Last Updated on Thursday, 22 April, 2021 at 11:37 am by Andre Camilleri
Patrick Psaila is a warranted psychologist, executive coach and training consultant. He is the co-director of PsyPotential Ltd, a company that specialises in human factors, leadership and people development in organisations.
Body language is a very powerful form of non-verbal communication transmitting important clues about our intentions, emotions, state of mind and motivations.
During our everyday lives, we constantly give off signals about what we are thinking and feeling through our body posture, mannerisms, gestures, facial expressions and the rhythm of our movements.
A commonly misquoted statistic is that 93% of our communication comes from our non-verbal communication, combining body language and tone of voice. This comes from the work of Albert Mehrabian way back in 1967. However, Mehrabian made it clear that this statistic referred only to communication that included feelings and attitudes and not all communication in general. Mehrabian’s findings, that were replicated numerous times, apply to communication that involves influencing, persuading, motivating, exciting, energising and convincing. In other words, it is the emotional impact of our message that is mostly heavily determined by our non-verbal cues. This means that to come across to others as self-confident and influential, the body language signals we display are critical. At the same time, being in control of our body language is challenging because it is so automatic and unconscious.
The good news is that with awareness and practice we can become more conscious of our body language and make the necessary improvements that will help us to come across to others confidently. Moreover, our brain and the rest of our body operate a two-way relay system which means that we can influence how we think and feel by intentionally changing our body language.
An example of this comes from the research of Amy Cuddy, a major body language researcher. In her experiments, she had participants stand in high power poses, such as standing tall with hands on hips and low power poses, such as sitting down and slouching, for two minutes before sending them into high-pressure interview simulations. The results indicated that those standing in high power poses for just two minutes had increased hormone levels of confidence inducing testosterone and lower levels of stress inducing cortisol than those in low power poses. Moreover, the high-power confidence posing subjects also reported feeling more confident, comfortable and assertive.
The following are some quick tips we can easily adopt and practise. These will help us come across to others as well as feel more confident in all interpersonal interactions.
Stand tall with your chin parallel to the floor, back straight and relaxed shoulders. Maintain an open stance and avoid crossing your arms or keeping your hands together when communicating. When you stand, balance your body equally on both legs, with your feet at hip-width distance apart rather than leaning on one side of your body.
Get into the habit of smiling frequently and of course, appropriately. Keep your facial expressions aligned to the content and emotional context of what you are saying or listening to. Avoid a dull poker face at all costs… unless you’re playing poker.
Establish eye contact right away before you start talking or listening. To show interest and confidence without staring, it is recommended that you maintain eye contact for 50% of the time while speaking and 70% of the time while listening. When you break eye contact, do it slowly and look slightly to the sides not up or down.
Hand gestures give off critical information about your state of mind. Confidence gestures are flowing and deliberate rather than erratic and jerky. Remember to display open gestures that expose the palms of your hands with open arms when you want to communicate openness, vulnerability and warmth. To give a message of authority, assertiveness or control, display the back of the hands keeping them at the level of your torso.
We are all too familiar with hand-shakers who painfully crush your knuckles, those who hardly make any pressure at all or those who just hold the tip of your fingers as if they are afraid of catching a deadly disease! A confident handshake is one that makes full contact with the other hand, applies medium pressure, while “pumping” three to five times and making eye-contact. The hand is presented vertically to communicate equality. Presenting your hand palm up from below may give a message of submission while presenting it palm down from above may give a message of dominance. Post-Covid this tip may become useful!
These simple easy to adopt body language tips will help you feel and look more confident in all social situations. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a good place to start. With practice you can internalise these body language habits until they become a natural part of your communication. As a final tip, remember that the more confident and knowledgeable you are about the content of your message, the less you need to think about it. This allows your brain more time to focus on how you are delivering your message to make it more impactful and influential. What you say is important, how you say it is critical!