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50 Body Language Secrets You Need to Succeed in Life

April 29th, 2010

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A professor from UCLA performed a study that indicates 55% of communication comes from body language and only 7% from the words we use. In light of this study, it makes sense for anyone, whether a student just starting out in life or a seasoned business professional, to pay attention to what their body language is telling others as well as learning to read non-verbal cues from others. The following 50 body language secrets will provide you with tips you can use in job interviews, boosting your career, enhancing your social life, learning how to read other people’s body language, and what you should not do when it comes to body language.

Job Interview

Pay attention to your body language using these tips to ensure you are giving the best impression during a job interview.

  1. Handshake. Everyone knows that a handshake is an important element of first impressions. Offer a firm handshake that shows confidence in yourself.
  2. Don’t cross arms and legs. Crossing your arms or legs is seen as a defensive position and is not what you want to present to your prospective employer.
  3. Sit or stand with legs slightly apart. When you sit or stand with your legs slightly apart, this gives the impression that you are self-confident.
  4. Keep your hands and legs still. Fidgeting exudes nervousness. Instead, keep your hands relaxed in your lap and be aware of what your legs are doing.
  5. Chair movement. If you are sitting in a chair that swivels, be sure you aren’t accidentally turning back and forth as it can be distracting and also makes you appear nervous.
  6. Voice tone. Be aware of your voice tone qualities. Don’t be monotonous, yet don’t let your voice tone vary to such extremes that you sound excited or nervous. One helpful tip is to take a deep breath before speaking.
  7. Be aware of the interviewer’s body language. Pay attention to what the person interviewing you is saying through her body language. Not only can you determine if she is interested in what you have to offer, you can also match your body language to the level of formality.
  8. Palms up. Use hand gestures that keep your palms up, which indicate you are open and friendly. Gestures with palms down tell the interviewer that you may be dominant or aggressive.
  9. Keep eyes focused. Shifty eyes moving all around the room will give your prospective employer the feeling that you are being dishonest, or at best, uncomfortable.
  10. Active listening. Be an active listener during the interview. Make eye contact, nod your head while others are speaking, and interject a few verbal acknowledgements such as "yes" or "I see."

Business and Career

What you say with your body language can convey as much to your business colleagues as your words. Learn how to manage your body language in a business setting to help promote your career.

  1. Relax your shoulders. When many people feel tension, they pull up their shoulders. Be conscious of this and relax your shoulders. Not only will this help prevent neck and back pain, it makes you appear less stressed, too.
  2. Be mindful of your head position. Holding your head level both vertically and horizontally indicates confidence and asks others to take you seriously. If you want to show that you are listening and open to the other person, tilt your head slightly to one side.
  3. Use your hands. Hanging your hands down by your side during a presentation indicates depression. Instead, keep your hands active and use gestures to show involvement and energy.
  4. Remove the opportunity for eye contact in conflict. If negotiations have turned sour or co-workers are disagreeing, moving them to a different form of communication that does not involve eye contact, such as email or IM, may diffuse the situation and allow for a better flow of communication.
  5. Keep your hands out of your pockets. Standing with your hands in your pockets may send several signals to those around you, probably none of them what you intend. Unless you are trying to look less confident, as if you are holding yourself back, you are bored, or you are hiding something, then take your hands out of your pockets.
  6. Women, learn the "business gaze". For women, a key element to being taken seriously is the "business gaze" or holding your line of sight on the area from the eyes to the mid-forehead. A gaze held lower indicates a more "social gaze."
  7. Make eye contact with everyone. If you are in a meeting or giving a presentation, make it a point to make eye contact with each one of the people involved (unless it’s a packed house and physically impossible to do).
  8. Watch your stance. Standing in a commando stance, with legs spread and hands on hips, tells others you are feeling disapproving, superior or are arrogant.
  9. Keep your hands from behind your head. Sitting back with your hands clasped behind your head is another position that communicates arrogance or superiority.
  10. Interruptions. If you are in the middle of a conversation with a superior or in a meeting that has been interrupted, it is best to look away from the person dealing with the interruption in an effort to give them privacy and to indicate you have disengaged yourself from something that is not your business.

Relationships and Dating

Whether you want to improve your love life or your social life, study these body language techniques so you are sure you set the right tone in any social setting.

