We’ve talked about the importance of body language time and time again. You can talk the talk, but it doesn’t matter at all unless you can walk the walk when it comes to how you present your body. We’re not just talking posture, but everything from your handshake, the way you walk, to what you do with your feet at a table.
Of course, for a lot of us, you have to learn how to perfect your body language. There’s an art to it. Though you may have taken public speaking in college and honed a few tips, there’s a lot of body language skills you need for basic daily career situations. We talked with renowned body language expert Carol Goman about some of her most essential body language tips for new grads in the workforce.
Goman says this is essential for your first job. She cites research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools that show that by simply holding your body in expansive, “high-power” poses (aka the Wonder Woman, which Amy Cuddy first mentioned in her famous TED Talk) for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone–the hormone linked to power and dominance–and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
“Try this when you’re feeling tentative, but want to appear more confident. In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, these poses lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk.” Basically your physical posture can literally change how not only people perceive you, but also how you feel. A study found that people who sat up straight were more likely to believe the positive comments they wrote about their qualifications for a job. Those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept their own statements as valid.
Uncross your arms and legs. Yes, it may be more comfortable to sit with your arms crossed, but then you seem defensive. Plus, and this is something women notoriously do, when you cross your arms and legs you make yourself smaller, which puts you in the opposite of a high-power pose. Your testosterone will automatically decrease and then cortisone will quickly increase.
Another tip that works especially well for athletes is to squeeze a ball in your left hand, Goman says. “When seasoned athletes underperform they may be focusing too much on their movements (which, for right-handed people, is a right hemisphere brain function) rather than relying on the automatic motor skills developed through years of practice (which are associated with left hemisphere function). Research found that athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand performed better and were less likely to choke under pressure.” This is something super easy you can do while sitting at your desk.
Literally stepping backwards will help you, Goman says. Research at Radboud University, Netherlands, showed how backward motion was a powerful way to enhance cognitive control. The researchers found that when people encounter a difficult situation, getting them to step back boosted their confidence and ability to cope.
Some people just naturally touch people more. If you aren’t one of these people, work on it. Goman points out that touching someone on the arm, hand, or shoulder for as little as 1/40th of a second creates a human bond. “In the workplace, physical touch and warmth are established through the handshaking tradition, and this tactile contact makes a lasting and positive impression. Studies show that people are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. The researchers also found that people react to those with whom they shake hands by being more open and friendly–which is definitely a confidence builder!”
Not like a creepy forced smile, but a genuine smile can make a real difference. Goman says it not only stimulates your own sense of well-being, but it also conveys to those around you that you’re approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. “A genuine smile comes on slowly, crinkles the eyes, lights up the face, and fades away slowly. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way,” she says.
Get those hands moving! Broca’s area in the brain, which helps produce speech, is active when we’re talking and when we make gestures with our hands. This is great news for those of you that tend to use your hands when you talk. It actually helps you form clearer thoughts, Goman says.
Before a big phone call or interview, Goman says keep your lips together and make the sounds “um hum, um hum, um hum.” Also, and this is especially for women, practice to make sure your sentences don’t end on a higher pitch. Be authoritative. Try to keep your voice low. Think Johnny Cash.
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.