Your brand comes to life through the way that you look and your body language is certainly an extension of that. We can learn manners, we can be taught poise, we can hire experts to teach us how to chose a wardrobe. Your body language, by contrast, is a lot less conscious, and equally as revealing. Your body language expresses your feelings, your confidence level, and your emotional state. Your body language directly reveals your emotions – whether you’re scared, happy, frustrated or angry, and whether or not you can be trusted.
While there are volumes of books written about body language related to hands, I’d like to touch on just a few gestures here. Your hands can show someone your vulnerability. As speakers, for instance, we’re taught to show our palms to our audience to build trust and rapport. It’s a lot less threatening. If I put my hands in my pockets, I might appear like I’m protecting myself – it’s a defensiveness measure. Similarly, if I’m clenching my hands or wringing my hands, you could perceive me to be nervous or anxious. If I put my hands to my face, you might think that I’m being critical and I’m evaluating. By doing this you can also convey insecurity as if you’re protecting yourself.
Likewise, if I stroke my chin as you’re talking to me, I convey that I’m contemplating or evaluating. This is an appropriate gesture as long as it is appropriate to the conversation. However, if I start to cover my mouth and especially if I cover my mouth while I’m talking, the message it sends is that I’m cutting off the words as they come out of my mouth – that I want to put the words back in, and somehow I’m not confident in what I’m saying. With these cues, I would say keep your hands away from your mouth. I would suggest you keep them away from your face all together if possible.
Have you ever seen someone do the “steepling” gesture where they tilt the tips of their fingers together as if they’re praying? In their mind, they might think it sends a message that they are thinking, but it actually sends a message that they’re perhaps overly confident and maybe even smug. It could appear to others that they are disengaged and judgmental. I would be careful with this gesture.
Similarly, have you ever seen someone put their hands behind their head as if they’re stretching and leaning back in their chair? Oftentimes, this person will also avoid eye contact at the same time. This is a very superior posture that is off-putting to people, especially in a collaborative environment. I witnessed a client do this in a meeting recently, when he felt pressured to make a decision on the spot. His body language and posture sent the message to everyone in the room that he would take his time… and decisions were to be made on his schedule. Could he have chosen a more effective way to communicate this? Sure. He could have said these words instead of posturing himself in a position of authority and putting the other participants in the meeting at ill ease.
And how about crossed arms? Have you been told that if somebody crosses their arms they’re defensive or angry? Well, not always. This may mean that someone is relaxed, or simply standing comfortably. Maybe they’re cold. Our most vital organs are in the core of our body and so yes, there is a potential defensiveness or protectiveness when we cross our arms if we’re feeling threatened. But the possibility also exists that the person is just cold or is simply relaxed in this position, so be careful jumping to conclusions.
Whether you’re working on image or body language, the goal is to support your personal brand and desired brand reputation with congruity. Your audience is looking for consistency. When I meet you, when you walk into the room, when I see your body language, when I read your posts online or view your website, I want to experience the same person. I want to see consistency. Only then can I begin to trust that you are who you say you are.
Are you interested in learning more about body language as it relates to your personal brand? Join us for our December Coaching Call where you submit your questions and we tailor the content for you!