A study conducted at UCLA concluded that, in face to face situations, 55% of our overall message is transmitted via body language, 33% in our tone of voice and only 7% in the actual words we choose. This is quite an amazing revelation and certainly, those figures underscore the necessity for anyone engaged in dealing with people to develop at least some understanding of body language and how to use it.
In the nineteen-sixties, I remember Desmond Morris publishing his book, The Naked Ape which dealt with this subject and it is still a great read today. I read the book when I was in my twenties and I also saw him interviewed on the UK chat show, Parkinson, at the time. I remember that the book had a section on how to get-off, if ever you were pulled over by the police. In over forty years of driving, I would guess that I have been pulled over on, perhaps, about six occasions. But I have never been booked, and I put that fact down to simply following some of the advice in this book. There is no question about it, body language is powerful stuff.
To illustrate just how powerful body language can be, I often tell the story of Tracey Andrews in my workshops. She stabbed, and killed, her boyfriend claiming that he had been the victim of a ‘road rage’ attack. The police got her to make an appeal for the ‘killer’ to come forward and give himself up. Pretty-much everyone I know who saw that appeal said that she had done it; and, of course, they were absolutely right. The question is: how did they know; and, my answer would be that, by reading her body language, they were able to see right through her charade.
Before we look at some of the most important signals, let me make the point that you are already an expert in body language. We all can, and do, read body language, but we read it subconsciously. The purpose of learning about this subject is to bring such things to our conscious mind. Once we can understand what these signals are and how to project them, it is astonishing how effective they can be for developing rapport; an important part of the process of human communication.
In this article we are just going to concentrate on three simple signals that you should learn to perfect. The first of these is eye-contact. Giving the appropriate amount of eye-contact is very important in personal communication; not too much, not too little. If you give too much eye-contact, you are projecting an inappropriate signal. Generally, we only get involved in prolonged eye-contact when we are signalling either sexual interest or aggression. But looking people in the eye is the right thing to do when you are speaking with them. Engaging people with appropriate eye-contact suggests openness, honesty and integrity, just as avoiding eye-contact communicates the reverse.
So how do we know how much eye-contact to give? Well, for most people, looking them in the eye for about a third of the time is about right. You simply have to periodically break eye-contact by looking elsewhere for a while, then return to the eyes. If you want to become an expert, you need to recognise that some people are more comfortable with eye-contact than others, so you can give those people more eye-contact; and similarly, for those people who are less comfortable, you give them less. How do you know who is more comfortable and who is less comfortable? Simple, you pay attention to how much eye-contact they are giving you and you try to match that amount. Psychologists call this behaviour mirroring.
The second important signal is a smile. Smiling is infectious and we also tend to like people who smile at us. In fact you can pretty much guarantee that if you will simply smile at a person on a first meeting, you will change the relationship you will subsequently enjoy with that person … forever. If you smile when you give a presentation, it will increase the chances of that presentation going well for you. If you smile at a job interview, you will increase the chance that you will be offered the job. In all social situations, if you will simply smile you will increase the likelihood of things going your way. You will get the job, win the friends and influence the situation for your benefit if you will simply learn to smile naturally, especially at the start of things.
If smiling is such a powerful signal and if the above comes as no real surprise to you, then ask yourself why people do not tend to smile in such situations. The answer is, of course, that in first meetings, job interviews, presentations and a whole bunch of other similar situations, we are too nervous or anxious. We don’t feel like smiling, so we just don’t smile. However, if you can train yourself to do so, then just by using this one simple device, you can increase your ability to get on with other people significantly.
The third signal is nodding the head, which is something you should do when the other person is speaking. It is full of positive associations. I agree with you; I like you; I am listening to you: all of this is conveyed with just with one simple, tiny motion of the head. And the movement is indeed, a tiny motion; almost as small a motion as you could possibly make.
Now if you will do these three simple things – give appropriate eye-contact, smile especially at the start of proceedings and nod your head occasionally when the other person is speaking, you will develop rapport with others very quickly and you will influence the situation, whatever it might be, in your favour. Yes, these things are indeed simple, but they are also deceptively powerful. You will be in the minority of people if you learn to do this well and that’s why, in competitive situations like the job interview, you will get the job offer because the other candidates will simply not be as skilful. Now go practice and prove to yourself that this stuff actually works!