I’m finishing out the year with a back-to-basics 5-post review of the fundamentals of body language. In this era of #metoo, it’s incumbent upon all of us to be aware of our body language — what we’re projecting, what other people are receiving — our intention, in short. If you were thinking of making 2018 the year you finally got conscious of your unconscious behavior, now is the time to review what’s going on and what’s at stake. Enjoy!
The beginnings of face-to-face communications – first meetings, introductions, the openings of speeches — are the moments when the attention, interest, and affection of other people are won over or lost for the duration. Indeed, most people make up their minds about other people in about 30 seconds of initially meeting them. Body language, clearly, is the prime mover here – not your deep insights into the nature of the relationship between terroir and the bouquet of a good Bordeaux red.
How do you accomplish the feat, or avoid this disaster?
Some people bound into the room with lots of energy, and some creep into the room with the opposite — low energy and lots weighing them down. Which do you look forward to hanging out with more?
So it’s important to smile, move quickly (but not so quickly as to fall or injure yourself) and look as eager as you can. But there’s more to it than that.
The real secret lies in your posture. There are three ways to stand, all of them reveal huge amounts of information to other people about you, and only one of them is effective.
Think of how you look from the side, as if a straight line were being drawn through your head down to your toes. If you’ve got good posture, like your mother used to tell you to have, then the balls of your feet, your pelvis, and your shoulders and head all will line up on that vertical slice.
Some people, however, project their head forward. In fact, most people who spend a lot of time at the computer do this; the computer work rounds their shoulders and pushes their head forward. We call this the ‘head posture’, sensibly enough. It signals subservience, humility, and deference to the audience. Great for the Dalai Lama, who has a terrific head posture, but not so good for the rest of us who don’t need (or want) to be as professionally humble.
Especially because it also signals depression, upset, sorrow, disengagement, and a host of other negative emotions. Not great for a first meeting, unless you’re joining group therapy for the first time.
Others project their pelvis forward. (Imagine yourself playing air guitar without the air guitar.) This posture, which is highly sexualized, is typical of teenagers and pop stars. Again, not so good for the rest of us. You don’t want the others in the room thinking of you primarily as a sex object. Really.
Use the heart posture to create confidence
The third possible posture is the straight up, lead-with-the-heart posture. Imagine a soldier, seen from the side, but relaxed across the shoulders rather than rigid. That’s the heart posture, and it radiates trust, authority, and confidence — all the attributes you as an executive want.
(There is a fourth which is a combination of head and pelvis, a kind of question mark. Most typical, again, of teenagers, who are both self-conscious and sexualized. Or intellectual rockers. Not good for grownups.)
So bound into the room, and look happy. But more importantly, watch your posture. It will signal to the audience who you are, whether you intend it to or not.
What else matters in terms of your body language in face-to-face communications?
Ask yourself a simple but key question: is your body language consistent with your message? In other words, if you’re asking the assembled employees to work harder, stay later, and bring in more customers in order to meet a stretch goal for the 3rd Q, then do you look like someone who is already doing that? If you’re slouching, for example, don’t expect the room to respond to your plea. You don’t look like you’re ready to, so why should they be?
Last of all, next time, a handy checklist!