Monday, December 6, 2010

Body Language - Is Yours Saying What You'd Like?

We all know (or at least we all should know!) that we communicate messages to others through many non-verbal paths.  The way we walk and gesture, how we hold our head, make eye contact and even our overall looks speak volumes to those around us.  Are you making the most of these messages?

Like most of my clients you are likely leaving many of these elements to chance, failing to ensure that they strategically work to support your desired brand.  In this article I want to give you a quick (believe me... this IS quick!) overview of  four key body language elements that you should 'check out'.

1.  Overall Physical Appearance.  We don't generally speak about this... it's not 'politically correct' but... our perceived level of attractiveness by others has a significant impact on our progression and success.  Research supports this... I'm just the messenger!  In general, those considered more physically attractive are thought to be 'better' at what they do, get more positive recommendations and feedback, are seen as more persuasive and tend to earn substantially more.  Sheesh!  When it comes to our physical appearance there are changeable and unchangeable elements.   In the end though, it truly means that we need to make the most of what we've been given to work with.  Quick tips...
  • Hair.  Make sure that it is cut into a current style (not one you've had for decades) and one that suits not just your face but the career role you're targeting
  • Teeth.  This is an often overlooked aspect of your appearance, but is critical to how you're seen.  Your smile is an important element in your ability to connect with and engage others.  Make sure your teeth are clean, straight and white!  If you're choosing not to smile because you don't like the look of your teeth...  fix 'em!
  • Clothing.  The biggest mistake that I find people making is wearing clothing that doesn't fit, often because they have gained or lost weight and haven't adjusted their clothing.  Always ensure that your clothing fits the body you are currently residing in, not the one you used to or hope to have.  It goes without saying that it should be current and clean!
  • Accessories.  Ensure that all of your accessories (jewelry, watches, shoes, eyeglasses, briefcases, purses, overcoats etc.) are current and well cared for.  They should be consistent with the overall message you are sending, not creating mixed messages.
One final positive note about appearance is the concept of Exposure.  Research tells us that the more often you are seen by someone, the more attractive you will appear.  Meaning... familiarity creates comfort.  Generally, people will describe this as the impact of your 'personality' making you appear more attractive.  Regardless, up your face value by putting it in front of people more often!

2.  Posture.  To display your confidence you must ensure that you engage in positive posture.  You need not be ramrod straight, but you do need to elongate your spine upward and hold your head up and straight.  Too many of us walk around in a continual slouch, whether through the shoulders or through a compression of the lower back and abdominal muscles.  Both serve to soften your appearance, decrease your height, drop your energy level and rob you of perceived confidence.  So...  head up, shoulders back, eyes forward!

3.  Eyes.  Everything starts with the eyes and, in North America particularly, eye contact is an important projection of your confidence and self-esteem.  In North America we know that people need eye contact about 70% of the time during their conversations, in order to feel engaged and understood.  There are definitely differences amongst cultures and countries with respect to this though: research has found that African Americans tend to like more eye contact (upwards of 80%), while Asians typically like about 60%.  In general though, when the other person is speaking, give them your full attention and eye contact.  When you're speaking, you can break your eye contact periodically by glancing elsewhere to gather your thoughts.

4.  Movement.  To project confidence you will want your movements to be smooth, controlled and purposeful.  In North America we do expect a certain amount of gesturing.  It is seen as natural and therefore it can play a big role in helping others feel more comfortable with us.  However, our gestures should work with and support the messages we are delivering, both about our content and ourselves.  Try to avoid short, sharp, jerky movements which will either make you appear nervous and uncomfortable or angry.  Keep your movements within the 'Clinton Box' - the 'Box' created by drawing a line from shoulder to shoulder and down to the waist.  Staying within that box when gesturing (in small and mid-sized groups) will always appear appropriate.  Finally, finish your gestures away from the body (moving hands out and away from the body rather than in toward the body).  In doing so you will take up more space which will help you appear stronger and more confident. 

In taking stock of your body language, start with the four elements described above.  Use videotape to catch yourself in 'action', watching how you move.  Do a 'mirror critque' of yourself to ensure that the visual image you are projecting calls to mind your desired brand.  If you're getting mixed signals you can bet your audience is.  Make the changes needed to streamline your messaging until who you are comes through loud and clear!

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