|This post was originally published on OPEN Forum.|
What do people see when you walk into a room? Hopefully they see a confident, successful business owner. But if you’re not careful, your body language may be projecting a very different image.
“You are in control of [the message] you are sending out,” Barbara Pachter writes in her book The Essentials Of Business Etiquette. “I believe that if you project a confident, credible, composed image, people will respond to you as if you are all those things. Who cares what you are feeling on the inside?”
The most successful businesspeople are the ones who understand exactly how to do this. The following four tips can help you alter your body language and give off a more confident vibe.
1. Maintain an assertive posture.
The key to coming off poised and confident is all in your posture. To stand confidently, keep your legs aligned with your shoulders and your feet approximately four to six inches apart. Distribute your weight equally on both legs, keep your shoulders back — but not way back — and turn your body towards others.
“This is an assertive posture,” Pachter explains. “It is a posture that projects confidence, not insecurity. You are open to the person to whom you are talking. And you can stand tall, regardless of your height.”
Never stand in a “submissive position” with your legs crossed, hands folded in front of you, or weight pressed down on one hip.
2. Watch your hands.
“An important part of mastering body language is knowing what your hands are saying,” Pachter writes.
The last thing you want to do is offend someone by jabbing a finger in their face. Pointing can seem aggressive, but many people do it without understanding how intimidating it may be to others.
Instead, when you’re explaining an idea, “point with an open palm, and keep your fingers together,” she writes. “Both men and women point, but women have a tendency to do it more than men.”
Placing your hands on your hips is a posture many people use, but this can actually give off an air of arrogance or impatience. If you tend to play with your hair, tap your nails on tables, or jiggle coins in your pocket when you’re in front of a group, remember that behaviour and try to resist it.
“You will drive others crazy if you indulge in these activities,” Pachter warns. “Pen-clickers, hand-wringers, and rubber-band stretchers all reveal nervousness.”
3. Don’t cross your legs.
In a professional setting, crossing your legs can be distracting for others, depending on what you’re wearing. For a woman, if her dress is too tight, “she projects a very sexy, too-thigh-revealing image,” Pachter writes. For a man, if the hem of his pants is too short, it will be distracting when he crosses his legs and shows off bare skin.
“The bottom line, however, is health related: crossing your legs is bad for your circulation because it increases the pressure on your veins. We shouldn’t do it,” she advises.
4. Pay attention to your face.
Know what your standard face looks like. This is the face that most people see when you’re looking at them, listening to them, or just not talking in general. Some people’s standard faces can be very stern and not communicate what they’re feeling on the inside.
“There can be career consequences to having a severe standard facial expression,” Pachter says. “People may avoid you, think you are mad at them, or get defensive around you. These are not good outcomes if you want to connect with people.”
What can you do? Pay attention to the comments your friends and colleagues make when you’re listening to them. Do they think you’re upset because you’ve furrowed your brow in concentration? If this is the case, try to relax your muscles or smile more often when meeting new people.
In short, it’s OK to be nervous when you’re negotiating a deal or in a job interview, but you should learn to control your body so that this doesn’t show.
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