I’m a people watcher. I travel for work quite often, so I do my people watching in airports, walking down busy sidewalks, in elevators, restaurants, and during meetings. I’ve always been interested in body language because I’m intrigued by nonverbal communication.
Recently, while having a business lunch with a friend, I met McKenna, our server. She bubbled up to our table with a huge bright smile and her head held high, ready to take our order. She introduced herself then apologized and said she wasn’t feeling very well. I almost choked on my swig of water – her energy, smile, and posture all belied how she actually felt. McKenna is proof that if we control our body language, we can control the messages we send out to those around us.
When not controlled, body language is often a distraction. During another business meeting I sat next to a “yes” person. Like a bobble head, this person nodded her head in agreement with every statement. Instead of finding the nodding a demonstration of support or an indication she was listening, I found it so distracting that I ended up counting each bob, then bobbing along with her, and focused more on the bobbing than the content of the meeting.
During the recent PR Summit, where BurrellesLuce was a sponsor, I enjoyed a presentation by business coach, author and international speaker Carol Goman. Her presentation, “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Impacts PR & Profits,” provided fascinating insights into the nuances of body language.
Goman explained that we need to be aware of the nonverbal signals we’re sending if we want to be seen as powerful, credible and confident. For example, too many head tilts. A head tilt is a feminine gesture indicating that we’re listening and involved, but subconsciously these tilts could be perceived as submission signals. In order to project power and authority, we need to keep our head straight up and in a neutral position when in a professional setting.
Another mistake? Not taking up enough room. During a business meeting, status is nonverbally communicated by claiming space. So don’t keep materials in one neat little pile; spread out and take up some territory.
Watch your hand gestures; don’t point at someone, because it comes off as intimidating. And for heaven’s sake, don’t bite your nails, twirl your hair, or cross your arms. Not only are these behaviors are associated with passivity, but they tend to be irritating and imply nervousness.
Put on your game face! If you smile excessively, or do so at the wrong time during serious topics, you could come off as lacking authority.
Finally, if you want to read someone’s body language to see how you’re perceived, check out their feet. If you walk up to two people engaged in conversation and their upper torso turns toward you but their feet stay in place, you’re interrupting. If their feet turn toward you, know that you’re a welcome addition.
So next time you’re in a meeting, don’t forget to spread out, keep a “game” face, and aim your toes at the person you most want to engage.