Take a moment to notice how you’re sitting as you’re reading this, and how your body would look to an outside observer. Are you sitting tall with your shoulders back like all the experts recommend? Maybe. But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably slouched, hunched over your phone or computer screen.
Even though you mightn’t feel tired, or bored or powerless, it’s surprising how your body language can give people the wrong (or right) idea about you. Have you ever noticed that you just warm to a certain person even though you only met them five minutes ago? Sometimes people seem friendly and open without even trying, meaning we automatically feel content in their presence.
When we interpret a person’s body language, our brain automatically makes snap judgements about other elements of their personality, even though we may not realise it at the time. So that guy in the bar who is leaning in just a little too close is far more likely to be written off as a creep, even if he’s a genuinely lovely lad. A few inches of space or a certain movement can make all the difference.
Two of the most important areas of our lives that body language can have an influence on are our relationships and our careers. Something as simple as smiling – be it while sitting with friends in the pub or while typing at your desk – can have a huge effect on how others view us. In the same way that we make quick fire judgements about new people based on their facial expressions and movements, they too make the same conclusions about us.
For example, when we’re shy or nervous, our body language can betray us, leading people to think we are rude or disinterested. Have you ever looked at the floor instead of directly into someone’s eyes when you’re speaking to them? You probably do it more than you think without even noticing. Avoiding eye contact or getting fidgety are nervous reactions that we notice instantly in others but are often oblivious to in ourselves.
So how can we avoid those little “tics”? Well, some experts say the key is to use our body language as a tool to make us feel more confident than we actually are. In a TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, she tells people to “fake it til they make it” using certain poses, like standing with their hands on their hips or leaning back with their hands behind their head, to increase self-confidence.
Doing these poses for just two minutes before an important event like an interview or a date (not during it, don’t worry) can make us feel more sure of ourselves – and in turn can affect how others view us. “When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful” she says.
Next time you have a stressful or nerve-wracking event ahead, take time to notice your body language. It can have more of an influence than you think – not just on how others see you but on how you see yourself.