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10 Simple and Powerful Body Language Tips


Wed Sep 25 2013

10 Simple and Powerful Body Language Tips

Here are 10 simple ways you can use body language to add information and impact in your conversations.

1) To reach an agreement, send early engagement signals.


Over the years, I’ve noticed that parties are more likely to reach an agreement if they begin a negotiation by displaying engaged body language (smiling, nodding, mirroring, open gestures, and so forth). Interestingly, that positive result is the same whether the display was the product of an unconscious reaction or a strategic decision.

2) To make a difficult task seem easier, smile.

No matter the task, when you grimace or frown while doing it, you are sending your brain the message: “This is really difficult. I should stop.”  The brain then responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. And this creates a vicious circle: the more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes. Conversely, when you smile, your brain gets the message, “It’s not so bad. I can do this!”

3) To reduce resistance, hand out your business card.

People who are defensive, guarded or resistant may protectively fold their arms across their chests. And when you see that gesture coupled with crossed legs, you can be fairly sure that a) you aren’t making a very positive impression, and b) what you’re saying isn’t being listened to very closely.


To automatically neutralize this kind of resistance in a one-on-one encounter, you could offer the individual a cup of coffee or tea. You could hand out your business card, brochure, or product sample. With a large audience you could ask questions that invite people to raise their hands (How many of you have had previous training in nonverbal communication techniques? How many of you have never thought of body language as a leadership tool?).

It doesn’t matter which strategy you choose, just as long as people are obliged to change their postures, to uncross their arms and legs, in order to respond to you. Because body positions influence attitude, the mere act of unwinding a resistant posture will begin to subvert the resistance, itself.

4) To maximize your authority, curb your enthusiasm.

If you are an extrovert, you most likely make a favorable first impression—because we are drawn to passionate people whose emotions are easily read. But when your communication style lacks of nuance and subtlety, your over-exuberance can overwhelm (or exhaust) an audience. So in situations where you want to maximize your authority, minimize your movements. Take a deep breath, bring your gestures down to waist level, and pause before making a key point. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.

5) To defuse a tense situation, realign your body more congenially.


Often strong verbal argument comes from a person’s need to be heard and acknowledged. If you physically align yourself with that person by sitting or standing shoulder to shoulder and facing the same direction, you will likely defuse the situation.

And, by the way, a move that will escalate the argument is to square your body to the other person or to move in closer. This is especially true when dealing with men. Two men speaking will angle their bodies slightly, while two women will stand in a more “squared up” position—a stance that most men perceive as confrontational.

6) To increase participation, look like you’re listening.

If you want people to speak up, don’t multi-task while they do. Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, check your watch, or check out how the other participants are reacting. Instead, focus on those who are speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding and tilting your head are other nonverbal way to show you’re engaged and paying attention. It’s important to hear people. It’s just as important to make sure they know you are listening.

7) To encourage collaboration, remove barriers.

Physical obstructions are especially detrimental to collaborative efforts. Take away anything that blocks your view or forms a barrier between you and the rest of the team. Even at a coffee break, be aware that you may create a barrier by holding your cup and saucer in a way that seems deliberately to block your body or distance you from others.

A senior executive told me he could evaluate his team’s comfort by how high they held their coffee cups. It was his observation that the more insecure individuals felt, the higher they held their coffee. People with their hands held at waist level were more comfortable than those with hands chest high.

8) To connect instantly with someone, shake hands.

Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. Research tells us 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. A study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows showed that people are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. The trade-show researchers also found that people react to those with whom they shake hands by being more open and friendly.

9) To show agreement, mirror expressions and postures.

When clients or business colleagues unconsciously imitate your body language, it’s their way of nonverbally saying that they like or agree with you. When you mirror other people with intent, it can be an important part of building rapport and nurturing feelings of mutuality. Mirroring starts by observing a person’s facial and body gestures and then subtly letting your body take on similar expressions and postures. Doing so will make the other person feel understood and accepted by you.

10) To improve your speech, use your hands

Brain imaging has shown that a region called Broca’s area, which is important for speech production, is active not only when we’re talking, but when we wave our hands. Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as we talk can actually power up our thinking.

Whenever I encourage executives to incorporate gestures into their deliveries, I consistently find that their verbal content improves. Experiment with this and you’ll find that the physical act of gesturing helps you form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences with more declarative language.

This article was originally posted on http://www.ckg.com/. For more on body language in the workplace, check out Carol’s previous blog article in this series.

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