Does Your Body Language Match Your Words?

 In Communication, Managing Yourself

Have you ever called someone out for something, only to realize later — ouch — you’re guilty of it too? Sometimes we need others to hold up a mirror to show us what we can’t see in ourselves. This is exactly what happened to me many years ago.

At the time, I was sitting in a business meeting. I noticed that each time one of the other women spoke, she put her hand in front of her mouth. She had a strange way of tightly curling her index finger over her lips and hanging her thumb slightly below. Her words were confident, but the position of her hand made her look almost apologetic.

I found it really distracting — so much so that I mentioned it to a colleague.

She said, “Carla, you know you do that, too, right …?!” Whoa, what a shocking reality check. I had been completely unaware. But it was true — I did hold my hand like that!

It was just a comfortable position for me, one that held no hidden meaning. Except that it was — apparently — quite distracting.

I was grateful to my colleague for her honesty. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to keep my hand away from my mouth. My old way was a meaningless habit, but a habit worth breaking. Because it did not project confidence — and actually detracted from it.

Power Challenge 1: Use body language to convey the right message.

Body language is odd. It can say one thing, while your words say another. The trouble is, you’re often less aware of your body language. I know I was! As a result, you may be sending mixed or conflicting messages about your level of confidence, interest or sincerity.

Related: What Message Is Your Body Language Sending?

Do a quick body language check-in. Make sure you’re striking the right balance between appearing too aggressive or too timid. You’ll want to show you’re relaxed, but self-assured; engaged, but not overbearing.

Take a look at the handy tips in this infographic:

Power Challenge 2: DON’T let your body language undermine your intent.

Two people could stand in front of a room and say the exact same words. But if one’s body is upright and steady, and the other’s is tight, collapsed or fidgety, how would that affect your trust in what they’re sharing?

Power Quote:

“Your body communicates as well as your mouth. Don’t contradict yourself.” – Allen Ruddock

Let’s look at some common ways that your body language might be working against you. Whether you’re talking to one person or many, try to avoid these body language blunders:

Fist clenching — You’d be surprised at how many people walk around all day unwittingly clenching their fists! It’s usually a sign of anger or tension that you may be holding.

Fidgeting — Tapping your fingers on the table can make you look bored, impatient or anxious. So can bouncing your knee or tapping a foot while sitting.

Slouching — Your grandma was onto something when she reminded you to keep your chin up and to stand (or sit) tall. Slouching — in any context — connotes disengagement and/or low energy.

Crossing arms or legs — Open body language is welcoming. It signals your willingness to consider others’ thoughts and ideas. As soon as you cross your arms or legs (even if it’s just because you’re feeling a little chilly), you send the opposite vibe. Open body language suggests open-mindedness; closed body language insinuates closed-mindedness.

Power Exercise

Clench your fist. Pause and sense what that feels like. Then, slowly and consciously open your fingers. Observe the difference in the way it makes you feel. Are you more relaxed? (Yep, I thought so.)

Roll your shoulders forward and down. Tilt your chin so that your upper torso feels like a safe shell in which to hide. Now, raise your shoulders up and back so that they’re squarely resting in your shoulder blades. Lift your chin just enough to make it parallel to the floor. Do you feel more energized? (I bet you do!)

Power Challenge 3: Ask for feedback from people you trust

Because you’re on the inside of “you” looking out,  you aren’t always able to objectively “see” your own body language. That’s where mirrors and trusted friends or colleagues can really help.

Power Thought:

Mirrors don’t lie, nor do trusted confidantes.

Think of the people in your inner circle whom you trust and respect. Ask them to give you honest feedback about how they read your body language — and see if that’s what you intended. Becoming aware of your habits is the first step in changing them.

Keep in mind their feedback will also be somewhat subjective — unless they just happen to be a body language specialist! Listen with an open mind and take from it what fits and feels right for you.

As silly as it might sound, practice in front of a mirror. Pretend you’re giving an important speech or conducting an employee review. Check your smile, your posture and gestures. Tweak accordingly. Then practice some more. Before you know it, confident body language will become second nature to you —without leaving anyone else second-guessing what you really mean.

Choose Your Body Language as Carefully as Your Words

Marketers and people in happy relationships know the value of choosing words carefully. Words have an advantage — you can rehearse them, especially in high-stakes situations.

Body language is more subtle, but it shouldn’t be any less intentional. The message it conveys can either detract from or support the words you speak. It pays to choose wisely. To be aware of your body language. And to refine it, ensuring that it projects the image and sends the message you intend.

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Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.


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