how to improve your body language

Body Language Fixes You Need Right Now

I was introduced to a podcast called “Stuff You Should Know” on a recent epic road trip with my brother, Peter, & his family. He wanted me to hear an episode on Body Language, knowing it was right up my alley.

These two guys do a bunch of research on a topic & then discuss it on their podcast. Super helpful. In this episode, they discuss body language within different cultures, which they make really funny.

They discuss the evolution of body language, which I’ve always found super interesting because it strongly impacts how we use our bodies today.

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Why improve your body language?

Then at the end of this particular podcast, they recommend that no one should attempt to improve their body language because they will

“come off as an aggressive weirdo corporate creep.”

They also suggest that you’ll be “manipulative” if you fix your body language.  I don’t know why I’m always completely shocked when people recommend that others shouldn’t attempt to improve themselves, uh,  but I am.

There is no 1 size fits all communication trick. Everyone & every situation is different.

And maybe these podcasters are as successful as they want to be, but denying that we can improve our communication skills is not good advice for the rest of us who want to succeed in life. (All apologies for the run-on sentence.)

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Body Language Comes From the Stone Age

Our natural body language comes from millions of years of evolution. And we are still using that body language today.

For instance, when someone crosses their arms, it most likely means they’re defensive. Because for millions of years, we had to shield our bodies from physical attack.

Look around you at meetings, parties, and online at the deli; see how many people have their arms crossed. We no longer need to shield ourselves from sticks and stones, but when we feel insecure or attacked, we cross our arms.

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Want to be more influential? We all want to communicate our most important messages in a way that encourages others to take action. Whether that action is voting for our candidate or picking up milk from the store, the words we use and how we speak play a huge role in getting the job done.

Now, this is a very ineffective way to go through life. When your arms are closed so is your mind. And the extra trouble is, you’re unable to convince other people to find you credible when your arms are crossed.

You need your body language to coincide with your message.

You guys know that I work with people to make them crystal clear, fearless, and highly persuasive communicators when they need it most. They need compelling speaking voices and concise speech during high-stakes situations.

These are the characteristics that make people like you and give you that certain, hard-to-achieve executive presence.

Body language is a massive part of this.  When we’re under a bit of stress (when at a job interview, first date, or giving a presentation, etc.), that’s when we slide back into the stone age.

These high-stake situations are when our Neanderthal tendencies come out. We tend to use body language that perpetuates that stress. This results in our not being able to use all of our skills.

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Fight or flight and then freeze.

Let me explain this stone-age business. Our primitive brains recognize high-stakes situations as stress. (Rightly so.) But then the only solution our primitive knows to provide us with is “fight or flight.”

Since we can’t fight or run away we often freeze or talk too fast or with too high a pitch. Or we use too many words or become generally unable to respond as well as if we were in a comfortable situation. Sound familiar? 

So our bodies can close up, we cross our arms & legs or put our heads down. And our throats close. Our bodies are doing exactly what our primitive brain is telling them to do.

But this is ineffective in the workplace, when public speaking, on a first date, anywhere there’s a high-stakes situation.

It takes millions of years for humans to make big evolutionary changes. So we have to propel these changes along for our own benefit and for that of our children. 

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Improve your body language because it can make or break you.

Let’s not let our primitive brain stand in the way of getting what we need in life. Here’s a list of how to improve your body language. We’ll go into more detail below.

  1. Uncross your arms and legs.
  2. Sit at the back of your chair.
  3. Make eye contact 85% of the time.
  4. Show your hands when you greet people.
  5. Breathe from your core.
  6. Use a warm smile when appropriate.

Uncross your arms & legs.

Uncrossing your arms during a job interview doesn’t make you a manipulative, aggressive weirdo corporate creep. Do yourself a favor & uncross your arms whenever there’s success on the line.  I want you always to have your arms uncrossed to make it easier to do so when success is on the line.  

Arms crossed is most often a way to defend ourselves, so we do it more during high-pressure situations. I don’t have to tell you that evolution doesn’t happen overnight. We need to eliminate the vestiges that we needed when defending ourselves from sticks & stones. Crossing your arms won’t save you from being badmouthed on facebook!

