People notice when there’s an air of confidence and presence, but they also notice when it’s the opposite. The latter is when I am not present. I am thinking about either the past, perhaps about something I may have done or said (totally unrelated to the present moment) or about some event or activity tomorrow, allowing the thoughts and feelings to cloud the clarity of mind I can possess.
I often hear myself tell clients, depression or feeling down about something lives in the past, and anxiety lives in the future. Alternately, calmness and peace of mind lives in the present.
Recently, I went to a function for a friend of mine. It was their business’s eightieth birthday. I walked into the room, and I didn’t want to be there. People were turning around, noticing me not wanting to be there. I stood out like a sore thumb even though I wanted to dissolve into the crowd. I felt I was in a state of lack.
A different function, same day, different mind set, and certainly different intent. I notice my body language was playful, engaging, and open. I chatted. People noticed, they responded with similar interest. It’s a state of flow.
You can have such a profound effect on a room
It’s amazing the power we have. It’s also amazing the power one can have to be able to choose whether to walk in, head held high and wanting to engage with others, or walk in and not, but still walk in regardless. There’s a power in that choice.
Body language is a powerful dimension of your presence. The study and theory of body language has become popular in recent years because psychologists have been able to understand what we ‘say’ through our bodily gestures and facial expressions, revealing our underlying feelings and attitudes.
For me, body language includes facial expression, eye movement, and the physical movements of all parts of the visible body. I am not including breathing and perspiration – although these two are significant when it comes to perception and interpretation.
It’s commonly and carelessly quoted that body language accounts for up to 93% of the meaning that people take from any human communication. This statistic is actually a distortion, and there is plenty of argument around whether you include communications with a strong emotional or ‘feelings’ element in this.
Suffice to say, what we do with our bodies when speaking to others has a huge impact on what they interpret.
Many body language experts and sources seem to agree that between 50-80% of all human communications are non-verbal. So while body language statistics vary according to the situation, it is generally accepted that non-verbal communications are very important in how we understand each other (or fail to), especially in face-to-face and one-to-one communications, and most definitely when it comes to speaking your truth, which involves an emotional element.
The people with the most conscious awareness of and capabilities to read body language tend to have an advantage over those whose appreciation is limited largely to the unconscious. You will shift your own awareness of body language from the unconscious into the conscious by learning about the subject, and then by practicing your reading of non-verbal communications in your dealings with others.
This is why I always advocate never assessing the effectiveness of your speaking, or whether or not you connected with your audience, by reading into the non-verbal body language of your audience. You leave yourself open to misinterpretation. Instead, feed-forward on yourself, always. It breeds confidence and greater self-awareness.
We form our opinions of someone in just a few seconds
This initial instinctual assessment is based far more on what we see and feel about the other person than on the words they speak. On many occasions, we form a strong view about a new person before they speak a single word. The effect happens both ways – to and from.
When we meet someone for the first time, their body language, on conscious and unconscious levels, largely determines our initial impression of them. In turn, when someone meets us for the first time, they form their initial impression of us largely from our body language and non-verbal signals.
And this two-way effect of body language continues throughout communications and relationships. Body language is constantly being exchanged and interpreted between people, even though much of the time this is happening on an unconscious level.
Remember, while you are interpreting (consciously or unconsciously) the body language of other people, so other people are constantly interpreting yours.
Try this practice out next time you have a meeting
Before the meeting, decide on an intent. Answer the question: how do I want to show up?
Pick a word that motivates you to behave in a certain way. For example, I might choose thought-provoking. When I am being thought-provoking, I do certain things with my body. My nonverbals are affected. We all do this. We are not the same situation to situation.
Obviously, you must still participate in the meeting, but in this exercise, pay attention to your body. Notice what you choose to do with your hands, arms, eyes, your position in the room etc. when you have a motivating intention front of mind.