Keynote speaker and communications expert Mark Bowden
has identified that the ideal place to hold your hands and to express yourself
with honesty, when you’re standing, is the over the middle of your abdomen,
above your naval. If you keep your hands in front of that area you will appear trustworthy.
Also, it means you can keep your elbows close to the side of the body and your hands
can gesture in front of you. You can join your hands together in that position
or just put fingertips from one hand against the other to express yourself.1
Many politicians now use this position to appear intelligent, however, if in
this position too long it looks like you have BBS (Belly Button Insecurity). It
can also create a block in front of you, so use it carefully.
If you use a lot of hand movements, here are some
points to consider:
Move both hands
in the same pattern; then you will look more trustworthy than when each hand
does something different.
If your hands
are too high and obscure your face it could seem that you are hiding something
or not being honest.
hands out too far from your body could be a signal that you’re getting
desperate to make your case or close the sale.
will see you as too demonstrative and perhaps over aggressive if you always ‘talk’
with your hands, so be conscious of how you come across to those around you.
Be aware that if
you keep moving your hands too much they could distract listeners from the
addressing a roomful of people, confident gestures are more appropriate than movements
that are small and close to the body.
The larger the
stage, the larger the hand movements; the larger the audience, the larger the
People watch your hands so be aware of what you are
doing with them.
Holding your hands
or fingers in front or to one side of the mouth can mean that you are holding something
back, such as a thought or an opinion.
chin with your fingers can indicate that you are making a decision.
Holding the thumb under the chin with the
index finger pointing up the side of the face signals a critical judgement or negative
index figure or the hand up the side of the face can show that you are holding your
head because you are tired, or be read as a sign that you are thinking but possibly
If you bring
the hand around to under the chin, or place your finger on the chin you appear
to be thinking positive thoughts.
mouth with your hand can indicate that you want to keep words in that may
offend, shock or cause concern. Or that you have said something you shouldn’t,
such as something told to you in confidence.
Since the earliest times, humans have been
programmed to read body language. You had to determine quickly and from a
distance if it was a friend of foe heading towards you. Your life depended on
reading the mood of the other person, and what you would read first, as they
came over the horizon, was their posture.
If you are about to step into a meeting and you
don’t feel confident, then stand up straight, head up and shoulders back,
breathe, and smile. You will look taller and more self-assured. People will
treat you as if you are confident, and your attitude towards yourself will
change. Correcting your posture can make that major shift within a couple of
Bad posture signals to others that you might lack confidence,
have poor self-esteem or low energy levels. Slouching shows you are not happy,
or that you either don’t care or aren’t aware of what others think about you; it
can bring down the spirit of your team members.
Be really aware of your body language; aware of how
it can affect you and others; and what messages it is sending without you realising.
Think about the way someone else’s posture and gestures can make you feel. In
particular, how you carry your shoulders and back can immediately change one’s
perception of you; can change the way you feel; and can change the mood of the
room and what others around you feel.
If you walk into an office and see someone with
their shoulders slumped, they don’t look up when you say hello, and the energy
around them is low, then straightaway the message coming from their posture
drags you down too. You start to feel like there’s a ball and chain that you’ll
have to drag around for the day. Alternatively, if you walk in and someone
looks up and smiles, makes eye contact and their posture is straight, you feel
ready to go with them to get the work done. Gestures can make us feel light or
heavy. You have the power to choose and to change the way you feel and the way
people around you feel, without saying a word.
They say you can’t teach attitude, which is true,
but you can adjust the way you show your attitude. Be mindful of what your body
shows about your attitude.
When you are sitting at your desk or walking around
the office, take a second to check your posture.
your shoulders hunched or up around your ears?
and legs crossed?
How does that
make you feel? How do you think it makes others feel when they look at you?
Do a quick shift – shoulders back, neck straight,
head up and back straight.
Now how do you feel? How do you think others will
respond to you? Stay this way and see if your mood becomes more positive and if
you have more energy, and if you feel certain and confident.