Keeping your body open results in having control over yourself, what comes out of your mouth & other people. You make other people open to you & your message.

The rest of us who are trying to be self-actualized & realize that we humans weren’t born perfect & that our pre-frontal cortex still shuts down when we’re placed in anxiety-ridden communicative situations, we’re going to make sure that we don’t fidget or cross our arms or keep our shoulders up to our ears.

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Sit at the back of the chair.

The edge of the seat is reserved for your listener! Be sure to give me credit when you quote me on that one! 🙂 You have less control over yourself when you’re sitting at the edge of your seat. Sit with your butt & lower back touching the back of your chair. Do it at dinner, in meetings, at your desk. 

You will be more relaxed & your upper body will be supported. That helps you to breathe properly, keeping you on top of your game.

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Breathe from your core.

Keep your shoulders down & make sure you’re using abdominal breathing. If your upper body is moving, you’re not doing it right.

The benefits of breathing from your core are many. It results in your being calmer & more confident. And it makes your voice fuller & more resonant.

Consequently, people will perceive you as an authority. You’ll seem warm, confident & competent. Breathe abdominally for increasing increments of time until it’s a learned behavior.

Your body language helps people to find you credible

I’m not advocating “put on” or fake behaviors. When we’re in anxiety-ridden situations, your ability to get your message across & get people to follow your call to action is pivotal.

Keeping your arms crossed using shallow breathing & sitting on the edge of your seat will not help you get where you need to go. Make these fixes in your posture/body language will make you well able to deal with stress-ridden situations.

Down with aggressive weirdo corporate creeps!

There’s so much more we can discuss regarding body language.  🙂

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Body language determines how much people trust you.

Just as crossing your arms and legs demonstrates to others that you’re defensive, it can also make them think you’re hiding something. They can be just as defensive, they need to survive and thrive also.

So if your arms are crossed and you’re not showing your hands, our primitive brains believe you may be hiding something. So we can’t rust you.

So learn to be comfortable without your hands in your pocket or behind your back.

How to Use Body Language to Succeed in Life

I was inspired to write about body language after listening to a podcast where 2 guys warned of their concerns that if you work on your body language, you’ll become an “aggressive weirdo corporate creep.”  I suppose that could happen if you work on your body language bizarrely, like just being really stiff and putting your fingertips together. Let’s try that one for giggles.

The rest of us who are obviously trying to be self-actualized & realize that we humans weren’t born perfect & that our pre-frontal cortex still shuts down when we’re placed in anxiety-ridden communicative situations, we’re going to make sure that we don’t fidget or cross our arms or keep our shoulders up to our ears. Most of all, we’re looking to succeed in this world & being aware of our body language gives us a leg up in the world.

Some really great stuff about body language here.

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Being observant of others‘ body language is also important. When people have their arms & legs crossed, they’re likely to be more resistant to your ideas. Our bodies demonstrate how we’re feeling. Being observant of what others are doing can help us get what we need out of each situation.

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Successful communications depend upon people being relaxed & open. When you bring your open body language, a nice smile & a warm voice to a meeting, you’re helping other people to be relaxed. As a result, you’ve got kindness & great leadership.

Amy Cuddy has some great stuff about body language. She says it shapes who you are. And she’s definitely not an “aggressive weirdo corporate creep.

Watch people’s faces & bodies during meetings this week & let me know what you’ve observed by writing in the comments below. Also, let me know what body language tricks you use.

5 thoughts on “Body Language Fixes You Need Right Now”

  1. Another awesome article! So baffling that some people view improving yourself and your body language as manipulative. We should never stop improving ourselves!

    1. You’re a girl after my own heart! Exactly.
      Imagine not improving your Math skills? The skills needed for your job? Imagine not listening to your golf pro?

    2. I love these tips! Especially the one with breathing from your core. I have a tendency to hold my breath subconsciously. When I make an effort to pay attention and expand my stomach my speaking volumes increases!

  2. Yes! I couldn’t uncross my arms to save my life when I was in meetings, so I sat on my hands for a few weeks and now I can keep my arms open.
    Thanks so much for this!

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