4 October 2018
What are you saying without ever saying a word? The way you sit, the way your hands move and your facial expressions can say far more than your words ever could. There is a reason that it’s called body language.
So how do you make the most of this extra tool in communication? Over the years, I’ve read books, listened to talks and heard from the experts on this very topic. That being said, there is no replacement for experience, for having been in the meetings where one person uses their body language to disrupt the flow or assert dominance. Once you are aware of the tools that people use it is absolutely fascinating to see them in action. Here are a few of my observations from over the years.
It is generally believed that touching the nose whilst talking is a clear sign that someone is uncomfortable, and is an indicator that they are perhaps not giving you the whole truth. A quick scratch happening once is very different to someone repeatedly touching their nose or covering it. It’s not a usual behaviour and certainly something to look out for when you’re having a tough conversation with someone.
I have found this happens most often when you have conversations about mistakes that have occurred, when people don’t really want to own up and take full responsibility for what has happened.
When you spot this, it is an opportunity to encourage an open and honest conversation and encourage the other person to share the whole truth rather than a small portion of it.
Slouch v straight
The way you sit in a meeting or during a conversation can be a clear signal to the people you are with, showing whether you’re interested in the conversation, you’re dismissive or even bored.
When you slouch in your chair, shoulders hunched, you’re saying to those around you that you’re disengaged. You’re saying that you believe that the meeting doesn’t bring value to you. In stark contrast when you sit up tall, make eye contact and hold yourself well, you appear confident. You show the room that you are there to take part, to add value and to be respectful to those around you.
Checking your watch is the clearest sign that you think you could make better use of your time than being in the meeting or situation you’re currently in. It is a cardinal sin of body language. Not only is it incredibly disrespectful, it makes the person leading the conversation feel rushed and can easily throw them off course.
Checking your watch is one of the rudest things you can do in company. It’s just the same as checking your phone. You’re saying that you don’t have time for this person. You’re saying that they are not a valuable use of the time you are giving them.
There is no replacement for a strong handshake and eye contact for making a good first impression. Stand up if you’re seated when an introduction is made, a firm but not hard handshake and a smile or nod of the head. This greeting demonstrates your self-confidence as well as showing mutual respect.
I remember being taught a firm handshake at an early age. Yet, now, it seems to be something that we’re encouraging children to do less these days. When face-to-face communication is regularly being replaced by digital communication, the art of a good handshake could be dying out. Yet when it comes to job interviews or business meetings, this is the first thing that people notice.
Body language isn’t always subconscious, it’s often a conscious thing to dictate the flow of a meeting. I have seen these tricks used as power plays in meetings so many times! From clicking a pen to cause a distraction, to yawning frequently and to watch checking every two minutes. It is interesting to sit back and see who uses their body language consciously. To see what they are trying to achieve with it.
For me, one of the tips I remember is the glass-wall concept, often attributed to Queen Victoria. When you consider your body language, think about what the meeting would look like to others if you were holding the meeting behind a glass wall. Would it look like people were engaged and enjoying the conversation? Would it look like you were angry and arguing? How would you want to be perceived within all of that?
Next time you are in a meeting with a team of people, sit back and assess your body language. Look at those around you. What are you – and what are they – saying without saying a word?