Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.It cannot be more precise and clearer than this: we are continuously in communication with our surroundings - intentionally or unintentionally, voluntarily or involuntarily - and most of it is non-verbal in nature. So, our actions and body language have a greater impact than what we present through speech on the beings around us.
- Deborah Bull
- Deborah Bull
A very common problem faced by certain people is the frequency with which their true intentions or thoughts are misread and misjudged owing solely to their body language. I will give you a very personal example. Throughout my school, high school, college, university, and professional lives, I have invariably received one common feedback from strangers who went on to become exceptionally good friends: The first time I saw you, you seemed like the most haughty, short-tempered, and judgmental person around. Now that we are close, I haven't a clue as to why you seemed so arrogant. You're just confident and so darned comfortable to be around. Believe me, more than being flattered by the last sentence, I am bothered by what I come across as to a complete stranger at first sight!
Snap-judgment Alert! - Who the hell does she think she is?
Honest to God, I hadn't a clue how arrogant I came across as without wanting to at all. I was bamboozled myself! You won't believe the number of times I have racked my brains over where all the negative notions about me came from. But this happens to so many people on a daily basis and most of them do not even know how they are perceived by others, while the rest struggle to comprehend why. The thing is that we all have personal mechanisms to deal with nervousness or discomfort or restlessness and most of these mechanisms manifest physically, without us being aware of them most of the time. Unfortunately, a lot of these manifestations make us look majorly unapproachable or inaccessible. Think about this particular situation:
Scenario 1: You are overwhelmed by the reticence that engulfs you when you look into his eyes. You cannot seem to regulate your emotions and so you choose to take your cell phone out of your pocket and start to fidget with it in the middle of the conversation that he is trying to conduct with you. You do not lift your eyes to look at him at all and vehemently refuse to dance with him citing vague reasons.
Yes, I sympathize with you completely. You were just nervous and couldn't salvage the situation even though you desperately wanted to. But you know what, honey? No matter what your reasons are, the message you sent out ensured that you will never get fairly judged by that guy again.
Verdict: Disparity in actions, intentions, and words seldom helps situations.
Now let's see how else this could have been handled.
Scenario 2: You are nervous and feeling shy and the queasiness in your stomach is threatening to make you throw up. But, you still make the effort to identify the courage it must have taken the guy to walk up to you for a conversation and smile warmly at him. You look at his face when he is talking to you and respond, even if it is shyly. You do not go out of your way to hide the fact that you are nervous and just decide to be yourself with him - even flirtatiously acknowledge how crazy he is driving you with his dimples.
Unless he is an absolute jerk, there are very high chances that the second scenario rendezvous will end with you two exchanging contact details by the end of the night. The major difference in the second scenario is that you did not let your defense mechanisms shut you down when you really didn't intend to clam up in the first place. It took efforts to smile and look at him, but you tried. And in spite of the awkwardness that engulfed you, you actually let your true emotions shine forth.
Verdict: That which is seen is sold.
Yes, this is a very specific situation which a lot of us may or may not have trouble with. But, the where and who is not of essence here. The point of emphasis is that everybody - man or animal - gauges us by our physical presentation of ourselves. And the more we succeed in reducing the disparity in our speech, intentions, and body language when interacting with others, the more successful shall our endeavors as social beings be.
Fortunately, there's always a method to approach madness, no matter what kind. And here we will see how to exude a warmer, friendlier, more positive vibe in life. Believe me, the tiniest effort on your part can change how people perceive you entirely. I am not exaggerating or being hyperbolic at all.
Using 17 muscles instead of 43 will actually take you farther ...
About a year back, a guy friend of mine told me something which was supremely simple and yet awesomely epiphanic. In fact, the extents to which the simplest things in life are ignored hit me like a splash of cold water on a winter morning.
We were generally discussing girls we knew from French class and who all appealed to him as potential dates. During the course of discussion, two names popped up quite conspicuously. Let's call them Catherine and Mila. Why conspicuously? Because I couldn't believe he would want to date Catherine at all and wouldn't even consider Mila.
Now, my friend is quintessentially gorgeous. Tall, athletic, suave, winner of several international debate championships, 27 years old, and sorted with a swanky job, his own house, and car. All in all, a guy with the full package right out of a Hollywood flick.
Mila was this girl who was literally breathtaking. The earth stopped rotating for a second every time she walked into class. Her beauty is what dreams are made of. Stuff of legends. And she was an intelligent girl. Very pertinent and prim, her language and diction absolutely impeccable. And she had what catches the eye of 90% of men in the world when they first see a girl - long, cascading hair that shone like a mirror.
