Whether in a social, romantic or professional context, what you’re “saying” with your body may be making more of an impact than the words coming out of your mouth. “People listen to only five percent of what you’re saying, but 70 percent of what you’re doing with your body,” says body language expert Karla Beltchenko, founder of The Narrative Body. “The second you walk out of your house, your body is telling a story and people are listening. It’s up to you to decide what that story is,” she adds. Nonverbal communication is way more important than you think and can make a major difference in all kinds of interactions. Simply being more aware of this can ultimately lead to more effective, deeper communication, says Beltchenko. Here, she weighs in on five things your body language conveys to others.
How focused you are
There are two key signals that indicate we’re focused when interacting with someone else: eye contact and head nods. Ever have a conversation with someone who wasn’t looking at you? It probably made you feel that they weren’t listening at all. “Making eye contact is an easy way to show someone you’re engaged, focused, and paying attention to what they’re saying,” says Beltchenko, who notes that it’s particularly useful in professional and networking type situations. Same goes with head nods: “Head nods are simple yet powerful ways of giving someone recognition and encouragement,” she adds.
How approachable you are
This one comes down to how you stand or sit, or what Beltchenko calls closed versus open postures. “Standing or sitting with your arms by your sides, legs uncrossed, and shoulders and feet pointed towards the person you’re talking to makes you appear approachable,” she says. Granted, this can also make you feel more vulnerable, but in social situations such as dating, it can be a good way to show you’re interested. On the flip side, crossing your arms or legs sends ‘back-off’ vibes, even if your words say otherwise.
How confident you are
No surprise here, but the taller you stand, the more confident you appear. And there’s another benefit, too: Beltchenko says that standing taller also helps you feel better about yourself. “You feel better and you appear more confident to others. It’s a win-win,” she says. (FYI, it’s also a highly effective move to try if you’re negotiating.) So, do like your momma said and stand up straight with your shoulders back.
How nervous you are
Fidgeting—and for women specifically, playing with your hair—is a tell-tale sign that you’re nervous or uncomfortable. Giving an important presentation? It can be tempting to fiddle with your notes, crack your knuckles, or fidget otherwise, but, just as you’d practice what you’re going to be saying, practice exactly what you’ll be doing with your hands, suggests Beltchenko. To that point…
How motivated you are
While fidgeting isn’t so great, gesturing is a good way to convey motivation and excitement. “The important thing to keep in mind is the energy and effort behind the gesture,” says Beltchenko. Take a hand raise, for example: Put your hand up quickly and strongly and you’ll appear excited, confident, and motivated, but raise it slowly and meagerly and you seem unsure and hesitant. When speaking with other people that you’re trying to motivate, focus on strong gestures, moving your hands in intentional, upward motions, she advises.