Wednesday 17 May 2023

Body Language - Do You Know What Your Body is Saying?

Harness the power of body language for better communication!

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Body language is a big part of your personal brand.  It's important to understand that because your brand is what others think it is. You may be sending unintended messages to colleagues, clients, or friends and family.


1. What is your body language saying about you?

2. What subliminal messages are you sending?

Why Body Language Matters

Knowing what your body is saying can be the difference between being taken seriously or not. Strong body language speaks to confidence, credibility, and trust. Shifty eyes, wild gestures, and the failure to listen intently signal the direct opposite.  

What are You Really Saying?

Why does this matter? Communication is what you say, the way you say it, and how you add or detract from your intended meaning through your body language.

Grow your brand by becoming a better communicator

In my keynote, ‘Unleash the Power of Personal Communication,’ I use this silly illustration. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and say the following while imagining you are talking to a professional colleague you think well of.

 “I appreciate the work you do. You are one of my most valued colleagues!”

Now repeat this with a cold tone to your voice, no eye contact, body partially turned away, a stern look on your face and with your hands extended and pointed upwards making the universal sign to stop. The visual and auditory message you’ve just sent is in direct conflict with your message.

Now repeat the statement framed by a genuine smile, a warm tone to your voice, strong eye contact, and arms extended with palms turned slightly upward.

With these simple changes, you will radically change the meaning of your message and come across as being authentic, trustworthy, and totally transparent.

Non-Verbal Communication

Body language, or non-verbal communication, is a series of indicators. There is no one thing that is definitive. Distracting maybe, but not definitive.

Body language includes;
  1.  Posture
  2.  Stance
  3.  Tone of voice
  4.  Head motion
  5.  Speech
  6.  Facial expressions
  7.  Eye contact
  8.  Active listening
  9.  Hand gestures
Taking it a step further, the way you walk into a room may indicate your level of confidence. If I saunter into an office, I may be suggesting, “I’m not serious” or “I really don’t care.”

If I enter an office quickly, it may come across as threatening or alarming. A medium pace signals you are serious, confident, and eager to engage.

Gestures can enforce or weaken what you are saying. Let’s dig deeper into the illustration above. Go back to the full-length mirror and try these.

  • No hands, looking up, neutral face, “I value you and what you do for our team.”
  • Make two fists, shake your head left to right, look directly into the eyes and say, “I value you and what you do for our team.”
  • Hands out, palms out, fingers pointed up (stop), serious face,  “I value you and what you do for our team.” 
  • Arms extended, hands turned up and open, smile, nod your head up and down as you say, “I value you and what you do for our team.”

Simple changes in body language can dramatically impact how people feel about you and interpret what you say.

1.    Walking – be intentional, purpose driven
2.    Face – focus on eye contact, eyebrows, forehead mouth
3.    Posture – communicate confidence
4.    Gestures – emphasize, give meaning. 
5.    Frenetic movements – keep still
6.    Shadow movements – stop it!

Shadow Movements

Many people subconsciously have shadow movements. If I stand ramrod straight, hands by my side and move my little finger, of you will eventually start watching the movement and wondering what I am doing. 

Personal Space

Respect personal space. But, doing this is not as straightforward as one might think. Appropriate personal space depends on culture.

In my city of Calgary, Alberta, the economy has been bleak for a number of years. The Global Petroleum Show is an energy conference that can draw 60,000+ people from around the world as exhibitors or attendees.

The attendance has been trending downwards. But some exhibitors for other countries fail to get the memo and send more staff than needed.

I’ll never forget one poor lost soul who wandered into the booth of a US company. He was immediately swarmed by 5 smooth operating salespeople dressed in company promotional wear. The man looked as if he would die right there.

Americans tend to be more in your face and in your space than Canadians. I think he simply wandered into their booth looking for a free pen. He must have felt like he was being sweated under an interrogation spotlight by the RCMP or FBI.

A pleasant smile opens the door to new relationships.

The Power of a Smile

Never underestimate the absolute power of a smile. A smile is the one of the most important tools in the communications toolbox.

