by Josh Millar
When we think about communication, verbal and written communication tend to be the first forms that come to mind. But these aren’t the only way we communicate. Though we’re not always aware of it, our body language plays a significant role in our communication as well. It’s important to think about this in two ways. First, what is your body language saying to those you’re communicating with? If you haven’t given it much thought, you could be sending unintentional messages. Second, what is the body language of other people telling you? If you want to step up your communication skills, tuning into this can help you do so. So, what are we focusing on when thinking about body language? Here’s a breakdown:
Posture says a lot about how we feel about ourselves in a situation. Are you feeling confident and self-assured? You’re likely standing tall with your shoulders back. Are you feeling intimidated or nervous? You might have hunched shoulders and a bit of a slouch. In addition to confidence, posture also speaks to our openness. Have you ever spoken to someone who had their arms crossed for the entire conversation? It tends to feel like they’re closed off and not as receptive to what we’re saying. It can make it more difficult to trust and open up to them.
The way we walk is also sending messages to those around us. If you shuffle into a meeting with your head down, you’re not communicating your full potential. It contributes to appearing insecure and unsure. Similar to your posture, your walk can demonstrate self-assuredness. When you take real strides and don’t hesitate to enter a room, it shows you’re confident and eager about whatever you’re heading into. It shows you’re ready to participate.
How do you position yourself in space? Some people tend to pull inward, taking up as little space as possible. This can stem from a lack of confidence, but it can also stem from always trying to please those around you. Either way, it doesn’t help you appear to be confident and capable. If you’re working with a client or making a new connection, you want that person to understand your value. If you’re hunched over with crossed legs and your hands in your lap, for example, it doesn’t send the message that you have a lot to offer. On the flip side, when we actively take up space by sitting up tall, planting our feet on the ground, and using our hands to express ourselves, it communicates a level of engagement and presence to whoever we’re communicating with. It shows that you understand your value and are confident that you have something to share.
In addition to using our hands to support our speech, our hands also often help us make a first impression. A handshake can say a lot. We’ve all been introduced to someone whose hand has felt limp in that initial handshake. It’s not a great impression. While you don’t want to go overboard with your grip, a strong handshake sends a signal. It’s a show of power. Not in a competitive, power-struggle way, but in a way that shows you’re confident in yourself.
When you’re talking with someone in person, your eyes are on their face, and you’re constantly getting cues from it. Are they avoiding eye contact? That can make us feel like they have something to hide, aren’t being honest, or are nervous or uncomfortable. Good eye contact shows that they’re engaged. Are they smiling? Especially if someone is telling us a longer story, we may not think about the facial expression we have on. Maintaining a bit of a smile can help keep a positive tone and show that you’re interested. Simple gestures, like nodding and raising your eyebrows, can also show that you’re present in the conversation and actively listening to what they have to say.
If you want to improve your communication skills, you need to look at all aspects of communication. Though body language may be a more subtle means of communication, it still sends important messages, whether you intend it to or not. Take advantage of this fact and ensure that your body language is sending the message you want it to.