  1. Make eye contact, but not too much. This one may feel a bit tricky, but it is important to make eye contact, yet you don’t want to go overboard on it. Not making eye contact appears weak, but staring too long makes others feel uncomfortable.
  2. Smile. Smiling while in conversation with others shows you are welcoming, relaxed, and interested in what they have to say.
  3. Give personal space. Don’t stand or sit too close to others. Personal space is important, and when you breech that invisible boundary, others feel incredibly uncomfortable. How much space you give depends on the situation, how well you know the person, and cultural expectations. In the US, good friends should be about 1.5 to 4 feet away and acquaintances, 4 to 12 feet.
  4. Good posture. This is another body language with a fine balance. You want to stand or sit up straight to give off that look of confidence, but standing or sitting ramrod straight just looks odd.
  5. Lean in or away. While talking with someone, lean in to them to indicate you are interested in what they have to say. Leaning a bit back shows self confidence.
  6. Mirroring. Mirroring is an unconscious act that people do when they have a connection with each other. Pay attention the next time you are sitting down with a good friend or close family member. Do you see how when one of you leans in, the other does too, or when one of you picks up your drink, the other will also? This is mirroring and is an indication to the other person that you share a connection.
  7. Face the other person. Whether sitting or standing, face the person squarely to indicate you are engaged and paying attention to them. Turning your body away or looking away for long periods indicates you are not interested in them.
  8. Learn signs of flirting. Flirting body language may include casual touches, leaning in toward you, and women touching or playing with their hair.
  9. Start a conversation. Use body language to start a conversation. Something as simple as a smile or the expression in your eyes can start a conversation as easily as words.
  10. Facial expressions. Your emotions are easily communicated via your facial expressions. If you are trying to communicate happiness, surprise, fear, anger, or any other emotion, learn what the face looks like while experiencing these emotions.

Reading Body Language

Understanding the body language you observe in others is as important as managing your own body language. Brush up on these secrets to learn what others are saying.

  1. Going from open to closed. If someone starts out in a conversation with you in an open way–with arms relaxed, leaning forward slightly, and nodding in agreement–to a more closed presence that may include folded arms, leaning away, and steepling fingers, then you have lost your audience.
  2. Scrunching forehead. If you see someone sitting still and scrunching his forehead, he is probably deep in thought or concentrating hard on something.
  3. Hand over mouth. If someone is covering their mouth, they are either feeling insecure or may be lying.
  4. Lying. Learn a few simple ways to recognize when someone is lying, such as avoiding eye contact, scratching their nose or behind their ear, gestures and expressions don’t match, and stiff arm and hand motions.
  5. Palm position. If someone offers you a handshake with their palm down, they are demonstrating their sense of dominance or authority. Likewise, a handshake or a significant-other’s hand-hold with the palm facing up indicates they are open and more submissive.
  6. Take it in context. One single element of body language may not tell the whole story, so be sure to take into consideration several different non-verbal cues, the social situation, and any cultural differences that may affect body language.
  7. Precision grip. When someone is speaking to you and uses a precision grip, or the thumb and forefinger touching with the other fingers closed on the palm, they are trying to relate something to you that they want you to understand.
  8. Body turned away. If someone turns their body away from you while you are talking, they are telling you that they want to leave and are finished talking to you. Ignoring this signal means you will irritate them further if you continue to talk.
  9. Walking away while talking. This is probably a sign that the person is in a hurry and is trying not to be rude. If you see this, let them go with an acknowledgement that you can catch up later.
  10. Embodied cognition. The idea of embodied cognition is that the body reacts to what the brain is thinking in a literal way. If someone is thinking about the past, they may lean back slightly as opposed to leaning forward when thinking about the future. Also, someone holding a warm mug of tea may react differently to the same situation as someone holding a glass of iced tea.

What Not to Do

In order to make the best impression in any circumstance, stay away from these actions that may impart a negative image of yourself.

  1. Lean way back. Leaning too far back while engaged in conversation puts off a negative signal, saying you are too confident in yourself.
  2. Touch your face. Touching your face appears insecure and can also be distracting to those talking to you.
  3. Cover your heart. Don’t hold a drink or anything else right in front of your heart as this indicates a guardedness that you probably don’t intend to project to others.
  4. Blank stare. If you have stopped listening to someone and have let your thoughts take you away, it will show as a blank stare, indicating you are no longer listening. If you feel yourself drifting away, at least try to keep your face animated in an attempt to indicate you are still listening.
  5. Tap your feet. Tapping your feet indicates boredom, so unless you are trying to drop a not-so-subtle hint, then make sure to keep your feet still.
  6. Clench you fist. Fist clenching is an overt sign that you are angry, frustrated, or holding back your opinions.
  7. Slouch. Slouching down in your chair tells others that you are not interested in what is going on. Whether sitting in a business meeting or listening to someone talk, sit up straight to show you are paying attention and engaged.
  8. Drumming fingers. Nothing shows boredom like drumming your fingers on a table or desk. Well, except maybe rubbing the back of your neck or pointing your body or feet toward the door.
  9. Bright red lipstick. Ladies, if you want to make a professional impression in business, save your bright red lipstick for your night on the town and opt for a more muted shade instead.
  10. Coughing or yawning. While it may be difficult to suppress these physical reactions, they usually indicate restlessness or boredom.

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