The signals you send out with your body language might not be foremost in your mind when you meet a colleague or client, yet they exert a powerful influence on the other person. The human brain is hardwired to pay attention to the many nonverbal signals that others give out, even if it’s below the level of conscious awareness.
Successful people are aware of the power of unspoken signals and monitor their body language to achieve the results they want. Pamela Thorne, a specialist in influence, negotiation, and leadership training, describes seven ways to connect with others and maximise your influence.
Adopt a powerful (but not dominant) position
Standing up straight (and not slouching) will instantly give you a confidence boost. Taking up the space you need to stand tall demonstrates inner power – and people unconsciously respond to that. Don’t, however, stand over the other person or move in so close that they feel uncomfortable.
Professor Amy Cuddy’s research shows that powerful stances, such as the Superman or Superwoman pose with arms akimbo, increase confidence and the ability to cope with stress. You might want to test out these ‘power poses’ in private, though, before you go into a meeting or give a presentation.
Show agreement with nodding
If you nod your head, you are not only signalling agreement, but you are priming the other person to respond positively to you. When one person nods, most people feel an unconscious urge to nod back.
Start by nodding in agreement when the other person talks. Then, nod when you’re making your own statements, and watch how they start nodding back. When someone is already nodding, they are much more likely to start agreeing with your ideas or your proposal — providing you are suggesting something that is credible and reasonable. Don’t overdo it, though. Nodding too much or too excitedly might signal anxiety or a need to please.
A genuine smile tells the other person that you are confident and approachable, and builds your ‘likeability’ quotient. Research shows that people are more willing to say yes to the requests of people they like.
A genuine smile can’t be faked. So cultivate an attitude of positivity and helpfulness, and that smile will well up from within. If the other person is in a serious mood, or is feeling sad, start with showing sympathy, then build up to a smile.
Match their movements
This happens quite unconsciously when people have good rapport with each other – they begin to mirror each other’s movements. And if the other person feels in sync with you, they will support your ideas.
If they cross their legs, or have their arms in a certain position, match that. If they pick up a pen, pick up your pen. The other person will feel more connected to you without knowing why. You can then test this by pacing and leading. Try a different movement and see if they follow. If they do, you know you have built rapport.
It’s very flattering to be listened to and given real attention, so lean your body slightly towards the other person. It shows interest in them and their ideas.
Don’t overdo it and intrude into their personal space, though. This would signal aggression and could put an end to your attempts to influence. Be aware that our sense of personal space varies from situation to situation, and from one culture to another.
Fidgeting conveys anxiety and will detract from your message. It might also mean that you have something to hide, or are overly concerned with your appearance. So find your inner Zen – be calm and allow that to shine through with controlled movements.
Point your feet towards them
This is a positive sign that shows high regard for another and an interest in what they have to say. It will help to build trust. When you are ready to leave, you can point your feet toward the exit and subtly turn your body. They will know that the conversation has come to a close without your needing to say anything.
Your body language counts for a lot when you are attempting to influence, so make sure it says what you want it to say.