Catherine on the other hand was the plainest looking girl you can meet. She did not have a memorable face. She was the kind of girl one sees everyday in a bus or at a random party in a stranger's house. Her features hardly demanded attention or enabled retention. She was indeed very well-mannered and sweetly dispositioned, but she wasn't someone you noticed in a crowd.
So, why was my friend so hooked to Catherine and hadn't even considered Mila? Here's why.
According to him, and a few other male friends of mine who vouched for it later on, Mila had a perpetually angry expression plastered to her face and the smugness never left her visage even when she was pleased. Catherine on the other hand, always greeted you with a smile. She smiled when asked a question. She smiled if she met you outside class, say at a supermarket. Her expression was never unwelcoming or vaguely unapproachable. Mind you, both these girls were polite and very decent people. Nothing fundamentally unlikeable about them. But, in spite of everything she was not as per societal definitions of beauty, she was liked way more than Mila because of that one very simple factor that tipped the scales in her favor.
A smiling person always comes across as more approachable and less condescending in nature. It could be because a smiling face is visually pleasant and a frowning one is, well, not a good sight. Whatever the reason may be, it is human tendency to like and befriend those who use 17 muscles to smile instead of 43 muscles to frown.
A genuine and heartfelt smile always begins from the eyes. Your eyes start to smile way before your lips and it is only a genuine smile that can communicate your sincere intentions and respect for the person you are giving the smile to.
Fake smiles are very evidently insincere and they have a very grave, off-putting quality about them. Remember the fourth episode of the second season called the "The Griffin Equivalency" in The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon tries to smile to express his joy for Rajesh's success at the request of Leonard? Remember how absolutely fake and insincere it was besides being frightening and bloodcurdling? Precisely the point I am trying to make here. Smile as often as possible, but make sure it is genuine. If you do not feel like smiling at someone, it is better to not smile at all than flashing an evidently fake smile. It makes you a fake and plastic person in the eyes of the beholder.
Also, I said smile. SMILE. Do not scare people away with annoying and loud nasal outbursts of Janice-like laughter. I am not asking you to never laugh, but modulation of your voice when laughing in a formal scenario or in front of people you are only getting to know is a very, very important factor. Nobody should want to pluck their hair out every time you decide you are amused. Your laughter should only be indicative of how happy or amused you are, not how many microphones you swallowed as a baby. Believe me, annoying. Not outgoing, chilled out, and easy, just plain annoying.
Our eyes are the windows to our inner world ...
From one facial feature to another, your eyes can actually give away a LOT about you. I am not kidding. But here's the better part, you can actually use your eyes to tell the world whatever it is you wish the world to know about you.
Try to recollect all those times when you have looked at someone while talking and that person just kept looking at the floor. How aggravating was it for you?
Think of the times when someone's shifty eyes just drove you crazy. Their resistance to focus their line of vision was enough to drive you mad. Seriously.
Both the types of eye behavior stated above usually tell people one of two things:
You avoid looking into someone's eyes while talking because ...
... you have something unpalatable to hide.
... you are supremely unsure of yourself and, therefore, feel self-conscious.
Either of these two are very unattractive in nature and repulse most people. People become wary when an individual refuses to meet their eyes. It sends out all the wrong signals.
And then there is the worst of them all: The Wandering Eye Syndrome or TWES
This is the most galling thing you can do! I am serious. It is one of the most off-putting things ever. Look at the person and pay attention to what he is saying. Don't keep checking out her lips and satin-smooth waistline or his broad shoulders and clipped toenails when s/he is talking to you, if you wish to be treated with a modicum of respect and as an intelligent person. It applies to both men and women. The case of the wandering eyes manages to send out the most disgusting and abhorring signals possible. There is nothing remotely flattering about them, forget warm and approachable. Here's something from the movie "Hitch" that will hopefully drive the point home.
See? It's of optimal importance that people understand that they will be treated respectfully if they approach you. As Mollie Marti put it,
The utmost form of respect is to give sincerely of your presence.
When your eyes are wandering elsewhere in spite of your lips responding, people detest it with a vengeance. TWES just makes you seem lecherous and no one likes to approach lecherous people, forget finding them warm. So, even if you are genuinely mesmerized by the green locket she is wearing because it resembles one your grandmother had, she might think you are checking her collarbone and neckline out. Refrain from getting branded as a lech. Word travels fast.
Be expressive with your eyes and communicate with them.
Look a person in the eye when interacting. Maintain eye contact. Of course, this does by no means entail that you stare weirdly at people. Be natural with your eyes. Know when to look away.
Your eyes can tell a person how interested you are in socializing. Use them optimally to your benefit.
