So-called "Body Language Experts" are especially common around election time. News programs love having them on to dissect every nuance of the politician's delivery.
Too bad it's almost all crap.
As you can see here, he touched his nose which means he most likely had eggs for breakfast, which means he's probably going to endorse military action against the penguins in Antarctica.
That's an exaggeration, but you get the point. There's no way that a momentary gesture, by itself, is going to tell you anything about their intentions, what they had for breakfast, or anything like that.
I feel like most people who write about body language make too many leaps of logic, and wind up in pseudoscience territory right alongside NLP.
Truth is, humans are already pretty good at understanding the nonverbal part of the communication equation, which is why texting is so frustrating. Texting limits the channel to only the words at the expense of being able to include tone, volume, eye contact, etc.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to be an even better communicator by making some small tweaks to your in-person conversations.
1. Control Your Hands
In high school debate class my instructor told us, "Beware of using too many two handed gestures." His point was to use gestures to intentionally underscore your message. If you use a single gesture too much, it becomes distracting as people start to wonder why you're awkwardly holding your hands like that.
An extension of that is be mindful of how energetically you're "talking with your hands." I can't tell you how many times someone gets excited and starts flailing their arms at a networking event only to backhand someone standing behind them. Suddenly the conversation is now focused on apologizing to the new person; not connecting with the potential business partner.
You can still show enthusiasm and excitement, just be sure to rein it in when you're in a crowded party.
2. Be Open
You might be an introvert who is more comfortable at home by yourself with a book, and now you're stuck talking with actual human beings. Ugh.
In an effort to protect your sanity, you fold your arms because it "just feels right." Problem is, that feeling is coming at the expense of being able to connect with the person you're talking with.
It's literally the opposite of "welcoming someone with open arms." You're telling the other person their presence is unwanted, and you're not comfortable with their being near you.
Put your arms down.
3. Be Congruent
As a mentalist & magician, my job involves lying to people, so I know what to look for in others.
The tell-tale signal is not too little or too much eye contact (as most people believe), but inconsistent behavior that is out of alignment with the message as a whole.
It's like someone saying, "I love you!" with the right voice inflection, but their fists are clenched. Or, nervous fidgeting when they're supposed to be relaxed.
Whenever it's very important to communicate an idea, make sure everything you're doing supports that message. Any one piece out of alignment will undermine your effectiveness.
4. Lead With Your Heart
This goes along with not folding your arms. If you want someone to feel like they can trust you, lead with your heart. Open your arms, and put your chest forward.
This is an incredibly vulnerable position, and it's incredibly disarming for the other person to see you in it. My friend David Hira told me this secret, and he's one of the most likeable speakers I've ever seen work. This is one of his most valuable tools; use it wisely.
5. Don't Slouch
Bring to mind the textbook teenager who is completely bored & would rather be anywhere else but here. How is he sitting?
Chances are the person in your mind is practically melting out of his seat.
Slouching is basically your body's way of saying, "I'm bored out of my mind, and I'd rather be anywhere else."
6. Check In With Your Eyes
Researchers have determined that 3.2 seconds of eye contact are ideal. Anything less tells the other person you're not at all interested, and your attention is somewhere else.
Looking into someone's eyes as you talk with them allows you to check in with them, and them with you.
On the other hand, you don't want too much.
Anything longer than 3.2 seconds is taken as aggression.
Think about someone about to get into a bar fight. He's going to stare straight into the eyes of his target in an attempt to intimidate them.
Excessive eye contact is well understood in the animal kingdom as a threatening gesture. Don't use it in the boardroom on accident.
7. Be Still
There's something I like to call the "signal to noise ratio." The message you're trying to send is the signal, and anything you do that doesn't support that message is noise.
Fidgeting is a prime example of pure noise.
Just like too many double handed gestures can be distracting, digging at your cuticles, twisting your hair, or whatever nervous habit you have will actively undermine your ability to connect with other people.
Fidgeting tells the other person you're anxious, you're uncomfortable, or that you don't trust them.
None of those scenarios play out well for you.
8. Fix Your Thinking Face
You're deeply engaged with what someone is telling you, and you're actively onboard with them.
The problem is your thinking face.
Too often when you're judging the merits of a decision, your face says you're judging the person.
Your eyes narrow, your forehead wrinkles up, the corners of your mouth turn down as you play mental chess with the proposal.
You want to be known as someone who is thoughtful, not overly critical. Relax the scowl!
9. Shake That Sweet Spot
Just like there's a happy medium with eye contact, so too is there a sweet spot for handshakes.
Too weak and you're seen as lacking confidence.
Too strong and you're seen as overly aggressive.
It's an important moment. Don't rush it, and it's important to do it right.
10. Know Your Place
Are you, or someone you love a close talker? Do they not understand the concept of the personal bubble? Can you count the number of pores on their nose as they release day-old coffee breath straight into your face?
Close talking is a serious issue, so see a professional communication coach today!
Different cultures have different tolerances for personal space, so make sure you're not erring on the side of too little. I can't remember a single time I was talking with someone who stood too close and thought, "Boy, I wish they'd be even closer!"
Sure, it might be a crowded networking event and we have to be packed together, but if there's space to spread out, do it.
All Together Now
As the saying goes, "Knowing you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it." Sometimes we don't even know we're making these blunders until it's too late.
Ask your friends to tell you honestly if they've noticed you doing any of these, and you might be surprised at how many they check off.
Or, if you'd like 1-on-1 coaching, having a professional communicator evaluate your skills is a phenomenal way to jumpstart your progress. Let's talk!