According to leading body language expert India Ford, 93 per cent of all communication is nonverbal. That only leaves 7 per cent of a first impression to your mouth, meaning you can come across like a complete charmer or a total ass without even having said a word.
To give a leg up in interviews, first dates and meet-the-parents scenarios, we spoke to Ford to break down what you need to know – from head to toe – about how to read body language and how to turn it to your advantage.
Nodding and smiling while someone is talking shows you’re fully engaged in the conversation. As a general rule, gently nod three times to show full agreement and understanding.
Raising the eyebrows for less than a second and then lowering them as a way of saying ‘hello’ attracts attention by creating movement in the face. If you don’t do this, the recipient will think either you’re hostile or have recently had a round of botox.
Eye Eye Captain
Unsurprisingly, the windows to the soul are a key part of body language, especially when first meeting someone. Eye contact is vital to show you’re both paying attention and interested. However, feel free to glance around when there’s a natural pause in the conversation.
If you find it difficult to make and maintain eye contact, one trick to fake body language confidence is to make a note of someone’s eye colour. By forcing yourself to look directly into the eye and mentally process what you’re seeing, you’ll look on the outside as though you’re in control.
Blink And Miss
Blinking is a subconscious movement that increases as nerves do. Before stepping into the lion’s den, note your usual ‘resting’ blink rate, then compare it to when you’re getting tense.
Concentrating on something else during an intense meeting can help calm nerves naturally, so on the outside you’ll look less like you’re fluttering your lashes at a potential father-in-law.
Turning up the corners of your mouth won’t suffice for smiling under pressure. For sincerity, make sure any smile reaches your eyes or you’ll risk coming off as fake and confrontational as an angry teenage girl.
As for laughing, it shows you’re listening and can lighten the mood. If in doubt whether or not the joke requires a full-on fit, just smile – a fake laugh can always be detected and is invariably worse than none at all.
Shake It Off
A strong handshake (firm, but not overly tight) is an arbiter of a strong character. Equally, a weak one will give off the impression you’re timid before you’ve even had chance to whisper ‘hi’.
It’s one area in which it’s best to stick to basics. Don’t go overboard with a Trump-style two-hander. Show you’re equal and trustworthy with a straight-up, open-palmed, thumb-on-top shake where your hand is vertical rather than leaning to one side.
Hands play a vital role in body language, above and beyond the handshake. During any meeting, keep arms relaxed and uncrossed at your sides.
Avoid anxiously touching your hair or adjusting clothes, but feel free to gesture when you speak, as this improves your credibility. Showing your palms also subconsciously gives off the
message that the other person is welcome in your company.
Before a big meeting, look in the mirror and tighten up with your chest centred, shoulders back and back straight. You’ll feel tense but try to keep the height and breadth while relaxing a little.
Hunching over gives off the impression that you either don’t care or you’re unsure. Standing and sitting straight is a great way to inject confidence without actually having to do much.
Feet give away more than we give them credit for (and not just in terms of, erm, sock size). You should be standing with them shoulder-width apart.
For a more romance-driven confidence boost, point your feet towards your date. Nothing says disinterest (or ‘I’m about to do a runner’) like angling your legs away from someone.
Mirroring is a technique used to create a sense of bonding and improves the chance of ‘clicking’. Align your body with the other person so that you’re facing them fully, and in group situations, pivot toward the person you’ve got to impress.
If their stance is formal and they’re standing like they mean business, be sure to do the same. Gentle imitation is the key, don’t overstep the mark by copying their every nose scratch.
Watch Your Stance
When you’re standing up, pay attention to where your feet are positioned. If your feet are crossed, or placed close together, you’re more likely to come across as nervous or awkward. Or, really needing the toilet.
Instead, keep your feet at least shoulder-width apart. This way, you adopt more of a power stance that communicates confidence both internally and externally. Plus, you’re less likely to fall flat on your face, which is always a bonus.
We’re not advising anything scary here – just slightly lean in to whoever you’re talking to. This will let them know you’re interested and engaged with the conversation, and help them feel at ease.
If there’s a table in between you, perhaps lean across it ever so slightly with your arm. Just remember to stay out of their personal space – there’s a fine line between ethusiatic and creepy.
Give Your Undivided Attention
The aim of the game in any social interaction is to show the person you’re speaking to that they have your undivided attention. That means not looking around you, however much you might want an escape route and the conversation to end – and it certainly means not looking at your phone.
The secret here is: you’re going to have to genuinely listen. You can’t fake the subtle timing involved in reacting to what someone’s saying. And your body language will change with the tone of the conversation and what’s being communicated – there’s no way to do this unless you’re paying attention.