Before you get to Language, mind your Body Language ...
The extents to which we communicate with others with our body language and the way in which we carry ourselves is seriously scary. The more exasperating part is that most of it works at a subconscious level and most of the time we are not even aware that the placement of our hands or the expression on our face is actually telling someone to keep away from us. Annoying, isn't it? Who would have thought that keeping our hands tucked in our pockets is indicative of the fact that we are hiding something!!! No, I don't always get it. But, I have been a victim too many times to comprehend this: when in the company of people, you have to be alert and in control of what you do. Zoning out is not really a grand thing to do if you are planning on enhancing your approachability skills. You will be stumped to know how many people actually do observe and gauge you in keeping with basic body language pointers. Want to know how to keep from sending out the wrong signals? Here's how.
I am sure you have heard this a million times already. Crossing your arms across the chest is closed body language that projects a personality who has his/her barriers and defenses up. In certain situations it might also mean that the person is guilty of something. But if we stick to the arena of socializing, crossed arms and legs tell people around that you are not very interested in getting to know other people.
Now there's a catch when it comes to understanding closed body language. Look at the two images given below.
Who among the two would you feel naturally comfortable to walk up to and hold a conversation with? Others gauge in the same manner as you do. Multiple factors work in tandem when it comes to body language.
If you see the woman in the image below, you will notice four things that work together to build her image.
See how much can be extracted about a person from the way they conduct themselves in specific social settings?
So what are the other things that you should keep in mind?
- Do not start shaking your leg when in company. It is an indicator of restlessness. You may not be bored with the person in front of you, but the impending meeting in office tomorrow is driving you up the wall. So, the thought at the back of your mind is what is making you restless and that is why you are shaking your leg. But what will the person in front of you read it as? S/he will take it as an indication of your boredom and desire to get away from it immediately.
- Stand straight. It tells people that you are a confident individual who will most likely not nag them to death if they approach you. Slouching sends multiple negative signals to people. Utilize the height God blessed you with and show it off.
- Keep from fidgeting with your fingers or biting your nails. It makes you look like an unsure individual.
- Relax your hands and have them by your side. Open body language invites people to come to you more easily.
- Simple little things like holding your drink too close to your mouth all the time and not just when you are about to sip it gives people the idea that you are not interested and do not wish to be approached. It comes across as a partial barrier.
Speaking of small things that make you an open book, here's a scene which I was reminded of strongly when writing this section. Enjoy!
I know what you are thinking. Sherlock was a genius. But it really doesn't need an ultra sharp mind to notice and decode small gestures. Anyone can do it. It's common sense.
Taking the first step yourself communicates self-confidence to the world ...
You want to socialize? Go talk to people around you. Do not expect others to approach you all the time. Look at it this way - just like we are sometimes hesitant to approach others for our personal reasons and idiosyncrasies, same may be the case with others.
Sometimes it is not really something about you that keeps people from approaching you. They may have their own reticence issues to deal with. So, the reason the cute guy in class is not approaching you may not have anything to do with you at all. He may have a serious case of lockjaw situation happening every time he has to initiate a conversation with a girl. So, if you make the effort to walk up to him and actually say a warm "hello", it will save you hours of self-evaluation and subsequent self-deprecation. You may also end up with that much-anticipated and prayed-for date with him if you choose to take the first step, make the first move. You get to be in control of the entire situation and actually help someone get out of his shell with your warmth.
But, my dear gentlemen and women, keep in mind that this in no way means that you barge into someone's private space just because you are desperate to talk to them. If someone is genuinely not seeking to meet new people, it will be very evident from their body language and the way they conduct themselves. Do not let your desperation to seek company and an audience blind you in a manner that you are unable to gauge when you may be barging in. Nobody - and I mean NOBODY - likes intrusion.
Respecting personal space is never negotiable. I will give you an example.
Walking up to him to acquaint yourself to him when he is already in the middle of something he is obviously engrossed in, is a terrible way to go about it. There are very high chances that you will be judged as someone who doesn't respect boundaries and hasn't a clue about conducting herself in a social setup. You are interrupting. Seriously.
Approach people the way you would like to be approached. Maintain social decorum. I am not asking you to give up on spontaneity or to be pretentious. At the same time, you cannot compromise on social decorum of conducting yourself. Rather inappropriate that would be.
In the scenario given above, what could be a very acceptable way of conveying your interest to the other person? Smiling at him encouragingly if and when he happens to meet your eye while still talking to his friend. That is perfectly fine. It would communicate enough and yet not make you look like an intruder dripping with desperation. If he is interested (and intelligent) enough, he will pick up the vibe and create ways for you to approach him or vice versa.
