An Introduction to Body Language You don't get a second chance to make a first impression

Over 50% of your image – how others perceive you – comes directly from the way you use your body, facial expressions and gestures. And this is before you even open your mouth. As the saying goes, 'you don't get a second chance to make a first impression'.

What follows is a general introduction to the area of Body Language followed by some very handy hints on what to try or what to avoid to create a lasting impression.

Body language basics

  • Since Darwin's "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" in 1872, researchers have noted and recorded almost 1,000,000 "non verbal" cues and signals.
  • Albert Mehrabian – a pioneer of Body Language research in the 1950s concluded that the total impact of a message is approximately 7% Verbal (the Words), 38% Vocal (tone, inflection and other) (the MUSIC), and 55% Non Verbal (the Dance).
  • Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell estimates that we can make and recognise approximately 250,000 facial expressions.
  • Even nostril flaring has a reason... in preparation for "fight or flight" it allows more oxygen to the body.
  • The same lecture, given to different groups, has been shown to receive an 84% positive rating when the speaker uses open palms (palms up), 52% positive rating when the speaker uses palms down body language, and only 28% positive rating when the speaker uses pointing gestures.
  • Much of "The Dance" is written into us, almost like code. Cross your arms! Now, cross them the other way and see how you get on! Many people cannot carry out this straightforward task without practice.

Hints on some simple techniques that everyone can use

  • Foot pointing
    Towards the person signifies interest. When we are not being "congruent" (that is, when our mouths say one thing but our bodies are saying another), our bodies or feet will be pointing away from someone even if we are facing them with our upper body.
  • Visible palms

    Open, honest. People intuitively use open, visible palms if they are telling the truth. This gesture also automatically improves the "Music". It is a reflex action for the voice to change to imploring, with lower tonality, rather than aggressive and high pitched tonality, when the palms are turned up.

  • Leaning forward

    Not into someone's personal space, but in a subtle way. When you are telling someone you know very well, a story, what movement do you make? How can you tell if two people know each other well in a bar or restaurant? Watch how they lean in and out and mirror each other's movements.

  • Mirroring

    Women are four times more likely to mirror another woman than a man is to mirror another man. Men and women are programmed differently to express emotions more through facial expression and body language respectively.

    Typically, a woman can use an average of six main facial expressions in a ten second listening period to reflect and feedback the speaker's emotions. Men make fewer than one third of the facial expressions of a woman. In men there is an evolutionary need in public to withhold emotion to stave off possible attack from a stranger and to be in "control".

    The key to mirroring a man if you are a woman is to reduce facial expressions so as not to come across as overwhelming or intimidating. "Women in business who listen with a more serious face are described by men as more intelligent, astute and sensible.

  • The Head Nod

    A stunted form of bowing. Person symbolically goes to bow but stops short. This shows submission – it shows we are going along with the other person's point of view. Research shows that people will talk 3-4 times more than usual when the listener nods, using groups of three nods at regular intervals.

    Slow nods = shows you are interested. Fast nods = you have heard enough or want the speaker to finish. Also, there's a benefit to the listener. As you nod, you begin to experience positive feelings. Great for rapport building and gaining agreement and cooperation. You can use nodding with positive affirmations at the end of each sentence. E.g., "isn't it, wouldn't you, fair enough, isn't that true?"

  • The Head Tilt

    Submission signal and positive. Who, or what, tilts the head when inquisitive or interested? We view this signal in exactly the same way as dogs both use and view it. Charles Darwin noticed this similarity regarding tilting the head. From an evolutionary perspective, exposing more neck shows submission and trust that your adversary will not attack.

  • Body Angles

    When a dog is aggressive towards another, it approaches head-on. When it approaches from the side and keeps its body at an angle, it shows that it is friendly or inquisitive. It's the same for humans. What expression do we use to signify that we are not frightened of conflict? "I squared up to him" meaning that a head-on, aggressive approach was used. To show interest and submission, it's fine to look at someone square on with your face, but attempt a slightly angled body.

  • Mirroring / Pacing

    The person with the lead in a group often makes the first move and the others copy them. What implications does this have for you with a "potentially" angry customer? If you can mirror any of their positive body language, you are effectively saying, "I like you" which will reduce potential conflict before it starts.

New Line Ideas and Body Language Training

At New Line Ideas we use a variety of methods, techniques and exercises to help people develop their Body Language skills, whether in management or front line customer service team. Body Language, surprisingly, also plays an important part within aspects of Call Centre Customer Service call quality. We have a wide experience of helping teams to achieve better support, service and sales through adapting elements of their Body Language.

Let's take this further.

To benefit from an informal discussion on how New Line Ideas can help you achieve long lasting results, please contact us today.

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