What messages are you sending through your body language?
It is well acknowledged that people make up 93% of their minds about others within the first 7 seconds of meeting them and that these assumptions are, in fact, normally correct. These opinions are subconsciously concluded in response to our interpretation of someone’s body language, which encompasses not only posture but also gestures, voice and appearance which all transmit conscious and unconscious signals. Are you aware of the messages you are conveying?
Often we unintentionally let the world know what we are really thinking and feeling; we are all composed of both inborn actions, those that come naturally and we do not have to be taught them, and absorbed actions, which we unconsciously develop as we grow up.
During my private etiquette classes I record my clients standing, walking and sitting and most are utterly surprised at the results. When was the last time you saw yourself on video? For those of us wishing to send a conscious and prudent message to the world it is crucial we become enlightened and at ease with our mannerisms.
Once equipped with this self-knowledge we can then decide what messages we wish to portray in various situations. For example, if I am to deliver a presentation in a corporate environment I will choose formal clothes and appropriate hand gestures, smiles and pauses to convey my message effectively. However, if my husband and I are enjoying an evening of romance at a fine restaurant I will choose a more elegant stance and softer gestures, depending on the outcome that I desire! Being informed of our options is empowering, and gives us a sense of confidence and self-control as opposed to knee-jerk reactions that can leave us regretful on occasion.
High profile politicians are experts at this. They undergo vigorous amounts of training, self-reflection and analysis before any media appearances. Every hand gesture, nod, smile and outfit is orchestrated to portray a certain image, meaning they are able to influence and persuade their audience to think and do the things they want them to. It is believed that their visual appearance is much more likely to be remembered than specific statements or policy pronouncement.
Once you have an awareness of body language signals it can be quite interesting to watch politicians’ non-verbal expressions. The automatic signals given off during the silences are what experts call micro-expressions, and are more in-line with what they are really thinking and feeling, especially when they are caught off-guard and are unscripted or unrehearsed. They can of course quickly recover from the minor slip up, and to the untrained eye this can often go unnoticed.
Small movements of the eyes can be significant, not just for politicians but for all of us, and it can be very challenging to control, for example, looking down can mean submission (or perhaps guilt), to the left is an indication of visualising and remembering (perhaps the truth) and to the right is classed as imagination and constructing (or perhaps fibbing). With this in mind, watching replays of the Trump/Clinton live debates could prove an interesting exercise.
But, as with all powerful information, it is good advice to remember that a little knowledge can be dangerous, so we must all be careful to take the whole context of a situation into consideration before we decide about someone’s real motives.
Acquiring controlled body language takes practice and self-awareness. The late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once said that we should never ever let people know what we are thinking. Wise words indeed, but of course achieving the perfect poker face takes much practice.
For me, it is a vital balance between self-awareness and remaining natural, I don’t wish to become so pre-rehearsed that I lose my authenticity. Sometimes I will laugh too loud if something amuses me, or my eyes may give my feelings away on occasion, but to never show our true feelings means we can lose the opportunity of connecting with others. Ultimately, an awareness of these skills should be used to help us work towards becoming the best version of ourselves, and balance, I think, is key.
One of London’s five star luxury hotels has illuminated signs above every door that leads from a private staff area to a public space that read ‘On Stage’, serving as a gentle reminder to employees that they are always being noticed and observed, even if they are not actively communicating with anyone. I think we could all benefit from this mindset; that as soon as we leave the comfort of our own home we are performing on our own world stage, where we have the ability to influence and inspire others, and leave a legacy for the younger generation through our gestures, mannerisms and, of course, good manners.