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How can I Improve My Body Language?

How can you improve your body language?

Whilst on one of our recent leadership and management training courses, during a lunch break, I was approached by a male delegate, a gentleman called Mark, who said quietly: "Can I have a private word with you?"

I said "Yes, of course: what is it?"

Mark said, "I want to become a better manager, but I know that I don't come across very well, especially in regards to my body language. People don't warm to me.
I am doing something wrong. But I don't really know what it is, so can I ask you, how can I improve my body language?"

I said, "That is an excellent question, and so when we get back to the training, I will take that question and answer it in front of the whole group. (Don't worry, Mark, I won't make reference to you.)

Then later, in front of the whole group, I answered the question like this:

"Remember that, when you are communicating with someone, in a face to face situation, (I.e. not on the phone, or email) then you are using, three, channels of communication.

  1. Your words
  2. Your voice tones
  3. Your body language

"Your words" means: your message is partly constituted from the vocabulary you employ.

"Your voice tone" is the musical and sound qualities of your voice: the pitch, the rhythm, the volume, the intonation and the stress.

"Your body language" is your visual impact: How you look; how you appear, visually, to the other people, as you communicate.

Your body language is a very powerful force.

And like all powerful forces, it can work for you, or against you:

  • Some people just don't come across very well. And that fact harms their chances immensely.
  • Some other people really do come across very well. And that fact helps their chances immensely.

The trick is to understand how to harness the power of your own body language to work for you, not against you.

How can you harness the power of your own body language to work for you, not against you?

Step one

Step one is to understand that your body language is made up of 10 major sub-sets. Each of which can be thought of separately; but each work in a synchronised way with all the others.

What are the 10 sub-sets of your body language?

Here they are in order of relative importance.

  1. Location
  2. Dress code
  3. Posture
  4. Facial expression
  5. Eye contact
  6. Hand and arm gestures
  7. Touch
  8. Orientation
  9. Proximity
  10. Props

If you want to improve your body language, then improve all the elements of body language.

The more of these you improve, the greater your overall score will be.

Let us look at each one in turn.

1. Your Location

If you are not there when you are supposed to be there, that speaks volumes to the person left waiting for you to turn up.

If you are there, when you said you would be there, maybe you arrive a few minutes in advance of the agreed time, then that also speaks volumes.

The biggest thing is to be in the right place at the right time.

2. Your Dress code

Every event has a context. And every context implies a certain dress code.

If you are in the football stands with the Chelsea fans, then don't wear an Arsenal tee shirt.

If you are going to the ball, wear a ball gown. Unless you are a man, and in that case, wear a Tux.

If you are on the farm, wear your green wellies.

But don't wear green wellies to the ball.

And don't wear your Tux on the farm.

Dress in a manner that is consistent with the context.

Don't be dogmatic and say, ""I will wear whatever I please. People shouldn't judge a book by its cover"".

Well, maybe they shouldn't, but the fact is, they do!

So, let that fact work for you, and not, against you.

Play the social game by the proper conventions and you will more likely win.

Break all the social conventions and you will more likely lose.

Do not walk into the lounge, with your dirty, wellies on.

Dress according to the context.

Use your common sense and be adaptable.

3. Your Posture

In most business contexts, the rules are these:

Don't slouch. Don't lean.

Stand up straight. Sit up straight.

Look as if you are alert.

Look as if you have some energy and self-control.

Don't look like you are falling to sleep.

Give yourself the look of a person who is ready and willing to do something really good.

Stand up straight. Sit up straight.

4. Your Facial expression

There are fundamentally two good expressions and fundamentally three bad ones.

The two good ones are:

  1. Good natured - humorous
  2. Goal focused concentration

And the three bad ones are:

  1. Miserable- negative
  2. Angry
  3. Bored

If you are miserable, angry and-or bored, you infect everyone else with the same emotions. And the productivity goes down.

If you are good-natured and goal focused, then you affect everyone else with the same emotions and the productivity goes up.

So, in terms of your facial expression try to be good natured and goal focused.

5. Your Eye contact

You need to give the right amount of eye contact.

  • Too much, makes you seem intrusive.
  • Too little, makes you seem aloof.

The rule here is:

Give the other person about the same amount of eye contact that he- she is giving to you.

If the other person is looking into your eyes, then hold his gaze.

If she is not looking at you, then don't stare at her.

Your eye contact is uniquely powerful, since the eyes are the windows to the soul!

6. Your Hand and arm gestures

Here is the rule:

Never point.

  • Never point at anyone
  • Never point your finger
  • Never point your pen

If you have to gesticulate, then do so with:

  • An open hand
  • Palms down
  • Below the eye line, gesture

Emphasise your key words with an open handed, Palms down, below the eye line, hand gesture.

Don't point

7. Your Touch

Generally, in a work setting, don't touch people up!

Don't put your arms around them. Don't feel them.

Don't become the creepy guy or the flirtatious woman.

It can too easily go wrong.

Keep your handshakes, brief, firm and dry.

Don't give long, damp, limp handshakes.

8. Your Orientation

Orientation is the angle at which you stand or sit, relative to the other person.

Don't stand toe to toe!

Don't stand face on.

Stand at a slight angle, with one shoulder slightly forward.

Don't sit square across the table

Sit so you are at an angle

Square on is an aggressive orientation

Position yourself so you are at an angle.

9. Your Proximity

How far away are you from the other?

In normal conversation, don't get any closer than one arm's length.

Don't invade his- her ""personal space"".

Keep a reasonable distance.

About 18 to 24 inches (or more) is right.

10. Your Props

Props means:

Your car. Your office. Your phone.

Some people buy a car to impress others.

Some people wear a particular watch simply to impress others.

I am not a great fan of props.

If you don't have personal power, then a car will not compensate for the lack.

And it is hard to get the Ferrari into the meeting room.

So my advice is don't waste too much energy and money on posing props.

Make yourself your best ""prop"".

In other words improve the other nine elements.

Improve your awareness of your:

  1. Location
  2. Dress code
  3. Posture
  4. Facial expression
  5. Eye contact
  6. Hand and arm gestures
  7. Touch
  8. Orientation
  9. Proximity

Thank you

For more information about communication skills training please visit the Corporate Coach Training website

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