If you’re like most people, then you are not as self-aware of your body language, and the unintentional messages you are sending, as you should be.
We often do a pretty good job at noticing other peoples’ unintentional signals but in ourselves, not so much. Consequently, we make some common body language mistakes and often send the wrong message to others without even realizing it.
Why does that matter? Because your body language makes up over half of your total communication – far more than the words you use, or the tone of your voice.
The 7-38-55 rule is a concept concerning the communication of emotion. It states that 7 percent of meaning is communicated through spoken word, 38 percent through tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language. ~ Developed by Albert Mehrabian, psychology professor at UCLA (1971)
Using effective body language can make a huge difference in the connection you make when you communicate. When you aren’t aware of your body language or make unintentional body language mistakes you can create some major disconnects and misunderstandings. You may even evoke some unexpected conflict.
Here are ten of the most common body language mistakes and how to avoid making them.
1. Looking down or away
This can be interpreted as showing disinterest or disrespect. It can also be interpreted as a sign of arrogance.
How to improve: pay attention and make comfortable eye contact with the person you are communicating with at all tmes.
2. Closed body posture
When you put your hands on your hips, it can be interpreted as a sign of superiority, arrogance, or defensiveness. Crossing your arms can show anger or superiority, even if that is not your intent (e.g. you are simply cold).
For best results, keep your arms open and relaxed at your sides.
3. Standing too close
This makes most people feel uncomfortable. We generally consider the four square feet of space immediately surrounding our bodies our personal space bubble. Your personal space bubble is that imaginary bubble around you that represents the comfortable distance between you and other people or objects. And while each person’s space bubble may vary in size based on many factors, including cultural norms, the comfort average area is comfortable is between 18 inches to 4 feet.
Pay attention to how close you stand to people and make sure you aren’t closer than about 18 inches or more. Cross into the invisible bubble (less than 18 inches) only with those that give you permission to do so such as good friends and family.
4. Uneven eye contact
When you are sitting down looking at someone standing up, there is a sense of power to the person standing. It can become a major disconnect.
Keep your self at eye level if at all possible. If someone comes into your space standing while you are sitting, stand up. Or, if you are with someone sitting, sit down. The idea is to be a level eye contact. For example, crouch down to connect with children – it will make a huge difference in how they react to you.
5. Sitting on the edge of your chair
This is an indication that you are uncomfortable, anxious, or nervous. It can make others around you uncomfortable as well.
Watch how you are positioned while sitting. Sit back and be as relaxed as is appropriate for the situation.
6. Faking a smile
Fake smiles are sometimes automatic and will only involve your mouth and lips. It can look like you are bored, not being honest, or appear as sarcasm. And, it is certainly not genuine.
Assess your smile. Are you smiling genuinely or automatically? It’s easy to distinguish between a fake and a genuine smile. A genuine smile wrinkles the corners of the eyes and changes the expression of your entire face. Don’t force yourself to smile, it won’t work.
7. Checking your watch or looking away
This displays a sense of boredom or that you don’t have time for or interest in this conversation. Never glance at the time or look away unnecessarily. If you need to, annouce what you are doing and why: e.g. Sorry, just need to check the time so I don’t miss my meeting…
Distractions are easy to get sucked into and we often do it without knowing. Concentrate on the conversation you are having as if it is the most important thing you are doing right then.
8. Foot or finger tapping, finger chewing, hair twirling
This usually indicates stress, nervousness, impatience, or boredom – and it’s very annoying to others.
Think about what your body is doing while you are talking – or listening. Monitor your habits and practice keeping your limbs at rest.
9. Fidgeting with small objects
Fidgeting with small objects such as a pen, paper ball, or paperclips is also a sign of anxiety or nervousness. It can also be interpreted as a lack of preparedness.
Again, it’s always best to keep your hands comfortably at rest when communicating with others.
When you text, type, take a phone call or do some other task while you’re communicating, it says, I don’t really care, and I’m not really listening to you. And, really, you demonstrating that you aren’t.
Be Aware – pay attention to what your body is doing. Maintain appropriate eye contact, stay engaged, stay connected, and on task.
Bonus tip: Watch out for micro facial expressions. Is your face saying what you want it to say?
Practicing good body language can make a huge difference in the connection you make and the success of your communication. To be an effective communicator, your body language should help you connect and engage and be consistent with your words. Focus on these three main areas, and you will begin to be more self-aware and able to control the message you want to send.
- Look up and make good eye contact.
- Keep your body posture open; arms relaxed and at your sides. Use only small hand movements to make a point.
- Nod and smile – show genuine and positive signs that you are listening and connected.
Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of 52 Communication Tips, and Intentional Gratitude.