Your voice, as well as your body language, projects
your attitude and mood. When talking to clients, the tone of your voice should
sound like, ‘I’m here to help you as best I can.’
The voice conveys meaning even when the words are
not understood. For example, if you were to growl at a dog it would stop what
it was doing, while if you said, ‘Good boy,’ in a friendly, happy tone it would
wag its tail. The same applies when you speak to people – we can often
understand a level of the meaning of your words by the way you say them.
You can change the listener’s mood with the tone of
your voice. If someone is angry and you respond by speaking loudly and sound annoyed,
impatient or condescending, the other person is likely to become even angrier and
nothing will be resolved. Instead, speak with a firm but calm, perhaps caring
and soothing tone. Never let your voice sound dismissive or as if you are
talking down to someone; instead build mutual respect. This way your communications
will be more relaxed, more pleasant and better understood.
Listen to how loudly or softly you are speaking,
and the levels at which others around you are speaking. Are you speaking at the
appropriate level? If not, make an immediate adjustment.
The speed and rhythm of your speech are important. If
the other person is speaking more quickly or more slowly than you, decide
whether it’s appropriate to match their pace. Are you speaking so slowly that
they are losing patience or so fast that they can’t understand you? Keep in
mind that people can feel pressured when someone speaks faster than they do.
You can match another person’s speech rate and the volume
of their voice, but never attempt to imitate their voice or try to match their
accent. This can happen subconsciously, but the moment you notice you’re doing
it, stop. It’s nearly always insulting.
Qualities of a good voice:
A smile in
Easy to hear
with moderate tone and rate
Your personal space
Body language goes hand in hand with your personal
space. Just as you need to be conscious of your gestures, you should also be
aware of your personal space and the space around others. You can consciously
or subconsciously send messages by the space you leave between yourself and the
other person. If you stand up straight, for instance, you will feel taller,
broader and as though you are taking up more space in a positive way.
As a guide, one’s personal space can be up to half
a metre around their body. Step into that area and the other person might feel
that you are invading their space.
When you are standing up having a conversation, the
space between you and the other person can be around 1 metre, and that feels
comfortable. Moving in any closer can start to feel awkward. Everything beyond
that is public space.
This guide can vary according to the culture and
country in which you are working.
Personally, I hate anyone invading my space,
especially if they are leaning or standing over me. Their energy is ‘in my
face’ and it just doesn’t feel good. The only time it works is when you’re in a
romantic relationship, perhaps in the flirty stage where you want to lean in
and touch. Otherwise it is a power move that can make the other person feel
uncomfortable and anxious. If I am talking to someone who is sitting down – at
their computer, perhaps – I will pull up a chair and sit beside them so we are
on the same level, literally, and we can focus on the task together without anyone
feeling uncomfortable or subordinate. If I needed to work on the other person’s
computer, I would ask first if that was okay, then we would swap chairs so I
could sit at the terminal rather than leaning across.
Standing or sitting closer than half a metre from a
colleague, and treating their possessions and office space as if they were your
own, signals disrespect and that you don’t have a clear understanding of professional
Leaving too much space between you and the other
person, or angling your body away from them and not leaning into a conversation
can be a sign that you are uncomfortable, distrustful or disinterested in the
conversation or the meeting. Angling away can be read as ‘I don’t want to be
involved.’ If you are sitting at a table and someone is angling away from you, pick
up a page of notes or a brochure and a pen and point out something to them so
they have to lean towards the table and back into the discussion. Once you get
them engaged again and they are leaning back in, then you can continue the
If someone does move away you quickly need to work
out why – have you baffled or bored them, or don’t they trust you? Do you smell
bad or are you wearing too much perfume? Have you just had a coffee or
cigarette? It’s important to stay fresh and subtly smell nice. Body odour or
bad breath can be a big deterrent and clients and staff will not want to spend
time with you. The other person’s body language can tell you a lot about them
but it can also send out some messages about yourself. Be conscious of these
messages, decide what they mean and act on them to keep the other person
feeling comfortable and engaged.
Bowden, Winning Body Language, McGraw
Hill, USA, 2010