Donald Trump likes to race to the front but doesn’t handle silences so well. Vladimir Putin is often on the back foot while listening but grows as he speaks. Richard Branson likes to fist bump instead of handshake and Mark Zuckerberg will often mimic those he is speaking to. Do you have a signature body language move?
First impressions count. How many times do we hear this phrase? Some business psychologists argue that what happens in the first few seconds can have more of an effect than the following 20 minutes. I often write about presentation in terms of speech, but body language speaks volumes too.
Have you ever been in a business situation where you have met someone for the first time and fluffed your handshake? Perhaps you were surprised by the strength of the other’s grip and performed something of a limp fish shake in return? Maybe you squeezed too hard and inadvertently performed some kind of Trumpian ‘yank and pull’ manoeuvre?
If this has happened to you, chances are it scarred you for the meeting that followed. As you got down to business your focus was not on topic, but instead distracted by your mind replaying that fumbled opening. Hey, it happens! It does illustrate however, how flawed body language can affect a situation.
Bad eye contact is a common cause when it comes to failure to properly connect with people. Eye contact is recognised by psychologists as playing a vital role in communication. It is important to hold a speaker’s eyes when they are talking to you as to look away signals that you are not interested in what they have to say. On this point I would also add the importance of smiling, affirmative nods and the occasional spoken reassurance (as in “yes”, “uh-huh”, “I see”).
It takes a conscious effort to control your body language, at least until you obtain some muscle (physical or mental) memory to do it naturally. This is what makes leaders in politics and business stand out. They know, or have learnt, how to use their body to create impact, projecting self assurance and exuding a quiet power.
Some people seem to walk into a room and command attention with their presence. Occasionally this is down to some kind of charismatic alchemy, but more often than not it is simply down to posture and good practice. The person that strides into the room, shoulders back, but relaxed, wearing a confident smile and acknowledging those around them will leave a positive impression. The person who shuffles in with pursed lips and eyes seemingly more interested in checking if the cleaners have vacuumed the floor thoroughly will not!
The difference is confidence. Of course some people are naturally more confident than others, but many successful operators have merely learnt the skill of exuding confidence. They are playing a role, acting for the crowd, switching it on for the occasion. While this may be daunting to begin with, once you have it carried off (and more importantly realised nobody has denounced you for it), it becomes easier.
The truth is that most of the time we are unaware of how we are communicating to others with our body language. Seeing yourself on video is usually an unpleasant reminder in this respect. We all know what we should not be doing in a business situation – slouching and crossing arms are two of the more obvious faux pas moves – however our bodies tend to just drift along on auto pilot, accumulated bad habits and all.. It’s good to review your own body language habits periodically and be conscious of how you act around others.
My suggestion for improvement is to observe the body language of others, particularly those who are successful in business, politics or law…or the theatre. Often the things they do differently are quite simple, common sense even. With the right training, most bad habits can be reversed and the rewards are potentially deal breaking and if you want to know what George Clooney’s secret to presence is, simply book an inspirational and transformative Impact and Presence Masterclass!
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.