Body Language – How To Read Other People

It is said that it takes seconds to forge a first impression; before you’ve even said a word, the people you meet will have drawn their own conclusions about you. Although dressing the part and behaving politely are both important, how you carry yourself is a vital – and sometimes overlooked – aspect to our interactions with others. To see how powerful this effect can be, you just have to look at how actors embody different roles. A sufficiently talented performer can use body language expertly to convey totally different impressions. This is a great lesson for all of us; you don’t need to be an Oscar-winning actor to take control of your own body language.

The Seven most important cues of Body Language

Stand up straight. Good posture is fundamental, not just for giving the right impression to those around you, but also for maintaining the health of your back and shoulders. To achieve it, imagine that someone has tied a string to the top of your spine and this is being pulled gently upwards. Engaging your core, and lifting your body in this way will create an air of confidence, that will instantly be noticed by others. This changes your silhouette, so the effect can even be seen from a distance.

Eye contact. Our eyes have a crucial communicative role. It is thought that the white portion, or sclera, of the eye evolved in humans to make it easier for others to see in which direction we are looking. Making eye contact is used to demonstrate that you’re paying attention to and engaged in the person you are with –  if you just stare at your shoes or look out the window, you will appear bored or embarrassed. Too much eye-contact, however, can look like you’re obsessed, so there is a definite balance to be struck!

Shake hands. The handshake is a common greeting in many parts of the world, that – when done properly – conveys both respect and friendliness. You should firmly grasp the hand of the other person in yours, shake it gently, and release after about three seconds. A limp handshake, or one that lasts too long, will make you look weak and supercilious. Your palms should be in contact during the handshake; don’t try to grasp the fingers of the other person in your hand.

Smile. Smiling is incredibly important – it conveys not just happiness and pleasure, but enthusiasm and calm. It is thought to have evolved from a submissive gesture found amongst apes of baring one’s teeth. Amongst humans, however, it indicates sociability – as such, smiling genuinely at another person will make you seem likeable and approachable.

Mirroring. If you look at two people interacting together, one of the things that you may not notice at first – but becomes impossible to ignore once you know it’s there – is that they will be subtly copying each other’s behaviours and gestures. If one touches their face, the other one will a couple of seconds later. If one of them shifts their legs to one side, so will their companion. This secret dance is a way in which people unconsciously signal that they are invested in the other person’s company. It’s possible to consciously use mirroring to build rapport with colleagues, but just don’t make it too obvious.

Lean forward. An exception to mirroring is the tendency for people to very slightly lean toward someone that they like or admire. Positioning one’s body in this way can instantly covey engagement and interest toward someone else.

Check the feet. When a group of people are standing together, you can quickly get a sense of the dynamic from an odd source; the direction in which people are pointing their feet. As with leaning in, people will often point their feet towards someone they find interesting, as this makes it easier to look at them for longer periods of time. Usually, in a group where the conversation is flowing between everyone, people will point their feet very slightly towards the people on either side, so its easy to switch your attention between everyone. This knowledge can be very handy when approaching a group for the first time – when people welcome someone new into a huddle, they will often open up their body language and point their feet at the newcomer until they’ve introduced themselves. If people resolutely keep their feet pointing away from you, it can be a sign that it’s time to move on.



Photo courtesy of pexels
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