Body language is a type of nonverbal communication based on physical behaviors like body posture and movements, eye movement, and facial expressions. The first impression you make is extremely important, and body language plays a significant role in building it. It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so let’s see how to hack your body language and make sure you project the best version of yourself!
You have most likely heard many times that about 93% of your communication is nonverbal. This is a misinterpretation or an incorrect generalization of Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s two studies conducted back in 1967: Language Within Language: Immediacy, a Channel in Verbal Communication – Morton Wiener, Albert Mehrabian, and Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels – Mehrabian Albert, Ferris Susan.
The quote is sourced from the second study (Mehrabian and Ferris), where they stated:
“It is suggested that the combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects — with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively.”
On his blog, Mehrabian presents it as “Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking“. He also states clearly there that these were deducted from experiments focused on feelings and attitude communication, and that “unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable“.
That being said, the percentages may be way off, but the essence is still there: communication is not just about the words – intonation and body language have their important role in conveying the message. More than that, in situations where we don’t know well or when we don’t trust the speaker, we pay more attention to his/her nonverbal queues, because these are harder to control than words.
Intonation has a very important role when conveying feelings. Imagine for example that somebody says “thanks”. In most cases, this conveys a positive connotation. Think now that the same “thanks” was said with a curt tone – you will not perceive it as positive. Intonation becomes very important, probably as important as the words themselves when the message is about “feeling”.
The word you emphasize in a sentence can completely change its meaning. Let’s look at an example:
He came by and took my favorite coat.
He came by and took my favorite coat.
If you say the same sentence with emphasis on the bolded word, the message changes, even though you say the same words, in the same order.
Pay attention to the tone when you are speaking. Strong emotions are easily reflected in tone fluctuations. Strong emotions usually result in a trembling voice. The tone you use will depend on the situation, but the main rule is to make sure you don’t have a monotonous one. Rhythm is important here, so use it. For example, use a slower rhythm to make the listeners be more attentive to what you are saying at that moment. Also, make good use of pauses: don’t be afraid to pause when you want to give your listeners time to think about what you just said.
Adjust your volume to be loud enough for people to hear you, but not too loud so it becomes uncomfortable for them. Speaking too low will make you sound weak and insecure, and on top of that people will have a hard time understanding what you say.
How to Hack Your Body Language
I have separated intonation as this article is focused on the physical aspects of body language.
Body language is the first thing people notice about you. Don’t live this up to your subconscious! Learn what your body says about you and take control. It will help you in every aspect of your life, from friendships and relations to job interviews or business meetings.
Here are my main hacks for improving your body language:
Many have a “natural” face more like a scowl without even realizing it. I was certainly in this category, and I had many times people asking me why am I upset or what is wrong.
Try to put a smile on your face as often as you can. At first, it will be difficult not to obtain a strange grin, but you will easily get better at it. Smiling is a great hack for your mood also, and you can read more about it in this post.
So let’s work on this: start by smiling at the cashier next time you go to the store or at the barista when getting your coffee, eventually also saying something nice. They will smile back, and that will make you feel even better. Once you get used to doing this, try smiling at random people on the street.
2. Make eye contact
The eyes are the mirror of the soul, so you can get hints about a persons’ feelings from their eyes. You may have noticed that even the best poker players in the world tent to wear sunglasses when playing. This is because they learned to control their facial expressions (the so-called poker face), but the eyes betray them.
Avoiding to cross other people’s eyes or looking away as soon as you make eye contact with somebody is a sign of weakness and submissiveness. You project an image of discomfort and uneasiness. Some may even get the impression you are trying to hide something or lie.
Besides projecting the wrong image, you are also missing on the clues you can read from their eyes. Even if you are not yet good at reading people, your subconscious is already able to read the signs.
This will not be an easy thing to change, but with the right approach and perseverance, you’ll get there. At first, it will feel intimidating to look somebody in the eyes, so take it slowly and only advance when you feel comfortable. Try practicing this with strangers before moving to people you have conversations with. When you break eye contact, move your eyes to the side, not down.
Here is a good exercise to get you started on this path: when you walk down the street look straight ahead and when you see somebody coming from the opposite direction, wait until they are only a few feet away and then turn your head towards them and look them in the eye. Try to resist the impulse you will have to look away, and wait for them to do that. Even if they don’t, don’t worry, they will pass by in a second. Try to time your moves so that the whole “encounter” lasts only 2-3 seconds – if anything goes wrong you will be out of that situation right away.
Once you get the hang of this, you can move on: include the cashier from the earlier step, and establish eye contact before putting on that smile. Then move on to making eye contact with the people you are talking to.
Beware not to overdo this, so don’t stare at people, or you’ll appear as a weirdo or some sort of maniac. A good rule for eye contact is the 70/30 rule (you can also go for 80/20): 70% of the time you maintain eye contact, and 30% of the time your eyes can wander around. For example, try to break eye contact just before answering a question. Take a pause, look thoughtful, glance away, and then return to making eye contact when you start speaking.
