What do people really think about you? Only a small part of successful communication involves the words we speak – far more is conveyed by how we speak: The tone of our voice, intonation and pauses.
And even more is expressed by our non-verbal communication, or ‘body language’. Experts agree that this provides over 50% of the impact of our message. This is because words tend to convey information, whilst our body is more likely to express our attitudes and feelings. Most people are unaware that they are sending these signals; nor do they know how to read them. When you know what to look out for, you’ll be able to interpret people’s meanings accurately, and communicate more effectively; in job interviews, workplace discussions and during meetings and presentations. And you’ll be able to spot those unconscious gestures that tell you whether someone’s secretly attracted to you!
The way that people hold themselves can provide clues about their personality. A firm, upright posture with eyes looking straight ahead is associated with confidence and health. However, drooping shoulders and neck suggest dejection, shyness, illness and other negative traits.
2. Personal space
We all have a subconscious sense of our own personal space, which consists of four zones – ‘intimate’, ‘personal’,
‘social’ and ‘public’. Our space is so important to us that we become uncomfortable if someone gets too close. But, we also say that people arstand-offish’ if they position themselves too far away. You can sometimes judge how a person feels about you from how close they place themselves in relation to you.
The way a person feels can be indicated by how he points his body. People usually turn to face the person they feel most sympathetic to; and vice versa. Also, people point towards things they want. For example, if someone turns away from you towards the door or another person, it probably indicates where he wants to go. If someone is beside you and turns slightly to face you, he’s demonstrating interest. If he continues to face forwards, he is remaining neutral. Turning away means he wishes to be left alone.
These are the most expressive parts of a face. When people encounter something they like, their pupils dilate and become larger. On the other hand, when they feel negative about something, their pupils contract. Even though the pupils are small, they can vary in size quite significantly, and this difference can be detected by observant people.
5. Arms and hands
Someone who folds his arms is often making a protective gesture – it can mean he feels threatened and/or is in a
defensive or negative mood. If you are trying to persuade somebody to accept your viewpoint, folded arms suggest that the listener is sceptical. And if his hands are gripping his upper arms or his fists are clenched, this attitude is being reinforced. Partially folded arms also signal defensiveness. This is usually accompanied by other gestures such as fiddling with cuffs, a ring on a finger, a watch or a handbag. Someone who keeps his arms unfolded is signalling that he feels confident and unthreatened. Also if he is rubbing his hands together, this often signals positive expectations. And rubbing them together briskly suggests an open attitude to what is being said and anticipated. Plus rubbing more slowly can mean that the person expects to be the recipient of good news.
A strong, painful grip suggests the person wants to dominate you. A soft, limp handshake may mean he feels in a weaker position than you; and/or can indicate apathy. So, when someone reinforces his handshake by gripping your arm with his free hand, he’s trying to indicate sincerity. Some politicians use this technique on walkabouts and alienate those people who are familiar with this trick.
Crossed legs convey the impression of negative feelings such as shyness, disagreement or even anger. Watch out for other negative signals that might be present at the same time. When the upper ankle of one leg rests on the knee of the other leg, the person is betraying a competitive attitude. And, if they clamp the upper leg in
place with the hands, a very firm position is being taken by that person. He’s not likely to change his mind.
8. Copying other people’s body language
One of the best ways of recognising whether someone is for or against you is to see whether he mirrors your body language. When someone shares feelings or attitudes, he will often adopt a similar body language. For example, when one person crosses his legs, the other will do so too, almost as a sign of agreement. When he disagrees, the body signals start to differ as well. You can copy other people’s body language to win their confidence, minimise negative signals and maximise positive ones, to appear more confident.