Evidence from psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and anthropology has given nonverbal communication new credence in the workplace. One example is a study at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging that discovered it takes the brain just 200 milliseconds to gather most of the information it needs from a facial expression to determine a person’s emotional state.
That’s why you can’t wait until you’re in the meeting room to “warm up.” You’ve got to walk in, already expressing the emotions you want to project.
Here are 10 more powerful, simple – and sometimes surprising – body language tips:
Sit up straight.
Good posture not only influences the way that other people perceive you, it changes the way you feel about yourself. An Ohio State University 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.
- To become more trusting, hold a cup of coffee.
A study done at Yale discovered that participants who held a warm cup of coffee as opposed to a cold beverage were more likely to judge a confederate as trustworthy after only a brief interaction.
- To increase your productivity, synchronize your head nods.
Scientists at Stanford University found that people working together on a project who moved their heads and bodies the same way came up with more creative solutions. When team members’ body language was in sync, they worked more collaboratively and generated more productive and innovative ideas.
- To perform well under pressure, squeeze a ball with your left hand.
When seasoned athletes under-perform 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 findings at the Technical University of Munich found that athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand performed better and were less likely to choke under pressure.
- To stay positive when you read email, relax your face.
A study at the University of California found that people process messages as having an angrier tone when they are asked to read those sentences with their eyebrows furrowed.
- To negotiate a “win-win” deal, shake on it.
A simple handshake communicates warmth and cooperation. Harvard Business School found that people who shook hands before negotiating ended up with a more equitable deal than those who went straight to business. Plus, the hand-shakers were less likely to deceive one another as the negotiation progressed.
- To increase your paycheque, lower your voice.
Scientists at Duke University discovered the optimal pleasing sound frequency to be around 125 Hz, and the lower the voice, the more authority it conveys. (James Earl Jones – the actor who gave voice to Star Wars’ Darth Vader – speaks at around 85 Hz.) Along with researchers at the University of California San Diego, the Duke team analyzed recordings of 792 U.S. chief executives at public companies. After controlling for experience, education and other influential factors, they found that a drop of 22 Hz in voice frequency correlated with an increase of $187,000 in compensation.
- To test your empathy, look at their eyes.
Empathy is tough to measure, but over the last 20 years psychologists have developed effective ways of doing so, such as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. In this test you are shown a pair of eyes and must choose the correct word describing the person’s emotional state – such as arrogant, annoyed, upset or terrified. Highly empathic people are skilled at this kind of emotional reading.
- To enhance your customers’ experience, touch them.
Research by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration shows that being touched increases the tips that customers leave their servers. The results were significant. Customers who weren’t touched left an average tip of 12 per cent. Tips increased to 14 per cent from those who were touched on the shoulders, and to 17 per cent from those touched twice on the hand.
But it isn’t only in restaurants that customers respond favourably to touch. In many commercial settings, casually touching customers has been shown to increase the time they spend in a store, the amounts they purchase, and the favourable evaluation of their shopping experience in that store.
- Tighten your muscles.
Research at the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago found that participants who tightened their muscles – hand, finger, calf or bicep – were able to increase their self-control. It was also found that muscle tightening only helped with willpower when the choices the participants faced aligned with their stated goals.
Simple tips, right? But the amazing thing about nonverbal communication is that sometimes the smallest body language change can bring powerful results.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.
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