We all are somehow really fascinated by body language and are particularly interested in other people’s body language, for example, an awkward interaction, a smile, or a contemptuous glance, a wink or maybe an unexpected handshake. Obviously, when we think about nonverbal behaviour or body language we tend to think about communication and when we think about communication we think about interaction. Socials scientists have spent a lot of time looking at the effects of judgements on people’s body language. If we look at ourselves, we generally tend to make sweeping judgements and inferences on others body language and those judgements can predict really meaningful life outcomes like who we can hire or who to trust.
A study was conducted by Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University on psychology and body language in which it was showed that when people watch 30-second soundless clips of real physician-patient interactions their judgement of the physician’s niceness predict whether or not that physician will be sued. It doesn’t have to do so much with whether or not the physician was incompetent but it was upon how do we like that person and how they interacted.
When we think of nonverbal communication, we think of how we judge others, how they judge us and what the outcomes are. But we tend to forget that how we influence ourselves by our nonverbal behaviours. We are also influenced by our nonverbal behaviour, our thought, our feeling and our physiology. I am very interested in those nonverbal expressions, particularly of power and dominance. And to understand the meaning of the nonverbal expression of power and dominance we need to understand the dynamics of the animal kingdom. It is all about expanding, to make yourself stretch out, take up space and opening up. And this thing is followed across the animal kingdom and it’s not just limited to primates, we humans also do the same thing.
We generally show these behaviours when we feel chronically confident and powerful at the moment and we do the exact opposite thing when we feel powerless. We close up, we wrap ourselves, and we make ourselves small. So, when you feel powerful you are more likely to do these above behaviours but it’s also possible that when you pretend to be powerful you are more likely to actually feel powerful.
So, my first advice to develop your positive body language is a reverse mind trick and that is ‘to fake it until you make it’.
Second advice is controlling the voice, and voice is linked to the breath. A nervous body or a stressed body is high on adrenaline. And it doesn’t only prepare for fight and flight response, it also prepares for screaming or any defensive actions. And when screaming your voice becomes high pitched and then it gets very hard to make that nonverbal expression of power over the people around you. Well!! It might be surprising to you that there is a very simple fix to this problem and that is learning to BREATHE. There are various breathing exercises that you can practice so that you can control your breath in those adverse situations.
And the second and last solution to this problem is TIME. A person with anxiety or low self-esteem has very rapid movements and tend to speak in a very fast pace whereas a person with proper confidence and good self-esteem will speak at a slow pace. They take usually long pauses and won’t rush through them. They communicate that they and what they are about to say is worth waiting for.
If you choose to use these tools they will help you to feel safer in any performance, big or small. So, the next time you are doing a presentation, a meeting, a seminar in private or a professional setting remember to have an open body language, take control of your breath and remember to take your time. And these three tools can be excellent to change your presentation of yourself. And my last advice would be practice. As I talked about in my earlier blog post about self-confidence is a skill, not an innate talent and with this practice, you can achieve that skill. The more you practice, the more these will become a natural part of you.