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Bringing Your “Genuine Self” To Every Interaction: Use your body language

01-10-2017

Have you ever listened to someone and thought, “something here isn’t right?” Why do some people come across as more genuine than others? It’s all about body language.

Whether or not we realize it, we are routinely looking for someone’s words and body language to work in tandem.  If there is a disconnect between what someone is saying and how they are saying it, we are more likely to believe their body language than their words.  If you start a meeting by saying, “I’m glad to be here today,” with a look on your face that says, “I’d rather be getting a root canal than meeting with you this morning,” you will come across as insincere.

It’s often suggested that folding your arms across your chest is “negative body language,” because it suggests that you are icy, angry, distant, standoffish, or authoritarian.  But folding your arms is not intrinsically negative.  What if you’re just comfortable in that stance?  Or maybe you’re just cold. Folding your arms across your chest is problematic because it invites people to misperceive your message.
 
Our body language can be dramatically misinterpreted. Your goal is to minimize the audience’s ability to misperceive your intent.
 
How do you bring the most genuine version of yourself to any discussion and avoid being misinterpreted?  Adopt an open neutral stance or posture that’s hard for your audience to misinterpret.  Then, use your body language – your hands, your face, and your voice – to communicate naturally and comfortably.
 
We all have a certain amount of nervous energy when speaking to a group of people.  The difference between looking sincere and looking nervous is determined by how we channel our nervous energy.  Putting that energy into a productive, demonstrative gesture helps us look confident.  Reigning in the energy by folding our arms or clasping our hands forces nervous energy to “leak out” through distracting movements like shifting on our feet or nodding our head awkwardly.
 
Ironically, the best way to appear natural is to do something that will feel completely unnatural to most of us. 
 
When standing, place your feet about hip-width apart with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.  That part is easy.  Here’s the tough part.  Let your arms hang by your sides.  Don’t fold them in front of you.  Don’t clasp them in prayer in front of your chest or by your waist.  Don’t stick them in your pockets.  In short, don’t do any of the things that most of us prefer to do when we are nervous. 
 
Because all of the poses mentioned above are comfortable, most of us get stuck there.  Those poses aren’t only comfortable, they’re comforting.  We feel safe in those poses.  Because you feel safe with your hands clasped in front of you, you won’t gesture.  If you don’t gesture, you don’t look at ease.  If you look uncomfortable, you challenge your audience to suspect that you don’t trust yourself, or you don’t trust your content.  Either of those assumptions is fatal to your credibility. 

When you stand with your arms by your sides, in a completely neutral pose, it’s hard for your audience to misperceive your intent.  More importantly, because standing with our arms by our sides feels awkward and uncomfortable to most of us, we are much more likely to use hand gestures as soon as we start speaking.  This helps you come across naturally.
 
When you use hand gestures, your voice will naturally punctuate the important words and your face will reflect the energy and enthusiasm of your gestures. 
 
How can you make gesturing a natural part of your delivery skills?  Use effective eye contact.

You will come across as more genuine when speaking to a group of people if you treat each group as a collection of individuals as opposed to a large cohesive body.  Almost everyone is more comfortable speaking to one person rather than to a large group.  Therefore, when you are in front of a large group, speak to only one person at a time for a full sentence.  Don’t scan the room.  Instead, look out at your audience.  Select one pair of eyes.  Deliver a full sentence to that person.  When speaking to her, she is the only person in the room.  Finish the thought to that person; turn in silence to the next person.  He gets the entire next sentence.  If you speak to only one person at a time, you will naturally relax, which allows you to appear more genuine.  Because you will feel as if you are speaking to only one person, you will inevitably gesture more naturally. 
 
Gesturing isn’t about acting.  It’s about acting natural.  It’s how you bring your genuine self to any conversation.

By: Jay Sullivan

Jay Sullivan is the Managing Partner at Exec|Comm LLC. Whether working with groups or in one-on-one coaching arrangements Jay helps professionals have greater impact by teaching them to focus on the needs of their audiences. He works closely with the learning and development professionals at many global organizations to customize communication skills solutions for their teams.

Published in Personal Excellence Essentials, an HR.com publication  - See the article

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