The way that people naturally carry themselves can help or hinder their communication goals. Human beings give off unconscious signals with their bodies all the time, letting others instinctively understand their status, their mood and their character.
When you make those signals conscious, you can choose how you come across to people. You can learn to deliberately use your body language to communicate better, to connect with others — and to influence people.
Using body language that automatically conveys power, assertiveness and confidence will make people more likely to be influenced by you. But they will only be persuaded if they also trust you; so it’s equally important to use your body in a way that makes people feel connected rather than dominated. Here’s how to use your body language effectively to make you more persuasive and influential.
1. Start with a smile
It sounds so simple, but a smile is one of the most powerful tools you can use to connect with other people. Big smiles make people think of you as warm, confident and approachable — all traits that garner trust from others. People are always more willing to listen to your point of view if they like you, and a smile is the first step in building a positive relationship.
Whenever you meet anyone, it is really important to smile in a genuine way. This means using your eyes, and not just your mouth, to produce a smile. If you happen to be in a bad mood, think of a happy occasion or someone you love, and you should be able to produce a genuine grin. If the person you are talking to is in a bad mood, start by looking sympathetic, then slowly build up to a smile.
2. Match their movements
When someone has good rapport with you, it is much easier to get them to listen to you and understand your point of view. If you have really good rapport, the other person will warm to you and want to support your ideas.
People gain rapport by finding common ground and similarities to connect them. A quick way of doing this with any individual is by using your body. Subtly mimicking someone’s movements can help them feel connected to you, and they won’t even know why. When they cross or uncross their legs, copy them. When they pick up their pen, pick up yours. If they put one hand on the table, do the same. If they unconsciously start to copy what you do, too, you know you’re in a strong position to influence them.
If you want people to say “yes” to you, get them nodding their head in agreement before you even ask a question. If you nod at someone, they will unconsciously feel the urge to do it back. As we’ve already learned, people unconsciously mimic each other when they’re in rapport.
Start by nodding when they talk, as if you’re confirming or agreeing with their statements. Then, nod when you’re making your own statements, and watch how they start nodding back. When someone is already nodding, they are much more likely to start agreeing with you when you make a proposal — providing you are suggesting something which is not unreasonable.
4. Stand up
If you are standing up while the person you are talking to is sitting down, you will instantly gain the upper hand. Standing above someone makes them feel that you are more dominant and powerful, so they will be more likely to capitulate to you. It is important not to stand over someone, or to lean in so much that they feel uncomfortable, as this can be perceived as bullying.
You should also stand up when making phone calls where you need to influence the outcome. Even when you can’t see the other person, standing up makes you feel more dominant, and it will be easier for you to communicate assertively.
5. Lean in
Tilting your head or body towards someone shows them that you’re interested in them, and people like nothing more than a bit of flattery. If you can make a person feel listened to and important, they will be much more likely to agree with things you propose. If they follow you by leaning in as well, it shows that you have good rapport.
Make sure you don’t lean in too close. If the other person leans or steps back, you have certainly shown that you are in control. But this may also signal to the other person that you are somehow threatening, so they won’t fully trust you. If you want to be someone who has longevity in the field of influence and persuasion, you need people to like you, not to be scared of you.
6. Point with your feet
Pointing your feet towards something or someone is a positive signal. When you point your feet towards a person, it shows them that you like them and are interested in them, which will build trust. If you want someone to choose one thing over another, pointing your feet towards your favored choice can also sometimes influence them unconsciously.
If you want to bring a conversation to a close, you can influence the other person to break off by pointing your feet away from them. If you point your feet, and subtly turn your body, towards the door, this shows them that it’s time to leave.
7. The power position
If you really do need to show someone you’re in charge, you can do so with your body. Standing with your feet fairly wide apart and your hands on your hips, a bit like Superman, is a very dominant position. It not only shows another person that you’re in control, but also releases testosterone into your system, a chemical associated with leadership and aggression.
If you don’t want too appear too dominant or aggressive, assume this pose momentarily before an encounter, so that you get a confidence boost. Then, when meeting the person, adopt a more open position, with your arms by your sides. This stance displays trustworthiness as well as confidence, so you will be perceived in a positive way. Positive perceptions lead to easier negotiations, good relationships and more influence.