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understanding body language in business


It seems like there’s an endless supply of business articles out there of tips, tricks, and hints on how to nail an interview, close a new business deal, or secure lucrative networking connections. These articles may focus on style of dress, speech patterns, punctuality etc. However, one area that is often overlooked in these types of articles is understanding body language in business and personal connections.


Subconsciously or consciously, people pick up on body language and use it as a major determining factor in the longevity and seriousness of any type of relationship, so it definitely pays off to understand how body language and business intersect. If you regularly meet with customers, attend business meetings, interact with co-workers and employees, or have any sort of interaction (online or in-person) with someone, you need to be mindful of your body language.


Your body language has more of an impact than you think, and I’ll tell you why! Read up on these tips below so you can control your body language and use it to strengthen your business relationships!



The Science Behind Handshakes 


Let’s start off with a fairly popular topic in U.S. government and world news, the infamous “Trump handshake”. Pres. Trump has become well known for his aggressive style handshakes while meeting other world leaders, or forgoing a handshake entirely. One UK article even breaks his style of handshakes into three main sections: “the clasp”, “the yank”, and “the release”. However, these power move type handshakes aren’t unique to just the American President today. World leaders for thousands of years have employed a variety of techniques to display their dominance and power. 


president trump aggressive handshake psychology


Your handshake is one of the first interactions you’ll have with a prospect, customer, connection, co-worker etc. This one little action will form the base of someone’s impression of you down the road and you want that to be positive.


This may seem unimportant, but here’s how to give a good handshake:

  1. Extend your right hand out and wait until the other person’s hand meets yours
  2. Look into their eyes as you shake their hand
  3. Use firm, but comfortable pressure (don’t pull or squeeze their hand)
  4. Make sure your feet are pointed toward the person you’re shaking hands with (The way your feet are orientated tells a lot about how you feel about the person. If your feet are pointed away it signals that you want to leave the conversation or are not interested in talking to them)


If that last point took you for surprise, you’re not alone! I was fascinated when I did some research into feet position in body language displays too! But, it’s not just your foot position that matters, it’s your whole body!



How to Orient Your Body to Encourage Connection


Americans have a reputation of being a loud and an openly smiling people (to convey happiness and friendliness). Think about it, you smile at the cashier who’s giving you change, you may smile at the stranger sitting across the aisle from you, or give a slight smile to the mailman as he makes his rounds. But, all that smiling is pretty unique to American culture. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cardiff University found that America is one of the most expressive countries, while countries like China and Russia tend to be the lease expressive.


american cultural smile


One theory for Americans’ smiling expressiveness is the wide mix of cultures in our society. If people didn’t share the same language, they relied on facial expression and body language to communicate instead. That practice has clearly stuck and smiling plays a large part in American culture whether we realize it or not. The importance of body language in business cannot be overstated when it comes to creating and maintaining solid business relationships. 


So, let’s start at the eyes and work down to the feet!



Your Head and Communication


Your forehead, your eyes, your mouth, and even your ears and nose can all display “micro-expressions”. Those are those small, instinctive muscle movements that maybe last a second before your conscious body control takes over again. They show what you really feel.


negative feedback


“Micro-expressions” are mostly uncontrollable, but you can be aware of your conscientious expressions in those same areas. Obviously direct eye contact is huge! Eye contact demonstrates confidence, courage, and decisiveness. The angle of your head is also important. If it’s raised too high you may come off as pompous or vain, too low and you may seem angry or brooding. You want to keep your head straight or possibly tilted, slightly leaning forward. This head position communicates interest in what the other person is saying and that you’re actually listening to them.


Pro Tip: nod your head when someone is speaking to you. This not only encourages the speaker in what they’re saying, but it relaxes them and makes you seem more agreeable and open. You can also slightly nod your head when you’re speaking as a way to increase the likelihood that the listener will agree with you as well.  


As we talked about above, your mouth is also a large communicator of emotion. A wide smile, pursed lips, or a smirk all communicate vastly different moods and emotions. To make the best impression, at least in American business, smile when you reach out to shake hands!


If you do conduct business on an international level, take some time to learn different cultures’ body language styles so you can communicate better with those individuals.



Your Torso/ Arms and Communication


One of the most popular examples of body language in business is hand gestures. Most of us are familiar with the concept that crossing your arms makes you seem upset or closed off. In a sense, it does create a physical barrier between you and someone else. Where you place your arms and hands portrays your comfort level in conversation. Your arms and hands are a major form of expression that can illustrate not only emotion, but also cultural beliefs and practices.


negative feedback


Using hand gestures when you speak shows you’re invested in fully expressing your words, and are confident and excited. It also looks more natural to move your body than to remain straight and rigid. Swift and exact hand gestures help to reinforce points you’re making, and more sweeping gestures imply open, and relaxed emotions.



Your Feet and Communication


Lastly we have the feet. If you’ve ever played baseball, or any sport where you’re throwing a ball, you’ve learned to “point your foot where you want the ball to go”. The placement of your foot is directly tied to your body’s energy and movement toward a specific location. It’s the same way in personal communication.


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So, next time you’re talking to a person, glance at their foot position! If a person’s feet are pointed away from you, that means they may be uncomfortable or want to leave the discussion. However, if a person’s feet as pointed toward you, that means they’re engaged in the conversation. As the number of people in the discussion grows, foot position will also change. If people are more open to discussing with multiple individuals, their foot placement may be wider and slightly turned out.


All these tips may sound like insignificant actions, but they do make a difference! 



In Conclusion


Body language isn’t a perfect science, so there will be some variables in body position. But overall, how you carry yourself is very telling of your current emotional state. Understanding body language in business can strengthen your relationships with your customers and co-workers, and will ultimately make you more successful. Be mindful of how you interact with others so you can (literally) put your best foot forward!

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