We all know of the statistic: 92% of our communication is nonverbal. A majority of that 92% is body language. Wait, what!? That should make you think twice about how you come across to others. Whether you are in a business meeting or in a position to relax your body, the way you present yourself is key.
I’ve been working on my body language for a long time. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. Growing up a shy, insecure boy left me with almost no opportunities in college (in romantic life and job life). After being unemployed for a bit, I decided to t improve my soft skills.
Body language is important. One time, I went to a job interview with a company I didn’t care for. Just to experiment, I decided to consciously give bad body language. I gave the same answers that I would always give, but I made myself look meek and insecure.
I did so “bad” in that interview that they actually started to offer me advice on how to do well in interviews. I was shocked how well my experiment worked. Of course, I didn’t get the job.
I have a list of body language checks that I have learned over the years. If you have bad body language, you should be conscious of this at all times.
When you do these, make sure to err in side of exaggeration. You might feel weird or funny, but most times you don’t realize how much you have to exaggerate.
For example, I told someone to push her shoulders back. She didn’t. I told her to do it again. She told me she was pushing it back. So I told her to push her shoulders back as far as she can. She did, and she looked much better.
If you have bad body language, just do these in a very exaggerated fashion. If you had bad body language for a while, you need to re-train those muscles to give you good body language.
The Body Language List
Stand up straight.
Imagine your head is being suspended or even pulled up. Then relax your body down. This way your body makes a straight line. You might even feel slight, stretchy tension in your back. This will make you look taller.
Some people say to tuck your tail bone so your butt won’t stick out. I just say keep your body relaxed and your tail bone loose. But you can experiment with a mirror or a video camera to see which way you look better.
Pull your shoulders back—squeeze your shoulder blades together.
This lifts your chest. Some people don’t pull them back far enough—so they look slouched over. Or they pull back too much and look like they’re trying too hard.
The correct position is pulling them back so your shoulder blades flatten into your back. Another way to know is when your earlobes align with the middle of your shoulders.
Also what you can do is put your back on the wall and flatten your shoulder to on the wall. Walk away from the wall and keep your shoulders in that position as long as possible. But remember what I mentioned before, err in side of exaggeration.
Relax your shoulders.
This may seem contradictory to pulling your shoulders back. This just means your shoulders should be down, not up at your ears. In fact, the only part suspended should be your head.
If you’re having trouble with relaxing your shoulders, shrug your shoulders up high as possible. Then drop them. Also, try relaxing your elbows down. That helps in keeping your shoulders relaxed.
Look straight ahead.
Don’t look up because you’ll look arrogant. Don’t look down because you’ll look shy and insecure. Just look straight ahead.
If worst comes to worst, err in looking up than looking down. Do not look down at any costs, unless you’re watching your step. If you catch yourself looking down, immediately look up to the horizon. This is crucial for confidence.
When you look straight ahead, you’ll look much more confident. Then when you’re interacting with someone, you can…
Give good eye contact.
What’s good eye contact? First, look at something. Later, when you talk to someone, pick an eye, and look at their eye the same way. Don’t open your eyes wide and give them the death stare. It should be done normal—not psychotic. If looking at other people’s eyes is too much for you, then look at the space between their eyes.
If you’re a man, when standing, spread your legs to shoulder width and distribute the weight evenly on both legs.
If your legs are close together, or worse, intertwined when standing, you look timid. If it’s too wide, you look too arrogant and macho. Just stand shoulder width apart.
What’s shoulder width? You can measure by looking down and see if your shoulders are above you feet. You can also check by measuring the space between your feet to about 1.5 foot-length apart.
What if you’re a woman? I know that spreading your legs apart is not very womanly. But one piece of advice I heard for women is to put one leg slightly in front of the other. Then bend one of the legs slightly. This should stick the hips out a little bit and make you look more feminine.
Distribute the weight on your whole foot
If you lean too much forward on your toes, it tenses up your toes too much. At worse, put your weight on your heels. Just don’t fall backwards.
Try not to cross your arms too much.
If you do this, you’ll look like you’re judging someone. Or you’ll look like you’re not comfortable with the situation. Just let the arms hang down. You can put them on your hips, hang them on your pockets (not in them), rest them on your body, or just let them hang by the side.
Many people cross their arms because it’s comfortable. It’s comfortable because they’ve been doing it too much. It’s okay to cross the arms sometimes, but not all the time. When being conscious of your body language, just don’t do it.
Don’t put your hands in your pocket.
Same thing as above. You’ll just look timid and insecure.
Smile a bit more
Don’t give the psychotic, Joker smile. Just give a genuine smile. And do it more often.
When sitting, sit back.
We all heard the advice to lean forward to give attention to the person. But I think sitting back and looking relaxed is better. As you start talking, you’ll naturally be drawn forward when things get interesting.
If you’re meeting someone new, don’t lean in or back.
Stay neutral. If you can’t hear them, step towards them. Leaning in can be very creepy and too intrusive to some people—especially when meeting someone new.
What if they lean back away from you? You stand put. Don’t lean in to follow them. Same thing if they lean in towards you, just stay firm. Note that this is only for the first meet. If you have rapport with the person, you can do whatever you want.
Take up space.
Remember your arms? If you need to put them somewhere, rest them on an object. If you’re sitting down, put them on the table. If you’re standing, you can rest them on a chair besides you, on the wall, the table, etc.
Try to look relaxed at all times.
The final point is to stay relaxed at all times. When being conscious of all these things it’s probably hard to stay relaxed. But once good body language becomes second nature, you’ll look more natural and relaxed. If you stay relaxed, especially at a tense situation, it will help other people to be relaxed.
A common mistake is looking fatigued or tired instead of relaxed. What’s the difference? Keeping all the points I mentioned above but relaxed. If you let your posture sag, frown, or whatever; you’ll look tired.
Becoming Second Nature
In the beginning, you need to imbue these concepts constantly into you. At first it will feel weird since you’re consciously adjusting yourself. But it will become second nature and your body language will make you look more confident.
If you need more practice just take yoga, tai chi, or dance classes. If the instructor is decent, she’ll enforce good body language concepts to you. Not to mention they’re good exercise.