The brain picks up nonverbal cues in a fifth of a second, much faster than verbal ones.
Don’t let your unconscious signals send the wrong message. Learn to avoid these all-too-easy mistakes
May 3, 2016
1. Leaning back
If you want to signal that you care about a conversation or the person you’re having it with, don’t lean back and stick your legs out in front of you. Sit up straight, or lean in.
2. Crossed arms and/or legs
This is such a clear indicator of disinterest that some experts recommend actually ending a meeting or conversation if you see one or more people lean back and cross their arms. Crossed legs may be a danger sign as well.
3. Not making eye contact
If you don’t look the person in front of you in the eyes, he or she may unconsciously assume that you are being dishonest. Practiced liars make a point of looking in people’s eyes — so don’t make the mistake of equating eye contact with honesty yourself.
4. Making too much eye contact
Not looking someone in the eyes can make you seem dishonest, but looking them in the eyes for too long is usually a sign of aggression. To make people feel comfortable and trusting, hold their gaze for just a second or two at a time, but do it often.
5. Clasped hands
This is something people do when they feel stress — you’re literally holding your own hand! Don’t do it if you want to project self-assurance.
6. Hands behind back or in pockets
This is a natural position many of us take unconsciously, but it can be seen as a sign that we have something to hide.
7. Chopping the air
Many people do this when they feel strongly about something or want to emphasize a point. But it can be off-putting — almost as if you’re chopping off your connection with the person you’re speaking with.
8. Touching your face
Touching your face, especially your nose and mouth, is another one of those gestures that is unconsciously interpreted as a sign of deception — or resistance, if you’re listening rather than speaking.
9. Nodding too many times
Nodding is an essential part of communication and lets other people know you understand or agree with what they’re saying. But doing it too many times can make you seem weak. It can also come across as a sign of indifference.
People fidget when they’re uncomfortable or bored, so that’s the signal you’ll send if you’re bouncing your leg or constantly messing with your hair. Just don’t do it.
11. Hunching your shoulders
Hunched or slumped shoulders are seen as a sign of unhappiness — and they often are. People with clinical depression slump their shoulders more often than others. To project happiness and confidence, stand up straight, like mom nagged you to do.
12. Wrapping your feet or ankles around the legs of a chair
Like clasped hands, this gesture signals that you’re uncomfortable and need to comfort yourself. If you’re trying to project confidence, don’t do it.
13. Making yourself too small
Amy Cuddy’s fascinating work proves that people who practice expansive body language feel more confident or secure as a result. The reverse is also true: Body language that makes you seem small will make you feel small.
14. Overly big gestures
Your body language should be expansive to project confidence. But don’t make the mistake of making great big gestures (unless you’re on stage speaking to an audience). In a non-performance context, it can be seen as arrogant.
15. Letting your feet point the wrong way
Our feet often unconsciously express what we’re really feeling, for example by pointing away from the person we’re speaking with. Most people pay more attention to faces, but it’s a good idea to keep your feet on-message as well.
16. Patting your leg or legs
This is a huge self-comforting gesture that will show how uncomfortable you are. Watch Britney Spears on Dateline gamely claiming her marriage was fine a few months before her divorce. She can’t stop touching her leg.
17. Glancing at a watch or phone
We think we can peek at the time or a text without people noticing, but they always do. Don’t shift your attention from the conversation unless you absolutely have to. If so, explain why — that you are awaiting an urgent message, for example.
18. Touching someone with your fingertips
In appropriate situations, touching someone lightly is a great way to begin building a bond (or indicate romantic interest). But use your whole hand. A fingertip touch signals aversion.
19. Failing to “mirror”
People who are listening closely to what someone else is saying will often unconsciously mirror that person’s body language. Use this technique — consciously or unconsciously — to let people know you really care about what they have to say.
20. Invading someone’s personal space.
We all have a different idea of how much “buffer” we need around ourselves to feel comfortable. So when you come close to someone, err on the side of giving that person a little extra room.
21. Forgetting that these rules might be different in different places.
Body language has very different meanings in other cultures. Keep that in mind when dealing with people from different countries, or even other parts of this country.