Be very alert about what is going on in your social surroundings. Be aware and receptive. This very quality to respect a particular social setup will automatically get reflected in your nature. Not only will it open up your doors to approach people but also enhance the chances of people approaching you more willingly.
The vibe you emit tells people tales ...
Now, as I have been telling you all along, your entire persona, your aura determines the way in which people around perceive you. The energy that you exude is of essence even if you are unaware of it. No matter how subconscious the entire process is, everybody can gauge negative and positive vibes. And obviously, the latter is preferred over the former. No one likes to be around a constantly cribbing and scathingly sarcastic person all the time. It may be entertaining and fun for a while, but the moment people realize that spewing sarcasm incessantly is the only thing a person does, they will seek ways to evade him. It is viewed as an attention-seeking mechanism. Nothing more. Nothing less.
We all enjoy slightly caustic jibes and witty jabs taken by cynics once in a while. It's fun and honestly quite thought-provoking most of the time. It serves a purpose when the intention is to make people think or to offer them a new perspective or just to make them laugh. But imagine a person, and we all know at least one, who is ALWAYS cribbing about one thing or the other. And it can be about almost anything under the sun - from cat litter to a war between two countries to a broken heel to the rotation of the earth! Anything!!! Let's do a case study.
At least one person can be spotted at a girls' party who will insist on discussing the following:
Please refrain from being this hyperventilating and loud nag yourself. Nobody, absolutely NOBODY likes nags no matter how brilliantly you smile when you nag or how open your body language is. It is Annoying (please notice the "A" in upper case). So, if it is in your agenda this year to come across as an approachable individual, quit cribbing incessantly.
Nobody is interested in how your weighing scale was plotting against you by showing a 0.6 gram increase in your weight this morning. I can keep on repeating how annoying it is, but get the point. We think you are a nag, not dumb. Come on, you cannot be possibly complaining about EVERY SINGLE THING in life. Capability-wise you can, yes. But you don't do everything just because you can!
When in company of people you aren't too familiar with or are just getting to know, try to focus on the positive side of things. This doesn't mean that you shove the ugly and depressive in life under the carpet and never discuss the grave and should-be-addressed issues ever. It means that you should focus on having a constructive, fun conversation; not a nagging, depressive one. People socialize for happy reasons, not to have an entire ball of issues pushed down their throat. Stop it. Socializing involves both Speaking AND Listening. It is an "and", not an "or". Learn to listen and respond. Don't let it be one-way traffic.
Narcissism is a whole lot of fun, but keep from ODing on it! Not everything is about you. The world doesn't go around because you exist. You are important, but don't get drunk on that thought.
Do not make everything about you. If someone is talking about how the art of parenting has changed over the centuries and how parents choose to not take help of the cane even when necessary any more, do not immediately jump the gun and start thinking that he is questioning your parenting skills. No. There is no need to get defensive without a reason. It's a general observation and not necessarily a judgmental one. Yes, I agree that some people take it upon themselves to unnecessarily provoke others with very unneeded caustic remarks, but you can always choose to ignore imbeciles. If that certain person is overtly obnoxious for some reason, just a firm warning to refrain from crossing the line should suffice. Don't hit self-defensive and elaborate-explanation mode ever. Do not make it about you if it really is not.
Also, most of us have the tendency to interject our own experiences while another person is in the middle of recounting his tale. If someone is talking about how he got cheated by someone he called a friend, we often start narrating tales to display our innate honesty. I know how absolutely alluring it is. Sometimes we don't even do it with the intention to show off. But believe me, it most often comes across as gloating. Even if your sole intention to narrate your own story is to really communicate that all is not lost and the world still has some good left in it, interrupting someone else's flow makes him feel unimportant. The other person may just be seeking a patient listener. He knows about the balance of good and bad. He still just needs to channelize some of that frustration. Your constant interjecting with exemplary anecdotes will only make him feel that you aren't really interested to know his side of the story. Nobody likes feeling that way. So, LISTEN when someone is sharing something. An exchange is always two-way. Otherwise, it isn't an exchange. Your chance to talk will come. Wait for it. Only then will people find it in them to hold a conversation with you.
Be respectful at all times. If someone is telling you about something really serious, avoid seeming casual and uninterested about it. Don't go out of your way to lighten the situation by cracking jokes or making vain attempts to divert the topic. Let the person finish before you try to change the topic if you must. And be subtle about it. For instance, you can't tell a person about the white toga dress you bought yesterday right after she discusses her brother's tragic demise with you. No. Common sense (rather uncommon among commoners these days). It'll only end up hurting the person in front of you. Sensibility and sensitivity are two things that make a person warm and approachable.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do ...
