How body language effects what we send across

Research shows that when your non-verbal and verbal signals are out of alignment, people are forced to choose between what they see and what they hear. Subconsciously, they will believe your body language. Your body language tells more about your motives and feelings than you realise. It’s a key part of your impact on people.

So here’s a question for you. Do you pay attention to and consciously think about what you are communicating with your body? Not really, sometimes but maybe not often enough? If so, then do keep on reading!


The study of body language has seen a lot of developments. We continue to know more and more about how body language affects the messages we are trying to send across.  An evident but important finding from evolutionary psychology is that our brains respond to nonverbal cues even though most of us aren’t consciously aware of that process.

We all have feelings and we all show feelings. All human beings express enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence but also displeasure, indifference, and maybe even arrogance. We do so through posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, and use of space. It is key, in being an effective nonverbal communicator, to realise that the impact of these signals depends less on what you meant, and more on how most people interpret those signals.

Body language

Body language forms the basis of our earliest form of communication. Before there was spoken word, the split second ability to realise if someone was safe or dangerous was often a matter of life or death. The world of communication has evolved ever since, but our body reading ability is still based on a primitive, emotional reaction that hasn’t changed much since humans began interacting with one another.

Body language mistakes

Because we all make mistakes when reading body language, your nonverbal signals won’t always convey what you intended them to. In fact, you can be sure that people will be making mistakes, because context impacts how we see the world. Context impacts our interpretation of non-verbal signs. You can’t really make sense of someone’s nonverbal message unless you understand the circumstances behind it, the context. Context is about a weave of variables such as religion, location, relationships, time of day, past experiences, and even things like room temperature. Depending on the context, the same nonverbal signal can have a totally different meaning.

And yet, there are some very basic principles to be addressed to make a positive impression in any context. In communicating, first impressions are crucial and made faster than you think. In fact, in twenty seconds or less, people will have judged your trustworthiness, competence, warmth, and confidence.  Everything else you do will be viewed through that filter. While you can’t stop people from making these snap decisions, because that’s how the human brain is wired, you can understand how to make these decisions work in your favor by making a positive first impression.

People pick up your attitude instantly, so before you go into a meeting room or someone’s office, think about the situation, and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. Attitudes that attract people include being friendly, smiling, receptive, approachable, welcoming, helpful and curious. Attitudes that are off putting include being angry, impatient, bored, arrogant, afraid, depressed and suspicious.

Keeping your posture erect, your shoulders back in this position, and your head held high makes you look sure of yourself, hence confident.

A smile is the facial expression we all like the most. It’s an invitation of welcome, it says I’m friendly and approachable.

It’s important to make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy, and indicates openness. To improve your eye contact make it a practice of noticing the eye color of everyone you meet. This will encourage you to extend your gaze a bit longer than usual. Also, raise your eyebrows, that’s a universal signal of friendly recognition.

Leaning in
Leaning towards someone shows you’re engaged and interested in them, but be respectful of the other person’s personal space. That means in most business situations staying about half a meter  away.

When is the next time you expect to meet someone new? Plan now for how you want to be perceived by thinking of the nonverbal cues that would enhance a positive impression in those first crucial seconds.

Based on a video on LinkedIn Learning by PhD and body-language expert Carol Kinsey Goman

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