Have you heard of the Duchenne smile? It is named after a French Physician, Guillaume Duchenne, who proposed the theory that a real smile and a fake smile produce very different facial expressions. It’s all in the eyes, apparently, and it is very difficult to approximate a ‘real smile’.
This one of the reasons we sometimes get the feeling that something like an interview or candidate meeting did not go well. However, while the Duchenne smile may be difficult to deal with, other aspects of body language are not, and they can make a big difference in the way that people deal with us.
It is worth pointing out that body language is not all the story, and there are many factors involved in communication. Tone of voice, pronunciation, use of language and so on, all play a very big part as well.
Body language can really make a difference
Body language does play an important role, and can really make a difference.
- Remember what your Granny said about sitting up straight? Well she was right… almost. While certainly, an initial sitting up posture is good, overdoing it to a sort of ‘meercat on watch’ level makes you look too intense. Too far the other way and you look slouchy and disinterested. All you need to do is sit up and lean forward a little in a formal situation and you will appear engaged and interested. If the situation heads to a less formal setting such as a walkthrough or a meet the team, relax a little. Similarly, it is okay to settle back a little towards the end of the meeting to show you now feel confident and relaxed in their company.
- Handshakes, hellos and thank you. Engage with people as you do these. Look at them and engage with faces. A thank you in particular should always involve a sincere look at the person regardless of who they are. It sends the message you are interested in people. Hellos should be warm, and again, engage. Handshakes are a balance between avoiding the limp, boneless hand and the giant crusher grip. Take their hand and hold it firmly but avoid the two-hand grip, it is a little over-familiar.
- Legs arms and feet. Don’t cross them, jiggle them or fiddle with things like pens or your phone, but do use your hands to be expressive when you are talking about things that matter. Moving your hands around, as long as it isn’t over the top, shows you are animated and have passion for your subject.
- Respond to others with nods and confirmation signals. A little nod of the head or a thoughtful look will show you are actually listening and encourage the other person to speak openly.
- Watch the body language of others. The body language they use can tell you a great deal about how they are feeling. This is particularly relevant when more than one person is involved because the person who is not talking will often let their guard down and their body will speak for them.
There is a link here to some examples of body language in action.
Give the right impression
If you want to see body language done well, try looking at someone like Barak Obama when he is engaging with people or a good talk show host using their body language to encourage a guest to open up.
Your body language is part of the overall picture of who you are and how you are seen by people you meet. While you cannot be expected to maintain a perfect position all the time it is really worth looking at it to make sure you are not accidentally sending the wrong impression.