Harness the Power of Body Language
You can’t get what you want in life without asking for it. Even then, it’s still no guarantee. But there are tricks to increase your chances of success—sometimes without ever opening your mouth. “Body language is highly influential,” says Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, author of “The Silent Language of Leaders.”
Here, how to harness the power of body language to improve your chances of success in every corner of your career.
The Situation: You’re Speaking at an Important Meeting
The Strategy: Research shows that our posture impacts how others view us — and how we feel about ourselves. Assertive positions that open up the body and take up space (think Wonder Woman stance) boost testosterone and trigger a person’s sense of power. Instead of crossing your arms or legs, extend them out. Putting your hands behind your head or placing your arms out in front of you will help you feel in charge. And others will sense it. “When you present yourself in an assertive manner, it demonstrates strength, confidence, and competence —that you know what you’re talking about and you’re worth listening to,” says Sims Wyeth, President of Sims Wyeth & Co., an executive development firm based in Montclair, NJ.
The Situation: You’re Meeting With Difficult Clients
The Strategy: Get a read on mood by assessing their body language first. Are their palms down? Are their bodies angled away from you? These subtle cues will tell you they’re closed off. To warm up tough clients, be careful not to mimic their negative body language, which can escalate tension even more, says Goman. Instead of rushing in with solutions, allow the client to voice concerns. Lean in slightly. Keep your face pleasant and open (but don’t break into a full smile, which can signal you’re not taking them seriously). Most importantly, tilt your head when they’re talking. “It says, ‘I care. I’m interested. Tell me more,’” says Dr. Lois Frankel, author of "Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office." "You’ve shifted to become a listener who isn’t critical, and it can mitigate a really tough message."
The Situation: You’re Trying to Close a Deal
The Strategy: Silence. “It’s a real power leveler when you can be strategic about your silences,” says Selena Rezvani, author of “Pushback: How Smart Women Ask and Stand Up for What They Want,” who recommends being quiet for five seconds after you make your pitch, and for five seconds after you get a response back. Be crisp in delivering your request, she suggests, then pull back and maintain a neutral face. If you’re nodding your head and smiling that usually says, ‘I like the terms I’m hearing,’ says Rezvani. Silence gives you a minute to collect your thoughts, and compels the other side to speak. And that can often bring the other side closer to your terms.
The Situation: You’re Running a Brainstorming Session
The Strategy: Blend in. Don’t waltz into the meeting in your best designer suit—unless that’s what everyone else is wearing. When trying to inspire collaboration, you don’t want to look like a leader, says Goman. Sit somewhere in the middle, rather than at the head, of the table. Show you’re fully engaged by nodding, keeping your torso and toes (a body part that we forget about) pointed towards your group, and by maintaining eye contact. When speaking, gesture with upturned palms, which is the universal sign for “I need help.”
The Situation: You’re Giving an Important Presentation
The Strategy: When presenting to senior management, you want to send status and authority signals that say, “I’m a good spokesperson for this company,” says Goman. To demonstrate confidence, stand at the front of the room, and don’t hide behind a podium. Gesture from the waist with your palms facing down. This says, “I know what I’m talking about,” says Goman. When we’re overly emotional, gestures rise, she adds. “If they get above your shoulders, you’re going to look erratic.” Likewise, use consistent eye contact. “When we’re nervous, our eyes dart around. This can make people wonder if you even buy your own argument,” says Rezvani.
The Situation: You're at a Networking Event
The Strategy: To turn on the charm with someone you barely know, think about how you would greet your best friend if she just walked into the room. “Your eyes light up, you lean forward more, your eye contact is different, and you come across as a much friendlier person,” says Leil Lowndes, author of “How to Talk to Anyone.” To trick your body into being more upbeat and positive than you may feel, go back in your mind to a situation where you truly felt whatever emotion you want to bring to the surface, says Goman. During your conversation, smile, maintain eye contact and lean in slightly to show that you’re engaged. If they are just as interested in getting to know you, chances are, they will do the same.