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What's Your Body Language Saying?

This story originally appeared on Personal Branding Blog

Since we all want to portray ourselves as cool, intelligent, strong, charismatic, principled, caring, and interested in others, learning tactics to make a great first impression is critical. First impressions are so important because they make an indelible mark on how we're perceived by others. Surprisingly, our posture, smile, eyes, personal hygiene and the way we dress, is the basis for other's impression of us.

Understanding our body language and what we are communicating is critical to connecting to others. Those who are adept in using body language to influence others know how to tie their speech with their physical gestures to create a maximal impact on their listener. In Leil Lowndes's book, "How to Talk to Anyone?' She devotes an entire chapter to be intriguing without saying a word. Lowndes says, " Your body shrieks before your lips can speak."

Lowndes says in order to influence people you need to understand how something as simple as our smile affects other people. There are actually different types of smiles; there are warm smiles, cold smiles, fake and real smiles. Studies show that quick grin actually shows less sincerity than a responsive smile. When you greet someone, Lowndes says, "look at the other person's face for a second. Pause. Soak in their persona and then let a big, war, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes. This split second delay shows that your smile is genuine and only for them."

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When it comes to eye contact techniques, conventional wisdom teaches, "Keep good eye contact." Although some insecure people may find this intrusive, in general it still works to awaken feelings of respect and affection and even give the impression of being an intelligent and abstract thinker. Interestingly, this works best between the sexes. Staring too long by another man can make some men hostile or threatened.

Women to women or man to women can use what Lowndes calls "sticky eyes." It gives off an "I'm here for you" impression. Pretend your eyes are glued to your partner's with sticky, warm taffy. Don't break eye contact even after she's finished speaking. When you must look away, do it ever so slowly. For men talking to men, you can modify this by using sticky eyes with day-to-day conversation but not when it comes to personal matters. If you use this eye-contact tactic properly it has the power to captivate your listener.

Posture is another part of your body language that can make you look like a big winner wherever you go. When you stand with assurance with your shoulders back and your head up with a warm smile you look like someone who is refined, successful and proud. Stretch you body into perfect alignment: Hold your head up, pull your shoulders back, keep your chest open and your back straight up so you're standing tall. If you relax your shoulders in this position it will give the impression of being confident and yet relaxed.

As a kid, I vividly recall my mother reminding me to "stand up straight", "sit-up tall" and her occasionally chiding me for slouching. Her interest in having me stand up tall was coming from her motherly intuition that this was a sign of good physical health and healthy self-esteem. There's a lot of research that indicates my mom was correct. Medical research shows that having good posture affects your breathing, improves circulation, lung capacity and digestion.

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In a recent report in Science Daily, researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job. On the other hand, those of us who are slumped over our desks are less likely to accept ourselves as qualified. The results show that body posture not only can affect what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," Petty said. "But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself you're competent by the posture you're in."

Your posture screams a message about who you are. Standing erect suggests an aura of self-confidence, while someone who slumps projects an image of insecurity. People who are depressed and in chronic pain often sit or stand slumped. Hunching over implies that you don't feel comfortable taking up space and may indicate that you will not be assertive in a business situation. Poor posture may project that you are less physically fit and that too could detract from making a good first impression. The opposite is true of good posture. Having good posture projects an image that you are upright, positive, healthy and outgoing.

While having a great smile, good eye contact and good posture are critical to making a good first impression, they will only work if you also have good personal hygiene and are dressed for success. Personal hygiene and dressing properly may sound obvious and mundane but they can make the whole difference in making a good impression. If you want to be taken seriously and avoid distracting the other person: Comb and wash your hair and look in the mirror before you go out. Check your teeth, ears, nose and face for things that could be distracting like food in between your teeth, hairs in your ears, snot in your nose etc. Check for stains on your neckline, cuffs and underarms. Use breath mints before meetings and wear deodorant. Also, choose attire that fits the occasion and make sure it's clean and appropriate for that environment.

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Having good hygiene is essential for creating a good impression. You may impress someone by looking good and at the very least won't distract people from getting to know you.

Avoid these seemingly harmless behaviors (and dress) that can diminish your ability to project a professional image. You don't want to stand out for these things:


  • Wear low cleavage (women especially) and super short skirts or shorts
  • Play with hair toes, beard, and fingers
  • Have your back to someone in conversation
  • Space out looking around vs. towards that person
  • Pick your nails
  • Scratch head incessantly
  • Wear Flip –flops: they're usually too casual for work (better to play it safe and wear closed toe shoes)
  • Fidget Twisting or playing with your hair
  • Rubbing your chin or play with your beard
  • Wear stained, torn or frayed cloths. See that there's NO ring around cuffs and necklines
  • Slouch

Situational Awareness: Use your body language to show you're considerate, inclusive and a good listener.

If there are more people standing around and trying to join your group, allow them room to join in your conversation. If necessary, back up so as to include the other person in your circle. Match your posture, eye-contact and speech to express your interest. Ask open ended questions about what the other person does and listen to their response. Avoid any extraneous movement when the other person is talking and focus on their face.

Your eye contact and wide stance indicate "I'm interested in what you have to say and I'm not going anywhere till we're through.' Show your confidence in your stance. It shows confidence to stand with your feet shoulder width apart. As if to say, "I'm important and can take up some room here." Working on improving your smile, eye contact, posture, grooming and dress and stance are necessary steps for improving your overall image. With practice, these techniques will become a natural part of your social repertoire and will enable you to better engage those you seek a relationship with.

The more you make a concerted effort to ingratiate others in a genuine way, the more you'll attract the people you want to know you. On the surface these techniques may appear superficial, but it depends on your intent for using them. If your goal is to improve your ability to be accepted, heard and valued by others than bothering to improve the impression you make could ultimately change your destiny. Your fluency in body language could help you attract and influence people.

Mastering these techniques could give you a competitive edge as a manager or as an employees. Your ability to adjust your body language to project different sentiments in different situations will demonstrate your ability to adapt and be collegial. It could help you impress investors, inspire a team, build allies, attract followers and perspective new hires. It could also improve your success in interviewing, impressing a boss and in building ties to co-workers. In short, your adeptness in using body language could become the silent catalyst for getting the job you want and the relationships that matter to you. If they seem obvious to you that's great. Use them to elevate your success.

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