When a confident, charismatic person enters a room, we sit up and take notice. When someone has learned to command respect by projecting self-assurance from every muscle and sinew, we automatically feel drawn to what they say – whether we agree with it or not.
The reason for this is hard-wired into our biology. From our very first formative experiences as children, we all learn a subtle language– the universal language of the body. It happens in the background, and we’re hardly aware of it. But it’s there.
And it affects us on a fundamental level.
All through our formal education we learn to read, write, and use our spoken and written language skills to express ourselves and communicate our desires, needs and opinions. Those language skills help us carve out our life path. The language of the body is usually neglected at school, but it’s just as vital.
As we grow up, we instinctively learn to sense things from smiles, shrugs, facial expressions and hand positions. We know what different tones of voice mean. Although it’s possible to become quite an expert in this language, even without formal training, most of us don’t learn to really speak it or read it intentionally.
Successful people, on the other hand, intuitively understand how important it is. Words alone don’t carry the same power. They know that success needs to be exuded – unabashedly, and totally.
They also know that reading the subtle signals of others will help give them an edge.
Our bodies are constantly expressing our emotions and our state of mind, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Science agrees. A university study found that a person’s posture actually influenced test subjects more easily and more profoundly than their position on the corporate ladder.
“Posture may be more significant to a person’s psychological manifestations of power than their title or rank alone.”
When someone is weighed down by insecurity and doubt you can immediately read it in his body language. The shoulders will drop forwards, the head will tilt, the spine will curve, and the arms will be folded or hands clasped protectively.
That doesn’t create the kind of first impression you’re aiming for.
The body language associated with success and charisma looks more like this:
- Stand tall, shoulders back. Take up your body space with confidence – own it. Stand up and walk around to fill up even more space, if the situation allows for it. Make all your movements in a deliberate, calculated way. It shows you’re in control of yourself.
- Widen your stance slightly. Standing with your feet close together makes you seem more timid than a wider stance. Practice standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, dropping your center of gravity, and adopting a powerful, balanced, almost athletic standing position. Make it a natural part of you.
- Align your body. When you can draw a straight line from your head, down through your neck, torso and hips, right down to your feet, you’re aligned. Experiment with standing and sitting like that from time to time, and notice how it actually starts to change the way you feel.
Practice your posture in front of a full-length mirror. Try priming your mind first, by thinking of something that fills you with pride and confidence, then try to express that naturally in your posture.
You will notice how much more commanding you appear if you stand up straight, without forcing it unnaturally. Make it a habit to use this posture. You will find that people are more likely to approach you and will treat you differently.
Besides helping you come across as more positive, successful and approachable, it will also benefit your health. If you’re have a constant slouch, or have constant pain in your back and shoulders it might be a sign that it’s time to take up yoga, or some other form of exercise to correct it.
Persuasive Body Language
You might have the world of knowledge in your head, but when your body betrays you with nervous movements, slouching shoulders, lack of eye contact or a raised pitch of voice – it’s telling people you’re unsure of your story. They will most probably react accordingly.
The art of persuasion relies partly on your unconscious body signals. Using them intentionally and intelligently will add weight to your words, and make your decisions seem more authoritative.
Persuasive people tend to use this kind of body language:
- Use open hand gestures. Show people the palms of your hands, don’t keep them in your pockets or stiffly next to your body. Express your conviction and passion with your hands.
- Maintain eye-contact. Your eyes command attention. When you hold someone’s gaze you’re able to penetrate their thought-process more effectively. You’re also better able to judge their response and adapt more quickly.
- Avoid nervous gestures. Tapping feet, fidgeting hands or restless movements show that you’re not in control. They are unconsciously condemning you. Make each movement deliberate and smooth instead.
- Smile. Nothing wins hearts and minds like a genuine smile.
- Use your handshake intentionally. Most Western people know the difference between a firm, confident handshake and one that feels like a dead fish. In other parts of the world this may not apply. Also, know the impact that a friendly hand on the shoulder can have – and know the right time to use it.
- Modulate your voice. Be aware of your pitch, tone, rhythm and voice modulation. Speak in a lower voice to foster confidence. Raise your volume ever so slightly to drive something home.
Although there’s no foolproof system for identifying when someone else is lying, body language can often give you tiny clues.
First, establish a Baseline. That means noticing details about the person’s body language when the subject is neutral – before you ask that important question, and when they have no reason to lie. It’s important to have this as a reference point, because everyone’s features are different.
Once you have established a baseline, ask your question – preferably in an open way where a simple “yes” or “no” won’t work. For example: “Can you describe how you…”
Then pay very close attention. Here are some “hotspots” to focus on:
- Head movements – nodding when saying “No” or shaking the head when saying “Yes” are clues. Sudden unconscious head movements are also telltale signs. Sometimes it’s the whole head, other times it is only a micro-expression that appears for less than a second.
- Hand movements – If a person nervously clenches his hands, or folds them protectively, it means he is tense, possibly because he is afraid of the truth. Some children involuntarily cover their mouths when they lie. In adults this unconscious gesture can be disguised. Moving the hands up to the face to scratch or to rub the nose or an ear are often disguised signals of shame.
- Watch for subtle changes. A change in posture, a change in breathing, tone of voice or even the style of speaking will give away the fact that the person you’re speaking to is up to something.
Obviously some people are far better liars than others.
You need to have a solid baseline, and become aware of the total person you’re attempting to ‘read’ in order to make this work.
One sign might prove nothing, but when you notice three or more signs – beware. Trust your intuition. When you combine those clues with a little common sense and some context, you have a far better chance of guessing accurately whether or not someone is telling the truth.
Once you start actively paying attention to body language, it’s as if a whole new world of experience opens up for you. You’re able to ‘read’ people and situations instantly, and your confidence will grow in strides.
When you master the art of exuding confidence through your posture and cultivated mannerisms things will begin to change both in your personal and your business life.