What your body language at work says about you

Why is communication through body language and appropriate language crucial to networking success? Most people take quick note of someone that has an attitude.

What does that mean? They look belligerent, like know-italls, and their ego hangs out like a sore thumb. This is not the person you generally want to build relationships or do business with. That goes for language as well: you do not want to hang with someone that is negative, always plays the victim, always dominates conservations, always wants to be right and always is whining about one thing or another.

The old 7/38/55 rule from Dr. Albert Mehrabian is often quoted. In his studies of the 1960s, this UCLA professor deduced that in face-to-face communications, 7% of the message is conveyed through words, 38% through voice and 55% through body. In the 1970s, Australian researcher and author Allan Pease concluded that body accounted for up to a whopping 80%! Even though some more recent research suggests that these percentages may be more equally distributed, the fact remains that our bodies most definitely talk.

The fact that body language can work for you if you take time to listen to others is really important. The act of sincere listening changes your body language naturally. This type of body language makes others receptive to you, and they will want to tell their story to you. However, when others want to tell their story, it is important that you gently nudge them in the right direction. You want them to tell you about their business challenges, or what is not right with their company. It is through understanding what they are saying that you will gain bigger insights as to what you have in common and what needs to be remedied, how you can help them with that part of their business. After all, you are at the event to make connections that will give you both profit and relationships that will last for quite some time.

The kind of language you should be using is: “Will you”, “Have you considered”, “I’ll find out how I can help”, “I know someone that”, even reiterating what they just said is good.

In addition, using body language to enhance how you start a conversation when networking can lead to great conversation. You do not have to say much just a look or a movement can speak volumes for you. This is especially useful in situations where you can not seem to get a word in or where you are unsure of how to start a conversation. Body language is a way to communicate without putting yourself at risk of saying something wrong. You probably already use body language, but do not even notice it.

The following list shows the main points of body language that you should be aware of whenever you wonder how to start a conversation.

Eye use:
People say that they can learn all about a person through their eyes. It is probably the most used part of the body to communicate next to the mouth. Your eyes can say many things, from rolling them to winking, you can display many messages with just your eyes. Sometimes you may be unaware of what your eyes are saying. Be careful to not let your eyes say you are bored or not interested in a conversation. You should maintain good eye contact to let others know you are listening.
Body moves:
Everyone has said hello with a wave of the hand or shown a lack of patience with a tap of the foot or nodded in agreement. Your hands, arms, feet and head can speak for in many cases. Crossing the arms, tapping the foot rapidly or putting your hands on your hips can all say things that might not be too good.  On the other hand, clapping, tapping your foot to music or extending a hand to shake can say great things. Always be aware of what your body is saying.
Facial expressions:
Smiling can say more than words sometimes. You should be aware of your facial expressions at all times. You may frown and be unaware of it. Facial expressions can often be misinterpreted. A serious look of concentration may be seen as disapproval. Just make sure you are using the rest of your body to speak as well and your facial expressions should come across clearly.

Knowing how to end a conversation with body language can come in handy if you do not have time to carry on a conversation, but would like to acknowledge someone. Also, you can use it as a signal to move your conservation from small talk to business talk. Smith says it is important to understand your signals. You should:

• Become aware of the way you speak and gesture. Exhibit good posture.
• Become aware of your mannerisms and nervous habits. The fewer hand and body gestures you make the more powerful and intelligent you appear to be.
• Become aware of your handshake. Give a firm business handshake.
• Become aware of your eye contact. Gazing fixedly into the other person’s eyes makes many people feel uncomfortable.
• Become aware of how you communicate. Practise emphatic listening; watch your tone of voice.
• Be natural … behave from the soul. Smiling makes you seem friendly and more attractive.

Don’t make superficial changes in your body language to network or influence others. People will sense your insincerity at one stage or another. Practise good body language habits to genuinely help you to achieve greater success and it will become a part of who you are-the real you.

Karl Smith is a speaker, author and founder of Business Networking South Africa.

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