WE Aussies love getting up close and personal: throwing a thumbs up as a true blue way of showing we are happy to be around someone. However, despite our best intentions, our message may not be making the right impact.
If you have ever done a presentation, you will know the importance of making sure your body is conveying the right message. Non-verbal communication — which includes gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body positioning — can convey a message that is much more powerful than the words we speak. A raised eyebrow can demolish an argument or give the sign of approval in seconds. Studies have shown that anything from 80-93% of our message is conveyed non-verbally. Despite there being some contention about the actual percentages, the consensus is your body speaks volumes and tells much more of the story than your words. Psychologists have discovered that when what we say is incongruent with our non-verbal communication, we are four times more likely to believe the non-verbal communication. And with approximately a quarter of the human brain set aside for visual processing, we tend to believe what we see rather than the words spoken.
So as you head into your negotiations, interview, performance appraisal, sales pitch or meet someone for the first time, how can you use your body to make the most positive impact?
Everyone loves a good handshake: a nice, even, relatively robust shake that sends a message of friendship and goodwill. But handshakes can display unconscious attitudes about someone, or yourself. A dominant handshake (your hand on top of the other person’s), for example, suggests that you seek authority — the impact: the other person becomes cautious of you. Alternatively, a limp handshake (fingers only and very soft) suggests a lack of confidence: not the right impact for an interview. So be mindful about how you go into your next handshake.
Eye contact is one of the most important indicators that someone is listening. It communicates caring and inclusion. However, eye contact can be extremely intrusive which is why when we make eye contact with strangers, we tend to quickly turn away. Cultural variations exist too. For example, western cultures identify a lack of eye contact with shame or dishonesty, while some cultures identify minimal eye contact as respectful and a sign of humility. The right amount of eye contact requires awareness and judgement.
We all have a zone around us where we do not like others to enter. Personal space can be influenced by culture, status and region. For example, Aussies from the country like more personal space than those from the city. And in London, we all need to get used to having very little personal space. Stepping into someone’s zone putting your arm around them might seem like a friendly, Aussie thing to do. However, if you do not have permission, the impact on the other person may be unexpectedly negative.
Becoming aware of how you use your body to communicate can help you determine whether you are making the right impact. If not, identify what needs to change and change it.