We often underestimate the impact of body language. The things we convey through our nonverbal communication can be more influential than the words we speak. Sure, we can tell our boss we’re more than happy to work late on a Friday, but our frown and slumped shoulders reveal that we’d rather be at home. Our body language reveals what we’re really thinking, whether it’s intentional or not.
When polled, most experts agree that 70-90% of communication is nonverbal. How we use our bodies when we talk can have a big impact on how others perceive us, how receptive they are to our thoughts and ideas, and how willing they are to converse with us.
Read on to find out more about how the way you move helps or hinders communication, and what you can do to improve your body language.
What Is Body Language?
Body language encompasses any of the nonverbal signals that we use to communicate. This can be a physical behavior such as crossed arms as well as a facial expression such as a grimace. It can even be certain mannerisms that we don’t even know we’re making, like a twitching eyelid or shaking hands. We all know the importance of body language in something as important as a job interview, but what about conversations with our friends? Parties? Networking events? Do we pay enough attention to other people’s body language, or even our own?
Think about the last time you were on a first date. Did your hands shake? Did you find yourself reaching for your glass over and over, taking sips of water to quell your nerves? Were your arms crossed in a defensive posture to help you subconsciously feel safe? All of these body language examples express what our words may not. Anyone who is well-versed in body language will be able to read between the lines.
Why Is Body Language Important?
As human beings, we’re naturally curious. We want to know what other people have to say, especially if they don’t want us to know what they’re thinking. To that end, the ability to read body language is a powerful asset in achieving your goals. People who are good at reading body language can foster better relationships, collaborate well with others, and shine in their careers.
When you can read other people’s body language, you might be able to:
- Deduce what someone else is thinking
- Negotiate a better raise
- Leave a lasting impression on a date
- Create trust in relationships
- Offer better guidance and support to those in need
- Become a better leader
If you struggle with body language, there’s no need to worry. There are many ways to learn how to improve body language through practice and a bit of effort.
How To Keep Your Body Language On Point
It is important to learn how to read other people's body language, and it is equally important to understand your own. If your body language does not match what you are saying, you run the risk of creating distrust. Some people are innately able to read body language, but others have to learn it as they would any other language. Body language is one of the keys to effective communication, so becoming an expert in it is a worthwhile endeavor.
Tips To Excel In Body Language
Here are a few steps you can take to improve your body language:
- Practice self-awareness
One of the first tips for body language is to practice being more self-aware. We all have subconscious habits that we don’t even realize we’re doing: nail biting, finger tapping, teeth grinding. But in order to improve your body language, you need to be aware of what your body is signaling to other people. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone, keep an eye on what your body language is doing. You’ll learn what your habits are and which ones you may need to curb.
- Straighten your back and relax your shoulders
A straight back and relaxed shoulders signal that you’re open, calm, and interested. If your shoulders are slumped and your back curved, people may think you’re tired or worn down. If your shoulders are raised, then this sends signals that you’re nervous and stressed. If you find yourself doing any of the above, focus on straightening your back and relaxing your shoulders to put forth an air of calm control.
- Take deep breaths when feeling nervous
We can’t control when we feel nervous, but we can control how we react to it. When we’re nervous, our breathing often becomes shallow. This can cause us to feel even more nervous and enter fight-or-flight mode. If you find yourself feeling nervous, take deep breaths to calm yourself down and bring yourself back to center. A good guide for deep breathing is to breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and hold it for another four. Then repeat this as many times as needed until you feel calmer.
- Practice mindful listening
Mindful listening will help you train yourself to practice more open body language. If you’re focused on being a mindful listener, then you’re engaging in eye contact with the other person and using body language to show that you’re listening. This means nodding, smiling, and doing other things that encourage the other person to keep speaking. When you’re focused on these behaviors, there’s no room for negative body language to get in the way.
- Be engaged with civil discourse
Oftentimes our body language becomes negative when we experience unwanted emotions. Engaging in civil discourse allows you to tackle tough conversations without letting your emotions get the better of you. This means listening without judgment, allowing the other person to finish speaking before responding, and speaking honestly in a neutral tone. When you make civil discourse a way of life, you become fluent in controlling your body language. This is true no matter how emotionally charged the topic of conversation.
- Study other people’s body language
We often learn best by mimicking other people. Whenever you meet someone who you think exudes confidence, take a look at their body language. What nonverbal communication is giving off a sense of confidence and calm? Is it their posture? Their facial expression? Unwavering eye contact? Try and practice those same nonverbal gestures to improve your own body language.
- Don’t forget to smile
This body language tip is one of the more nuanced tips on the list. Smiling too much can appear inauthentic, but not smiling at all is a surefire way to turn off the other speaker. Smile whenever you’re introduced to someone for the first time, and continue to smile at regular intervals during the conversation. In addition to nodding and small verbal encouragements, a smile is the perfect way to show that you’re engaged in the conversation.
Body language is as complex and nuanced as any other language. It can be used to communicate, to express our thoughts, feelings and emotions. But we often don’t recognize the messages our bodies are sending out. By following these body language tips, you’ll improve your own body language and become better at reading everybody else’s. Once you’ve mastered your body language skills, you’ll be surprised what a difference it will make in your life.