The Importance of Body Language and What It Says about You

Eight ways to improve your body language

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A first impression is made even before a single word is said. Appearance and body language speak volumes which make it all the more important to understand non-verbal communication. Understanding non-verbal communication makes it easier to gauge your conversational partner, and it can help improve how you convey your message. The following Body Language Checklist can help you improve your first impression! 

What is body language? 

Body language is a form of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is all communication that is not contained in words. The content, the words, is verbal communication. The combination of verbal and non-verbal communication gives meaning to the content. Body language combines these elements:

  1. Facial expression: The face is the primary indicator we rely on to interpret a person’s emotions. Seven micro-expressions involve facial twitches lasting less than half a second: anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, fear, sadness, contempt, and surprise. 
  2. Clothing: Certain styles and colors send a message. The way we dress is often used to signify gender, age and economic class.
  3. Eye contact: Eye contact during a conversation is very important and shows interest. However, too much eye contact can appear aggressive.
  4. Gestures: Everyone uses their hands and arms in different ways. For example, arms can indicate a defensive position. Crossed arms are often viewed as a closed posture. The arms can also hang loosely with the shoulders back, which is usually a sign that someone is relaxed. Hands can emphasize the message or indicate an honest, open attitude by showing open palms.
  5. Voice: Voice includes the volume, the rate of speech, and pitch. A slow, monotonous voice can convey bordom. A high-pitched, fast speech can sound nervous. 
  6. Posture: Posture is the general position of the body. In general, comfortable people will keep their heads up and look at you directly. Slightly leaning back indicates feeling relaxed, leaning slightly forward indicates active listening.

Miscommunication through body language

It is crucial to realize that body language is continuously observed and interpreted when communicating with others. If the content of your words does not match what you think and feel, people tend to rely on tone and body language. When your conversation partner notices a discrepancy between what you say verbally and what you convey non-verbally, they might question the message. For example, when giving a compliment while frowning, the other person might be skeptical and not believe the compliment. In other words, if what you say matches what you feel and think, your message will likely come across as it was intended. 

Much of our body language is intuitive, and you might not even notice that you are communicating with your posture and facial expressions. For example, rubbing your hands because you are nervous, or frowning because you are thinking inject meaning. Sometimes you do not realize what you are showing; meaning that we often do not know how others might interpret our body language. However, conclusions are frequently drawn from body language, sometimes outweighing the words we say. When someone says to have a good time while sitting in a corner with their arms folded, do you believe what they say or what they convey with their body language? Misinterpretation of body language can lead to miscommunication and work to your disadvantage.

The Body Language Improvement Checklist

1. Relax 

Take a deep breath through your nose and release your breath slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat this a few times. This exercise relaxes both your body and face, making you look more relaxed right away.

2. Posture

With the last deep breath to relax, shrug your shoulders. With the exhale, let them fall backward entirely. Pull them back slightly. People with straightened shoulders come across as more open and self-assured. This can help improve your mood as well. 

Standing upright shows confidence, authority, and energy. Pretend a string is pulling your head and shoulders up to the ceiling. Your weight should be evenly distributed, with your feet firmly on the floor. 

3. Eye contact 

You appear more confident when you make eye contact while talking to others. Making eye contact is not the same as staring. Making eye contact while the other person is talking shows interest and empathy. Extra plus: People tend to find good listeners more likable, so let them talk. 

4. Smile

A friendly smile shows comfort and sends the message that you are at ease. Again, it is all about the proper dosage. However, when in doubt, smile.

5. Mirroring

Mirroring means following the movements of your conversation partner to show interest and attention. For example, if your conversation partner puts his right leg over his knee, you do the same. Most people already do this unconsciously, but it can be helpful to pay extra attention to it. For the advanced users: Too much or conspicuous mirroring can come across as too intense. 

6. Clothing and presentation

Nothing is more personal than one’s clothing style. Wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable can make you feel powerful, even on the phone. Pay a little extra attention to your wardrobe. Give consideration to which colors and fit suit the situation? 

Making a professional impression is more than clothing. For example, also make sure that you keep perspiration under control. Make sure to have fresh breath, and keep your hands clean and tidy.

7. Hands

Keeping both hands in sight shows confidence. Keeping your palms visible is a sign that you are approachable and not a threat. Also, pay attention to what you do with your hands and hand gestures. Fiddling or twisting thumbs can appear bored or impatient. In addition, always give a firm hand to comes across as confident.

8. Active attitude

An active attitude shows interest ­– that you are motivated and interested in the other person and the topic of conversation.

When you listen, you adopt an active attitude by:

  • A slightly bent-over posture, upright, with the shoulders and toes toward the conversation partner. This open body language implies attention and focus. 
  • Do not move your body away from the conversation, but lean forward and focus eyes, ears, and energy on the conversation. 
  • Do not cross arms and legs, and do not multitask. Put your phone away if you do not want to appear disinterested and/or disrespectful.
  • Offer frequent, small encouragement such as nodding your head, humming, “Mm, mm,” or saying, “Keep going.” 

Final thoughts: Be yourself

The checklist can be helpful and used in various situations, professionally and privately. However, there is one important thing to note: When overthinking about how you come across and focusing on every move, it is impossible to concentrate on the conversation. Listening is the most crucial action during a conversation. People find a conversation partner who listens more sympathetic. Do not be too hard on yourself, and be yourself! 

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