A few weeks ago I returned from an overseas trip and was feeling seriously jet-lagged, but had to go straight into a meeting with a client. I was tired, my head was fuzzy and I’m the first to admit I didn’t perform at my best.
When I reflected on it later, my words were adequate but I realised my body language reflected everything I was feeling and it must have transferred directly to the others in the meeting. Fortunately, it didn’t affect the outcome, but I just didn’t feel good about the way I communicated in that situation.
This week I listened to a program by body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman. It was a great reminder about how important it is to know what our bodies are saying, every time we communicate.
It's relatively easy to pay attention to your body language on specific occasions, for example if you have to make a presentation or speak at a meeting. But what about the rest of the time - conversations in the corridor, speaking on the phone (when your body language has a direct impact on the quality of your voice) and all your other interactions throughout the day?
To ramp up your communication performance, try tuning into your body language more frequently.
1. Your body language is either working for you or against you.
When we communicate verbally it’s a full body experience, and the way we use our body can either make our message more clear or get in the way of the communication.
Your conscious and unconscious movements and expressions are a direct reflection of what’s going on inside you. You could be using words that sound confident but if you’re not feeling it, everything about you will be telling the opposite story.
Sitting up straight, breathing deeply, making sure you put yourself in a position to face the person or people you're speaking with, good eye contact, nodding and using other overt signs of active listening help form a stronger connection.
2. Foot action
It’s not just your facial expression and hands that give you away. Do you realise your feet are also sending messages about what you think about the other person and how you’re feeling during the interaction?
I wonder how many times you’ve been in a meeting and curled your feet underneath your chair, so they point directly away from the person speaking. In some situations you might just be making yourself more comfortable, but feet turned away can be interpreted as a sign that you’re not interested in what the other person has to say.
This is a good one to watch when you’ve having one on one conversations. Pay attention to what your feet are doing. Angle them towards the other person (I’m generalising here; I realise this is considered offensive in some cultures, so specific sensitivities always needs to be layered over this advice) rather than away from them. This means your entire body is painting a picture of total focus, radiating that what the other person is saying is the most important thing to you in that moment. This is what forms solid business relationships.
3. Keep the bird wings under control
Some communication experts teach highly choreographed hand gestures. My approach is that if you get your mindset right, your body will reflect those feelings and emotions, and your hand gestures will be a natural extension of your thoughts and words.
Be aware though that there is a “trust zone” at your waist level. Focusing your gestures on either side of your waist and just in front will help you come across as a credible person.
Some of us can't help ourselves when it comes to big hand gestures and that’s okay, but if you spend the entire conversation looking like a fledgling bird trying to take off, you risk creating a perception of being scatty or disorganised, or at the very least you'll distract your listeners and they might tune out.
Having been reminded about the importance of body language basics, I had a meeting with another client this week and what a difference! I paid attention to the way I sat, ensured my eye contact was flawless and kept my hands on top of the table as much as possible, in full view of the other people. This harks back to our primitive past - being able to see the other person's hands makes them more trustworthy because our instincts tell us they're not about to pull a weapon or take some other untoward action.
Body language as a topic might have been around for a long time, but it never gets old. The more you're aware of what your body does when you’re communicating, the better communicator you'll be. That will increase your credibility and your performance at work.