During face to face communication, what percent of your message do you think is shaped by “body language” – or non-verbal cues – versus your actual words?
The answer, depending on which study you cite, is a whopping 55 to 93 percent. The highest range applies when emotions and feelings are involved.
So, laboring over the perfect wording of that speech, presentation, pitch or clever toast is arguably less than half the battle. But, how many of us spend up to half – or any significant preparation time – on the body language components of our communication? This runs the gamut from posture, handshake and gestures to eye contact, tone and expressions. Don’t get me wrong, we love great content and that too is vital. “Tall hat, no cattle” will never win the day. But it’s your “presence” more than your content that makes the impression and leaves your mark – positive or negative.
While body language affects how people view us, even more fascinating, it can influence our self-image, role and behavior. With 27 million views, the second most-viewed TED Talk of all-time, by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, is titled: Your body language shapes who you are.
Cuddy demonstrates various “power poses” which put your whole body in expansive, “high power” positions. When held for just two minutes, her research documents that these poses can change the body’s hormones with increased levels of testosterone (associated with power and dominance) and decreased levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone). She builds the case that you can biochemically “fake it ‘til you make it” – until you become it and internalize it.
Cuddy talks from experience. Following a severe accident and head injury while in college, she suffered a precipitous drop in IQ and was told she had little chance of ever graduating; she felt doomed to failure. Unwilling to give up, she embraced “power posing” prior to stressful situations and presentations. She faked it repeatedly even though terrified and finally realized, “oh my God, I’m doing it.”
Cuddy went on to get a PhD from Princeton and is a professor today at Harvard Business School.
Power in the palm: Another renowned social scientist with a provocative message is Allan Pease who tells us that a wealth of communication occurs during that initial handshake. Have you ever analyzed yours? Is your hand straight, on top or tilted down? Does that matter? Where are your palms when you’re talking? Up or down? When is it good to point or “chop” (and what does that even mean?) Watch his TED Talk and learn what your dominant position is? Is that what you want to convey? He espouses that people make up their mind to like and trust you – or not – within the first few minutes of a meeting, largely influenced by body language.
Whether we realize it or not, body language reveals your emotions. It’s an outward reflection of how you’re feeling. So, if you’re feeling lousy or vulnerable, how can you use body language to give you an edge and get back on track?
I invite you to watch these TED Talks and experiment a bit. Become more observant of yourself – and others. Decide what makes sense for you and consciously put some body language to work this week; make it fun and see what happens?
By better understanding and using body language, you can become more effective in your business and personal interactions and gain some interesting insights about yourself and others.
Jane Stout is executive vice president at Cookerly PR.