘foreign territory’, the last thing you want is to get ‘lost in translation’.
For more hints, look at Public Speaking … Who, Me?