Most people understand that our body language can send certain messages when we're talking or listening to others. There's been much research done to determine how it can boost or ruin your chances in an interview or other testing scenarios like a pitch, but have you considered how it might impact you every day?
Social scientists have found that people can make sweeping judgments based on another's body language. It's estimated that up to 75% of our communication is non-verbal, so you could be sending the wrong messages throughout the day without even realizing it.
For managers, this means you could be saying things to your employees before you've even opened your mouth. As those in management become more responsible for the progression, performance and loyalty of employees, it is now vital for professionals involved in people management to understand body language.
1. Facial expressions say a lot
Facial expressions are perhaps the most important element of non-verbal communication for managers to try and control. It's important that you're able to build a strong trusting relationship with employees and displaying the wrong facial expressions can undo weeks, months or even years of hard work. Your face can easily undermine what you're saying, which can make employees distrust you as a leader.
This is why it's important that you are as open and honest with your team as possible. Creating a relationship based on transparency means you don't have to worry so much about your facial expressions betraying you, and it will harvest a better working environment for everyone.
It also pays to watch yourself in a mirror or record yourself in a professional setting to see how your face sits when you're not putting any effort in to it. Some people are lucky and look relaxed but others can appear angry, bored or worried without even realizing it.
2. Engage people with gestures
Great leaders often gesticulate when they speak. The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures during their 18 minute talk, while the most popular used an average of 465. It's natural to use your hands when speaking but you should ensure that each is deliberate and has a very specific purpose.
Hand gestures that show amounts or are symbolic can make an audience listen more attentively and ensure you come across as strong and respectable. Research has also suggested that speech-associated gestures that support what you are saying to some degree can compound your message.
3. Think about your posture
Finding a comfortable posture that is strong but not intimidating can be difficult, but the way you stand or sit can communicate a lot about you, especially confidence. When in a meeting, don't wrap yourself in a ball or cross your arms and legs; take up the space you're entitled to. Making yourself appear smaller in a meeting can suggest that you don't belong there or don't feel confident in what you're saying, which is unlikely to reassure or inspire anyone.
Hold your head high, keep your back straight and make eye contact when speaking to people. This will help you appear as someone in control and confident in their abilities, which as a manager is a crucial part of being able to lead a team.
4. Maintain good eye contact
Eye contact can have a big impact on how people react to what you're saying. Maintaining eye contact with the person you're speaking with will show that you are listening and respect the other person's opinion. If you're addressing a room full of people, work your way around the room, focusing on individuals for a couple of seconds each before moving on. This helps people engage with you and what you're saying.
In one-to-one situations, it's also important that you don't confuse eye contact with staring as the latter can be intimidating and will have the opposite effect.