Your body speaks volume

25. July 2019 / general
resilience

“You cannot not communicate” – you’ll no doubt have heard this statement by Paul Watzlawick. We still communicate even when we don’t say anything. That is because language accounts for only a small part of our effect on others. It is first and foremost our body language and secondly our voice that conveys a message. And conversely: A change in our body language can influence our thoughts and feelings.

 Our bodies never lie. Whatever we say or do, we are constantly sending out non-verbal messages – even if we don’t actually want to. And our body expresses itself even faster than we do with words. We show our inner feelings about one second before a word is spoken. Our body language and voice tell us a lot about our emotions and our relationship to our fellow human beings. As the old saying goes: “A smile is worth a thousand words”.

And this has a huge impact: 55% of the way we come across depends on our body language (posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, etc.), 38% on our voice (tone, rate of speech, etc.) and only 7% on the information we convey. Have you ever tried to record the same answer machine message while standing, sitting or lying down? You will find that you come across quite differently. Why then do 99% of people only prepare the content when they have to hold a meeting or a presentation? This is a shame!

 

Take note of how you come across

I often encounter quick thinkers who also talk very rapidly and forget to engage with the person they are speaking to. My recommendation to them, and everyone else, is to start by observing yourself – ideally using a video. What does my voice say about me? Do I come across as confident or somewhat unsure? Do I sit or stand up straight? Do my gestures match what I am saying? Do the corners of my mouth turn downwards or upwards when I adopt a supposedly neutral facial expression? Most of the time, we are not even aware of how we come across – or we don’t correctly evaluate the impression we make.

You should also observe other people – e.g. in meetings or on the tram – instead of always staring at your smartphone… What does their posture say about them and their relationship to the person they are with? Do they like him/her? Are these people experiencing feelings of anger, fear, pleasure, grief, surprise, disgust or contempt? Scientists have discovered that the signals for these basic emotions are the same all around the world. If you regularly observe others and learn to assess them, it helps you to recognize conflicts earlier and thus solve them better.

 

Observe then act

After gaining these insights, you can consciously act on them. Here are a few tips:

 

 

Your appearance and behavior express the image that you have of yourself and how much (or how little) you value the person you are talking to. This has a major influence on the impression you create and how successful you are.

The crucial factor when implementing all of these tips is that the message you are conveying, your body language and your voice must all be in tune – otherwise, you will not appear credible and genuine. You can’t control your body language 100%. The person you are talking to will sense whether you mean what you say.

 

Using our bodies to shape our feelings and thoughts

Up to now, we have focused on how your posture influences the way you come across. However, it also works in reverse: You can use your posture to influence your feelings. If you stand up straight, more oxygen flows into your lungs and reaches your brain. This makes you stronger and makes you feel more positive – and the person you are speaking to will notice this. The German psychologist Doris Wolf rightly says: “It is impossible to feel depressed if you stand up straight, put on a smile, breathe deeply and firmly, and look straight ahead”. The German social psychologist Fritz Strack conducted an experiment that demonstrated that those participants who had a pencil between their lips (i.e. who smiled artificially) found cartoons more amusing than those with no pencil.

This means that the body and mind work as a team and influence each other. Doris Wolf says: “Whenever we think something, it has an effect on our bodies and usually also on our feelings.” And if you adopt a strong and upright position – using the approach known as ‘power posing’ recommended by the American social psychologist Amy Cuddy – you boost your self-confidence (find out more about this at: Link). If you master your body language and use it consciously, you strengthen your impact and also make yourself stronger – what more could you want?

 

© Claudia Kraaz

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