The last time you saw a reference to body language on our blog was in our post titled How to improve communication skills. Non-verbal cues (or simply – body language) can have a greater impact on your audience – whether it’s your boss (during appraisals), your interview (after your MBA), recruiter (when you are looking for a better job). The low hanging fruits that all blog posts on body language talk about are having a firm handshake and not crossing your arms (or legs or eyes!). Ever thought about the rationale behind those tips?
The first step towards change is awareness. So we thought – why not cover body language from a psychological perspective and focus on not just what our body does in a subconscious manner, but also focus on the rationale behind why we do what we do in stressful situations.
The ideas and points that we mention in this post are relevant not just for MBA students and business professionals, but anyone who is interested in raising their self-awareness.
Disclaimer: We don’t have a psychology related degree. Just regular folks trying to make sense of the irregular things around us. Take this with a pinch of iodised salt.
A whole lot of what happens in our bodies is triggered by the amygdale, a small part of your very complex brain that has refused to evolve with time. It is responsible for the fight versus flight response whenever we face perceived danger. The word ‘perceived’ is the key word here.
This means the brain gets easily fooled by external or internal (i.e. psychological) stimulus and we behave in certain ways that might seem illogical when you think about it after the perceived threat goes away.
A majority of our actions reflect our desire for self-preservation or reduction/elimination of damage and danger. Let’s consider a few examples.
Imagine a troop of monkeys or a pride of lions or any other species that you prefer watching on National Geographic). Now think about the alpha males in that group. They stand out from the crowd because of their postures. The meek followers around them (and those who have just had their butt kicked in a power struggle) have their tails between their legs.
Check out their body language when they are happy, angry, scared, provocative. There’s a lot that spills over to homo sapiens too.
For instance, within the human species, open postures are generally a sign of confidence. When used well, they exude assertiveness. When overdone, they can be construed as arrogance. When underplayed, it could indicate submissiveness or nervousness.
Let’s link this to what we do in real life and how to change the behaviour.
Alright, this is the easy one. Have a firm handshake, instead of a dead cat’s paw (conveys a loser attitude) or a bone-crushing iron grip (which says ‘I own you’). Though this sounds simple, a regular handshake can also be a stressful event for those suffering from hyperhydrosis (sweaty palms).
Stand up tall. Take up some space (without looking bloated). Strike a pose that conveys power and comfort (as opposed to ‘I wish I could run away’). Even forcing this posture for a few minutes can get the real confidence levels up.
This complements the posture bit. No point when you are striking your favourite power pose while your face bears the ‘I think I just peed my pants’ look, right?
If all those years of paan-chewing hasn’t been kind to your teeth, you are better off not showing your pearly-whites-turned-to-vampire-reds to the world.
Slow, meaningful & controlled gestures show that you are in charge of the topic being discussed and with your audience. Open gestures (displaying palms of the hand, instead of crossing arms) can say ‘I’ve nothing to hide’.
On the other hand, rapid and repetitive gestures (fidgeting with your hair, fingers, clothes, or bouncing your feet as if there were springs underneath) show that you are nervous.
This is a little tough for the shy ones, but try to have positive and comfortable gaze with your audience. However, extended and intense stares can be intimidating as well. So give it a little break once in a while.
If you need to be reminded frequently that ‘My eyes are up here’ then you’ve got a bigger problem to manage.
Now when you read about the best body language tips that can transform your life, think about this theory and stuff might start making sense.
On that last bit about eyes, you’d be surprised on how much they can reveal about what you are feeling (with some exceptions like this).
Want to try a little exercise? Try out this survey hosted by New York Times which tests your judgement in evaluating emotions based on the eyes.
For whatever it is worth, I scored 35 out of 36. Try the test, get a score and share it in the comments below with a short description of how you’ve used (or fallen prey to) body language signals at work.