I ask those in my conference sessions to make the most intense grumpy cat face that they can. Then I ask them to turn to the person next to them on the count of 2.

Next, I ask them to make the smiliest smile face they can make! On the count of 2, turn to the same person. The room always explodes in laughter.

There is more to a smile than you think.

  • Smiling makes you attractive to others.
  • Smiling causes others to smile back.
  • Smiling triggers positive endorphin activity.
  • When you smile, you automatically hold your shoulders back
  • When you hold your shoulders back, you take in more oxygen when you breat
  • Oxygen energizes physically and emotionally.
  Now you know why smiling makes your feel better.

Putting it All Together

Go back to the mirror. Say the simple command below with exactly the same tone 
and volume. 

Say, “GO” using these gestures. Now, try them again changing the timing of 
each gesture. Each message will be different simply because of gestures.

  1.        Go – pointing your finger
  2.         Go – two handed gesture, open palms
  3.         Go – clenched waving fist
  4.         Go – melodramatic hand flourish

Eye Contact

Interpreting the meaning of eye contact varies according to culture. In many places, eye contact makes people feel engaged as they talk and listen. However, there are rules.
  •    Too much eye contact makes you seem aggressive and even creepy.
  •    Too little eye contact signals disinterest, lack self-confidence or you are sketchy and have something to hide.
  •    Looking down indicates you are ending your part of the conversation. It could also suggest you feel you are out of your depth.
  •    Break contact every 5 seconds.
  •    Periodically look up or off to the side. It suggests you are listening and absorbing information, and thinking about what is being said.

Active Listening

Have you ever said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall.” Does this picture represent your day-to-day experience on the job? 

Does this graphic reflect your experience talking to;

Team-members in the field?
Managers at head-office?
Your clients?
 Your spouse?
   Active Listening involves more than just listening. There are 7 guidelines.
  •  Stop talking. NOW!
  •  Observe body language for inconsistencies between what is being said verbally and what the speaker is saying verbally.
  • Do not doodle, shuffle papers, look out of the window, pick your fingernails or pick your whatever. 
  • Nod your head (yes or no) to agree, express support or “wonder and amazement.”
  • Inject verbal signals.
  • Take strategic notes without being so absorbed you stop sending physical signals.
  • Do not interrupt. Ever. Speak only when the time is right to do so
We’ve already noted that staring as you listen is a bad idea. I suggest following a pattern that I call the listening triangle. You won’t feel uncomfortable and neither wil the person talking.

  1.     Look at one eye for about 3 seconds.
  2.     Move to the other eye for 5 seconds.
  3.     Look at the mouth for 3 seconds
  4.     Repeat the rotation.

To Smell or Not to Smell; Always Choose the Latter 

Odour definitely influences how you are perceived. Bad body odour, strong perfume, emitting intestinal gas  (a.k.a farting), bad breath, stale tobacco odour or clothes that smell like last night's dinner will cause people to focus on the "smell" and not on what you are saying. 

We take photos for my company, Unimark Creative Inc, clients in manufacturing plants, warehouses or outdoor job sites. Personal hygiene isn't all that important. 

A client needed photos of the management team in their offices, the foyer, board room and working at drafting tables. My photographer - who took amazing photos - had a strong B.O. that day. 

In some of the small office confines, it was almost nauseous. I apologized to the client and was forced to have one of those tough conversations with the photographer before the next shoot. 

Wrapping it Up

It seems like I have just started. There is so much more that I will share in future poses about body language. If you are struggling in this area, pick one trait that you need to fix.

Work on it! Think about it. Work on it some more. 

Be intentional about knowing what your tendencies - often subliminal - so you can improve.
Soon incorporating strong body language will become normal practice. 

It’s a matter of attitude! It’s a matter of deciding you want to be a better communicator.

What do you think?


Please give me your feedback below. I'd love to know what you think! 

Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is also a media commentator and Rotarian. Robyn is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding. 

Contact Robyn

Follow on Twitter: @RobynTBraley 

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