There’s a scene from A Christmas Story when Ralphie says that he became “quite a connoisseur of soap” because of the language he used as a child. The words we choose to speak to one another always make an impact in positive or negative ways. We want more of the former and less of the latter.
That’s why you will hear advice like, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”
Our focus on verbal language misses what our body language projects to others. You can communicate displeasure about someone’s choice without saying a word with your facial expression, body posture, and hand movements too.
If you are trying to avoid the F-dash-dash-dash word like Ralphie, then that’s a good first step. Now take that effort to your non-verbal communication by using these methods to improve your body language.
How to Improve Your Body Language
The easiest way to start working on the perception you leave on others is to become more aware of your non-verbal communication. Pay attention to what, how, and when you use your body to convey specific emotions or reactions. Having awareness over the conscious choices and subconscious activities we exhibit during a conversation reduces the risk of miscommunication.
Here are some specific ideas to help improve your body language with each conversation to implement as well.
1. Make Eye Contact (But Not Too Much)
If you make eye contact with someone during a conversation, then this communicates to the other person that you are actively listening. Looking away without any eye contact says that you aren’t interested in what is being said. Staring at a person can trigger feelings of anxiety or anger. Don’t be afraid to look someone in the eye, but have the wherewithal to know when you’re giving too much.
2. Arm and Leg Movements
Most people cross their arms or legs without thinking about what this action communicates to others. Crossing your legs toward the person who is speaking indicates that you are listening to the conversation. If you cross your arms, then this suggests that something about the situation makes you feel defensive, so it can stop someone from entirely sharing how they feel.
3. Create a Mirror
When you take the time to mirror another person, then you communicate to them that you have an interest in a closer relationship. Most people who have some synergy with others will use similar non-verbal communication techniques, so it feels natural if the copying isn’t blatant or profound. Try to match a person’s body position or tone of voice if you feel like there is a disconnect happening.
4. Avoid Slouching
If you slouch in a chair during a meeting, presentation, or conversation, then your body language communicates boredom to everyone in the room. Sitting in perfect posture all of the time is unnecessary, but sitting up will help others understand that your attention is on the subject being discussed.
5. Have a Good Lean
Leaning in can have two body language benefits. It helps you show someone that you want to listen to what they are saying, and it also makes it easier to hear the conversation. People who have enthusiasm for each other are always closer than someone having a random conversation that involves mostly small talk.
6. Control the Fidgeting
Some people continuously fidget with various items because the activity helps their mind to stay focused on what is happening in the world around them. You might play with things if you feel nervous too. The issue that these body language movements create is a distraction. You can impact how others speak with you if you are touching your face, playing with a straw, or bouncing your leg repetitively.
7. Firm Handshakes
If you want to leave a positive first impression with someone, then a firm handshake is the best non-verbal tool in your toolbox. You don’t want to put a joint out of place with your grip, but you do want to offer enough firmness to communicate confidence. A weak grasp can express disinterest, dislike, or anxiety that could prevent you from achieving your goals in the future.
Once you become aware of your body language, then the perception that other people have of you will begin to evolve. Your spoken words will have more accuracy because your non-verbal tools reinforce your thoughts with precision.
If you are unsure of how your body language communicates your thoughts or feelings, then practice in front of a mirror. Use these concepts to see what your reflection says. That work will help you have more confidence each day when interacting with others.