What does your body language say about you?
Do you want it to say you’re confident, successful, in charge of your own destiny?
Body language is the first clue strangers use to form their initial impression of you.
These 12 tips will not only boost your confidence, they’ll also help you develop habits that will bring positive energy and success into your life.
1. Stand Up Straight
Did a well-meaning adult lecture you about posture when you were a kid?
“Stand up straight” may sound like a nagging reminder from Aunt Sally, and the word ‘posture’ may conjure images of finishing school students balancing phone books on their heads.
But it turns out Aunt Sally was right: if you want to get ahead, you need good posture. When you stand up straight you fill the space around you and convey success.
2. Minimize Gesturing
Imagine you’re watching two people talking at the other end of the street. You can’t hear what they’re saying, so body language is your only clue as to what the conversation is about. One person is gesticulating wildly, hands and arms flying around every time they open their mouth. The other person makes little or no gestures. Which person would you guess is angry?
The gestures we use when we speak are often habitual, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change to fit the occasion. As the example above illustrates, over-gesturing will make you appear angry and aggressive. Instead you should shrink your gestures to a non-threatening size. Use inviting gestures such as opening your arms or hands to show that you’re an open person without secrets.
3. Lean In
It’s no coincidence this is the title of a book about succeeding in business. Leaning in demonstrates your enthusiasm for the conversation and assures the person talking to you that you’re listening. A small head tilt as you lean in will emphasize your undivided attention.
4. Maintain Eye Contact, but Not Too Much
According to Forbes.com, the average length of time Americans maintain eye contact is 7-10 seconds. Keeping your eyes level with the person you’re meeting with shows them you’re a confident, smart person. Eye contact is especially helpful when you’re explaining something difficult or need to deliver a valuable message.
Don’t overdo it, though. If you never break eye contact you may come off as awkward or confrontational. So make sure you take breaks and look away. Looking down can make you seem weak or secretive, so turn your eyes to the side instead.
5. Go Ahead and Smile
Who doesn’t appreciate a smile? The human brain has a positive reaction to smiles and so we remember the people who offer them freely. Beyond the message of warmth a smile sends, you’ll also appear open, reliable, and self-possessed. It’s no wonder that so many public figures and celebrities prioritize getting their smiles corrected.
Smiling is an easy way to project success, and as a bonus it will make you feel better, too.
6. Shake Hands Firmly
A recent study in the U.S. examined 98 undergraduates who participated in mock interviews. Among other aspects, the students’ handshakes were evaluated. Not surprisingly, the students rated most highly on their handshakes were also considered the most desirable candidates by the interviewers.
So what makes a handshake great? First of all, don’t actually shake — think of it more as a sustained grip than an arm-pump.
Be firm without clenching the other person’s hand so hard you cut off blood flow. Also make eye contact as you shake and don’t let go too quickly.
Shaking hands at the beginning of an interview or meeting sets the mood for the entire conversation, so make your handshake count.
7. Nod Your Head
Nodding your head is the body language equivalent of saying “uh huh” to show you’re listening as someone tells a story.
Nodding also conveys enthusiasm and energy. You don’t want to overdo it and appear hysterical, but a little nod will go a long way toward making a positive impression.
8. Reflect the Other Person’s Body Language
Mirroring others’ body language is an instinctual and effective way to bond with another person. It’s the way infants become socialized, as they mirror their parents’ facial expressions and actions. Because it’s such a crucial element of our development, it’s a quick way to create understanding with another person. Mirroring says, “We’re more alike than different.”
Just be mindful of the context. If you’re speaking with a current or potential boss, don’t mirror body language that could make you appear dominating or aggressive, such as crossed arms. On the other hand, mirroring the body language of someone in a weaker position than you is a great way to make them feel comfortable and earn their trust.
9. Align Yourself With The Other Person
Similar to mirroring, aligning your stance with another’s is an effective way to diffuse tension or conflict. Instead of facing the other person, move next to them so that you’re standing or sitting side by side and looking in the same direction. This will make even an adversary feel like you’re on the same team.
10. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Stillness
The ability to stay cool and collected even in the most high-pressure situation is a key trait of successful people. So breathe in and out slowly, and minimize your gestures and other movements. Sometimes less is more with body language. A moment of stillness can be more powerful than anything you say.
11. Use a Positive Frame
Interpret events in a positive light and you can stop destructive thought cycles in their tracks. For example, don’t express a goal like productivity in a negative fashion: “I have to stop procrastinating.” Reframe it positively as “I’m going to work on this project every night for an hour until it’s finished.” The importance of positivity is recognized in every field from medicine to business.
Focus on what you will do, not what you shouldn’t. Believe you can, and you will.
12. Act “as if” You Feel The Way You Want To
Psychologist William James promoted the theory that acting as if you feel a certain way will convince your brain that you actually do. “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” is another version. So when you are tired, act alert; when you are insecure, act confident. It’s amazing how you can change the way you feel by pretending to be the thing you desire to become.
This is yet another reason body language is important. People aren’t mind readers. And you can shape how others perceive you by using body language to your advantage. No one has to know you broke up with your boyfriend last night if you show up for your interview with straight posture, a bright smile, and a firm handshake.
So which of these positive body language traits will you try out next?
Anum Yoon started and maintains her personal finance blog, Current on Currency, for anyone who wants to read about her financial journey and perspectives on money management, frugal living, and financial trends.