3. Control your body position and posture
First of all, stand straight, don’t slouch. Hunching over signals you are insecure and are trying to protect yourself. It makes you look like you are trying to occupy as little space as possible. A straight posture communicates confidence and power. Try not to be stiff either, keep your spine straight but your shoulders relaxed.
Walk like a leader: take big and confident steps and don’t look down. Small steps denote insecurity and weakness, and looking down while you walk is also a sign of insecurity. Besides projecting a strong image, walking like a leader will actually make you feel more powerful, just like a power pose.
The exercise for this point is to practice walking like a leader and occupying as much space as you can. Walk like you are the boss even when you go to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. When you have to stop, try to occupy as much space as you can, without invading other people’s space of course. Stand with your feet shoulder-wide apart, use your arms in a way to occupy space without overdoing it. Just remember to practice this, and it will soon become your normal walking style.
4. Use hand gestures when talking
First of all, pay attention to your hands and don’t cross or keep them in your pockets. Crossed arms signals you are in a defensive stance and are not opened to the conversation. If you like to keep your hands in your pockets, make sure you keep your thumbs outside. Keeping your hands in your pockets denotes self-doubt and unwillingness to interact with others. The same position but with the thumbs out is considered to project confidence.
Use your hands to gesticulate while speaking in order to support what you are saying. Just make sure you don’t raise your hands above shoulders level. It will feel awkward at first but stick with it. A very powerful gesture you need to practice is steepling your hands: keep your palms facing each other with just the fingertips touching. You will notice political leaders using this gesture often.
The exercise fort this point is to use big hand gestures when talking to a person each day.
5. Mirror the Other Person
You have done this many times in the past without even knowing it. Mirroring means mimicking the other person’s posture, gestures, tone, and pace. This usually happens unconsciously and is a sign that people are attuned to each other and that there is comfort, trust, and rapport among them.
A good example is somebody who moved to another place and lost his/her home accent over time. When they meet an old friend from home and have a conversation, they will most likely use that accent again without even realizing it. This is them mirroring the friend’s accent.
You can also learn to master this and mirror the person you are talking to on purpose. When you do this, people will become friendlier, it will build trust and understanding. It might sound fake, but when you do this you actually do empathize and understand that person much better. They will feel there’s something about you that they like (some will identify it as a positive vibe). If you are talking to somebody face to face, try to mirror their position, gestures, tone and talking pace. Be as subtle as possible, don’t do this in an obvious manner – leave about 5 to 10 seconds between the moment they change something until you implement that change. Also, pay attention no to mirror negative gestures.
The exercise for this point is to try to mirror at least one person each day for a week. You can start with friends or relatives, it will feel more comfortable. Do not mimic ALL they do, be subtle. For example, if they shift their weight from one foot to the other, wait for 5 to 10 seconds and do the same. If they use a particular hand gesture when talking, remember it and do the same when you speak. You will get better and better at this, and in time you will do this without effort.
6. Don’t Fidget and Slow Down Your Moves
Fidgeting is a sign of anxiety and a lack of power. If you have a habit of fidgeting, people will have a hard time following what you are saying, as their attention will be drawn by your fidgeting. More than this, some will actually be annoyed by this. It is important to take gain control and get rid of this nasty habit and appear calm and confident.
I will mention touching your face or hair in this category too. People who touch their faces while answering a question are generally considered to be dishonest, so pay attention not to do this.
Fast movements make you appear anxious. This applies to all movements, from hand gestures to walking stride. Watch a powerful politician and you will see that they move slowly and with purpose. This is what you need to aim for regarding your movement.
The exercise here is to pay attention and identify what triggers your fidgeting habits. Once you have identified the triggers, pay attention to detect them and focus on preventing the fidgeting action from starting. The second part of this exercise regards your movements: now that you have eliminated the unneeded, pointless moves, slow down the remaining ones.
7. Go for a Firm Handshake
A weak or limp handshake is a clear sign of a lack of confidence and power. Beware not to get on the other side – nobody likes a painful handshake. Make sure yours is firm and confident. It is a good idea to try to match the other person’s handshake (mirroring), but if you notice theirs is too weak, go for a firm one.
This is a very easy exercise, and it will probably be the first one you master.
You can learn a lot just by watching successful politicians’ speeches or debates. Most of them are masters of body language and they are very careful especially when being in public. Make a habit of watching one such clip every few days, and pay attention to all their movements.
The mind and body connection is not a one-way thing: your body can influence your mind just as your mind controls the body. HHacking your body language will have a great impact on your life and will help you get better results in many areas. When you become aware of all these details you will also be better at reading other people’s body language, understanding what they feel and think.