More than words: What does your body language say?

What a person says can be very different from how they actually feel.

However, with the right observations, you can decipher a person's thoughts and feelings through their body language. Certain gestures, body positioning and even voice pitch have certain meanings that can tell a lot about that person.

<i> Andrew Tham, Certified Trainer and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Semantics (NS) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). </i> Andrew Tham, Certified Trainer and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Semantics (NS) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

“The mouth may lie but the body does not”, says Andrew Tham, certified trainer and master practitioner of neuro-semantics and neuro-linguistic programming, certified by the International Society of Neuro-Semantics, Colorado, USA. Tham is also a certified trainer of body language and deception detection with the Body Language Institute, Washington DC, USA.

Body language works both ways. Did you know that with the right body language, it can help boost your sales and business to new heights? Or that with the wrong body language, clients could lose trust in you and your business?

Here, Tham has pointed out various body language that we should start paying attention to.

Eyes - the windows to the soul

I'm sure that everyone has gone through an interview before, may it be with a new employer or even with a client.

As nerve-wrecking as it is, eye contact plays an important role in interviews. Constantly giving direct eye contact during an interview comes off as daunting and pressuring, hence, affecting the interviewee's performance. It instantly turns an innocent interview into an FBI interrogation.

Instead sit at the interviewee's side and give a side-way eye contact to come off more casual and friendly.

During meetings and social events, it is important to give eye contact as well. Giving eye contact during a conversation shows that you are actually listening and not daydreaming away.

When going for the shake

Did you know that, hand placement when giving a handshake could make or break you?

When giving a handshake with a person of higher position, make sure their hands are always angled slightly on top of yours. This allows them the dominance between the both of you, and acts as a mark of respect for their position.

For a more casual or safe option, practice a completely vertical handshake, where neither of your hands are on top of one another - this is a mark of equality.

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What should I do with my hands?

Most of the time, people struggle the most with what to do with their hands, especially in situations such as interviews, client meetings, and general meetings.

If you find yourself constantly placing your hands under the table, it shows that you may have something to hide and others might start questioning if you are being truthful.

Instead, counter this by placing your hands on the table to display honesty and appear more engaging and attentive.

Folding of arms is the most misunderstood body language, says Tham. Most people perceive it negatively, indicating that you are bored or overly defensive.

Although in some cases those accusations may be true, a person may fold their arms because they are feeling cold, or simply out of habit.

To be on the safe side and to avoid giving out the wrong vibe, refrain yourself from folding your arms during important events. If you are cold, simply wear a jacket.

Placing your hands in a raised steeple position shows power, authority and attentiveness. This hand positioning is widely used by top company leaders – even Donald Trump himself!

Hold your chin from time to time to show intelligence. It means that you are attentively listening and interpreting what they say.

Mind the (personal) gap

Everyone has their own personal space. Based on cultural norms, Asians are said to have a wider personal space as compared to those in Western countries.

So, take account of where you stand. Standing too close to others may cause the other party to feel uncomfortable. To reverse this and put others at ease, hold a beverage cup in front of you to act as a barrier between your personal spaces.

Watch your feet

The position of your feet while standing carries a strong message.

If you want to know if you’re being really heard, watch your listener’s feet. If their feet are pointing towards you, that’s great – they are listening. However, if their feet are pointing away, it shows that they much rather be somewhere else. (Hint: They much rather be where their feet are pointing at.)

Stand with confidence

There are three hot spots that you should avoid covering with your hands while standing – your larynx (Adam's apple), belly button and/or groin area. Covering these locations share the same meaning as folding your arms. It shows that you lack confidence. People will lose trust in your judgments.

So, when standing, place your arms on your sides or one in your pocket. Putting your one hand into your pocket with the thumb out displays your confidence whereas, putting both hands into your pockets shows that you are hiding something.

Many successful entrepreneurs practice this body language to convey “silent confidence”.

Stop pointing!

If you happen to be presenting or speaking in a meeting, pointing fingers to the next point or even at your other employees come off as rude – just like anywhere else. Use the palm up gesture instead to portray politeness and decency.

Head tilt

If you like tilting your head when you talk, stop!

Women are particularly guilty of doing this, says Tham. Tilting your head when speaking, gives an impression that you are unsure of what you're actually saying and may be having second thoughts. Holding your head straight and sure while delivering your points, will grant you more conviction.

Say Cheese!

It is good to have a smile on your face but smiling all the time comes off as creepy. Why'd you think clowns are so scary? Plus, it will be tough for people to tell when you are actually being genuine.

Reserve the smiles for genuine purposes and when you want to appear friendly.

While knowing these different forms of body language may be good for you to enhance your leadership, know that when it comes to deciphering the body language of others, there are many exceptions.

“When interpreting body language, it is important to first compare them to a person's baseline (natural behaviour),” says Tham. “If there is a sudden change in their baseline, that's when you know that something is up!”

Having said that, one does not simply turn into a lie-detector or body language expert overnight. It takes time, practice, and a good knowledge in cultural difference. We live in a world filled with diversity, making it impossible for all our body languages to be the same.

What might be out of the ordinary for one person, may be a norm for the next.

With that in mind, practice those postures, handshakes, and eye contact well, and you’ll be on the way to building better impressions with others.


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