Body language plays a key role in effective leadership communication. From my most-requested program, “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead,” here are ten tips guaranteed to give you a nonverbal advantage!
1) To boost your confidence before an important meeting, replace your smart phone with a newspaper.
Most business professionals I coach understand the importance of projecting confident body language during an important meeting, a job interview, say, or a key sales pitch), but few realize that how they sit while waiting in the reception area has everything to do with their initial impression.
Research from Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that holding your body in expansive “high power” poses (standing tall with shoulders pulled back, widening your stance, spreading your arms to expand into space) raises testosterone (the hormone linked to power and self-confidence) and lowers the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormonal effect is actually reversed, the researchers discovered, when you contract yourself physically, (hunch your shoulders, tuck your chin down, etc.) assuming postures that make you look defensive and lacking in confidence.
Now picture yourself in the reception area where you are waiting for that important meeting. Are you bent over your smart phone, with your elbows pulled into your waist and your shoulders hunched? Or are you sitting up straight, feet firmly on the floor, arms spread wide holding an open newspaper? And, when you are called into the meeting, which of those two hormones is dominating your body chemistry?
2) To reach an agreement, send early engagement signals.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that parties are more likely to reach an agreement if they begin a negotiation by displaying engaged body language (smiling, nodding, mirroring, open gestures, etc.). Interestingly, that positive result is the same whether the display was the product of an unconscious reaction or a strategic decision.
3) To spot a liar, look out for these four “tell-tale” signals.
Nonverbal cues to all kinds of unconscious giveaways tend to occur in clusters – a group of movements, postures and actions that collectively point to a particular state of mind. This is crucially true of dishonesty, where one specific cluster of nonverbal signals has been proven statistically to be a highly accurate indicator of deception. These are: hand touching, face touching, crossed arms, and leaning away. According to research conducted at Northeastern University, if you see these “Telltale Four” being displayed together, watch out!
4) To make a difficult task seem easier, smile.
Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performance, once coached the Russian Olympic weight-lifting team. Garfield noticed that when team members lifted to exhaustion, they would invariably grimace at the painful effort. In an experiment, he encouraged the athletes to smile when they got to that point of exhaustion. This seemingly minor difference enabled them to add 2-3 more reps to their performance.
No matter the task, when you grimace or frown while doing it, you are sending your brain the message, “This is really difficult. I should stop.” The brain then responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. And this creates a vicious circle: the more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes.
Conversely, when you smile, your brain gets the message, “It’s not so bad. I can do this!”
5) To encourage collaboration, rearrange your office.
Projecting power, authority, and status may be a key part of your nonverbal strategy to impress potential clients, customers, and investors – and if it is, then arranging your office space as a visual symbol of your and your company’s brand can be a crucial part of that strategy.
When it comes to building collaboration within your staff, however, status and authority cues can send conflicting, distinctly unwanted messages. If creating a collaborative culture is essential to meeting your business objectives, then you might want to rearrange your office to reflect this. For example, seating people directly across from your desk (especially if their chair is smaller and lower than yours) places them in a competitive (and disadvantageous) position. Instead, try putting the visitor’s chair at the side of your desk, or creating a conversation area (chairs of equal size set around a small table or at right angles to each other) to encourage a feeling of informality, equality, and partnership.
6) To reduce resistance, hand out your business card.
People who are defensive, guarded or resistant may protectively fold their arms across their chests. And when you see that gesture coupled with crossed legs, you can be fairly sure that (a) you aren’t making a very positive impression, and that (b) what you’re saying isn’t being listened to very closely.
To automatically neutralize this kind of resistance in a one-on-one encounter, you could offer the individual a cup of coffee or tea. You could hand out your business card, brochure, or product sample. With a large audience you could ask questions that invite people to raise their hands (“How many of you have had previous training in nonverbal communication techniques?” “How many of you have never thought of body language as a leadership tool?” It doesn’t matter which strategy you choose, just as long as people are obliged to change their postures, to uncross their arms and legs, in order to respond to you. Because body positions influence attitude, the mere act of unwinding a resistant posture will begin to subvert the resistance, itself.
7) To maximize your authority, curb your enthusiasm.
If you are an extrovert, you most likely make a favorable first impression -- because we are drawn to passionate people whose emotions are easily read. But when your communication style lacks of nuance and subtlety, your over-exuberance can overwhelm (or exhaust) an audience. So in situations where you want to maximize your authority -- minimize your movements. Take a deep breath, bring your gestures down to waist level, and pause before making a key point. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.
8) To defuse a tense situation, realign your body more congenially.
Often strong verbal argument comes from a person’s need to be heard and acknowledged. If you physically align yourself with that person (sitting or standing shoulder to shoulder facing the same direction), you will defuse the situation. And, by the way, a move that will escalate the argument is to square your body to the other person or to move in closer. This is especially true when dealing with men. Two men speaking will angle their bodies slightly, while two women will stand in a more “squared up” position – a stance that most men perceive as confrontational.
9) To “seal the deal,” make a positive last impression.
After you've settled on a price, signed the contract, or accepted the job offer, remember to make a winning exit: Stand tall, shake hands warmly, make eye contact, smile, say “thank you,” and leave your counterpart with the impression that you are someone he or she should look forward to dealing with in the future.
10) If you feel the need to improve your own body language, let your team know you’re doing it.
I often coach leaders on using more inclusive body language to help create a collaborative work environment. If this is one of your New Year’s resolutions, be upfront with your staff by saying, “I’m going through some training and I want to make positive changes in how I connect with others.” That way your team will be looking for changes and will most likely understand (and support) what you are trying to achieve.
If you follow these ten simple and powerful body language tips, I guarantee you’ll increase your nonverbal impact.