Most people are aware that body language is a crucial part of communication.
What most people take for granted is just how important it is to leadership.
Yep, that’s right! The placement of your arms, your posture, even the way you cross your legs communicates something to your team members. Being aware of the way you present yourself to people could just give you the edge you’ve been searching for in your leadership and/or communication style.
It almost seems unfair to give you one more thing to think about when you’re presenting or having a conversation.
You have to make sure your dress is audience appropriate, you’re knowledgeable about what you’re saying, your word choice is intelligent, concise, and work appropriate, not to mention your presentation materials, and now you’re expected to pay attention to your body language?
Yes, it’s a lot to ask, but you’re capable and can definitely handle it! So, let’s look into why this is such a vital part of leading.
Establishing Your Presence
If you’ve ever seen someone speak in front of a room, and immediately thought, “Wow, they must be important”, a huge part of that probably has something to do with their body language, specifically their power pose.
A power pose is usually one that makes you appear large in your space.
For example, a wide stance with your legs and large gestures with your arms make you look bigger by helping you occupy a larger space. This unconsciously gets people’s attention and records in their brain as “big and important”. Remember, all people have a limbic system, or “animal brain”, which subconsciously operates. It’s the same system that kicks in the fight or flight response. It has huge influences on us even though we aren’t conscious of it.
Making Your Body Small Makes You Small
Seemingly innocuous gestures, such as playing with the buttons on your jacket, twiddling your thumbs and occasionally glancing at them, or holding your arms behind your back make you exactly that – innocuous.
In order to inspire confidence in your work, you need people to perceive you as confident.
Coiling into yourself and making your body small does the opposite. In fact, you are just increasing the probability that no one is paying attention to you (which is what you’re probably nervous about to begin with). Having the title isn’t always enough; it’s important for you to walk the walk of leader. Even though your team logically recognizes you as the boss, they may sense you are playing small because of your body language, and lose faith in your leadership ability, or take advantage of you. Neither is good, and both are avoidable.
Fidgeting & Playing are Definitely Out of the Question
Playing with your smart phone while you or someone else is talking is not only rude, it’s bad body language. People take note that you are distracted, nervous etc. Nervous fidgeting is also detrimental. Picking your nails, twirling your hair around your fingers, whatever it may be, should be limited when you are having a professional discussion of any kind.
These limit your authority and are extremely distracting to others.
Make sure you are completely focused on the conversation at hand—don’t let your mind wander and you shouldn’t have too much trouble staying present and limiting distractions.
The Importance of Impressions
A former client was having trouble understanding why people’s impressions of her were always so negative at the beginning, especially at work. It took people a long time to warm up to her, and from her perspective it was unwarranted and strange. She had never done anything rude or aggressive to these people to make them feel the way they did. As it turned out, her body language when she met people and while doing her daily tasks was off-putting to people.
What she perceived as a very professional, down to business demeanor actually made her seem cold, unapproachable, and unlikeable.
After being made aware of her poor body language, she started smiling when she shook people’s hands, stopped folding her arms during meetings, and tried to leave her body position open and neutral during conversations. Amazingly, she never received that negative feedback again.
The impressions you make with your body language are longer lasting than you’d think. If you close your body off to people, they automatically (without thinking much about it) assume you are closed off and difficult to work with. If you never smile, people assume you are mean. While none of those may be true, it’s the impression you are leaving people with subconsciously.
There is no need to be paranoid and start questioning every little move you make. Instead, ask a trusted peer, friend, or family member their opinion. If there is a gesture or posture you consistently employ that leaves people with a less than flattering impression, they should be able to tell you.
Work on changing one body expression and see how it works for you.
The results will surprise you, and you’ll be hooked!