Before you freak out about where I am going with this, hear me out. No, I am not going to ask you to adopt a herd mentality here, wherein you follow the ways of the others just so that you fit it. Please, that would be disrespectful. What I mean here is that every place has some decorum, some conventions that need to be followed. Never be disrespectful towards those.
Let us say, you're at a cocktail party and someone turns up wearing a pair of torn jeans and a T-back top. Can you imagine the expression of all the guests there on seeing someone wearing that? Exactly. There is nothing wrong with torn jeans and a T-back paired together, but you cannot be wearing it to a cocktail party because it is of utmost importance that you observe the dress code stipulated for the occasion. See, as unfair as it is, people do form opinions about others from the way they dress. At least first impressions are formed based primarily on that.
Nobody ever attends a funeral wearing a bright red dress and electric blue shoes. Why is that? Simply because black is considered to be the color of mourning the world over. It can communicate compassion to the friends and family of the deceased one without you having to exchange a single word. A simple gesture like that. However, the moment you dress flashy for an occasion as grave as a funeral, you may do floods in grief, but people will not have faith in the veracity of your remorse.
Snap-judgment Alert! - How the hell did she manage to dress up like a ramp model if she's so grief-stricken?
The psychology of onlookers is simple in such cases. A large section of the group (read the conservative chunk) will judge you and brand you as "inappropriate" immediately. The second section, which will be slightly smaller than the first group, will admire your guts but will be petrified to come and talk to you in order to refrain from being marked "inappropriate" as well. Very few people will not care about the way you dress and talk voluntarily to you, irrespective of how you dress and no matter what others think of them. So, it is necessary to pay attention to your ensemble and dress in keeping with the occasion in order to avoid being ostracized.
Always dress in accordance with the place you are going to. Like you wouldn't wear a three-piece suit while lounging about the house, do not don clothes and makeup you would wear to a fish market when going to office. Even here you can use your discretion and customize your outfit tastefully.
Seeking examples? Here they are.
Imagine a professional setup. Let us say that there is a corporate party. Here's what can be worn at such an affair.
Now, when you're going for an office yacht or beach party with the same bunch of people, the entire atmosphere changes. You can wear something as casual as the following.
It is necessary to be slightly conservative in your choice of beach clothes as well because no matter how free the ambiance is at a beach, the professional equation may loosen up for a bit but does not change completely.
Now, what can you not wear to either of the occasions stated above?
So basically, dress right. Dress for every occasion in a manner that people feel comfortable around you. Do not wear clothes that have evidently been put on to seek attention. It is very off-putting. Customize your style to look chic. Add your personal touches to everything, but do not go overboard with it. Everything should be tasteful and balanced.
Love Yourself to Master the Art of Human Magnetism ...
This probably is the most important point you need to keep in mind at all times. There is absolutely no need for you to be a people-pleaser all the time. If you keep doing things just for the sake of making others happy, you will end up being a rather bitter and unsatisfied individual yourself. Inner happiness makes a person warm from inside. If your happiness is not genuine, your smile will not be genuine either. Your aura will be negative due to all the discontent you harbor within you, stemming from the efforts you take by going out of your way to please others. It will only lead to internal bickering and conflict. Do not do anything that you do not wish to do. An unhappy person is not pleasant company.
There are multiple ways to go about doing everything as per your convenience. Stop. Prioritize. Set boundaries.
Fortify yourself against all odds that you know can cause personal angst. This doesn't mean that you become robotic. It just means that you need to take care of yourself before thinking about others. Be generous to others, but not at the cost of being pointlessly selfish when it comes to placing yourself before everyone else.
Socialize when you want to. Not because you have to. Be among people who you like. Do not force yourself to be in surroundings that make you uncomfortable. Be firm when vocalizing boundary breaches.
Do NOT succumb to peer pressure. You will regret it above everything else. Believe me. Do not wear that off-shoulder, tight black dress just because your friend thinks it is cool. If you are self-conscious wearing it, take it off and wear what you feel confident, comfortable, and beautiful in. Do not be obliged to walk up to a girl and ask her, "Your place or mine?" just because your best friend would brand you a wuss otherwise. If it feels wrong, you won't feel right after doing it. It's really, really not worth it.
All in all, be happy and confident. And to be these two things, you need to take care of all the tiny little factors I just stated.
Humans are social animals, they say. So with just a little effort from your part, all this shouldn't be difficult at all. All it involves is just being a tad alert and conscious of what you're doing where and in whose company. Once you've mastered the art of being in control so that there's no apparent disparity between your thoughts, words, and actions, your entire aura will change to boost your social popularity.