There is an old Chinese proverb that says that the body never lies and the body never keeps quiet (Rao, 2017). While the eyes may be the window to our soul, our body may be the window to our true thoughts and feelings. Often, our words may be deceiving but our body’s gestures and signals rarely communicate incorrectly (Rao, 2017). Up 55% of the impressions we leave on people is based on our body language and only 7% are actual spoken words (Rao, 2017). Often, we are communicating much more with our bodies than we realize – both to ourselves and others. Our posture and gestures can even impact our mood and our belief in ourselves (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). For example, when someone is hung up over a negative experience, often their back will become more arched, their head will hang, and they will look at the ground (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). However, research has also found the inverse of this. If you are in a neutral or happy mood and adopt body posture that is linked to negative moods, you will begin to develop a negative emotional state yourself (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). This is why your body language and posture can be so powerful. You can literally change your mood just by how you sit, stand, or interact with the world.
Not only can you change your own mood, but you can change the perception that others have of you. In a 2006 study, researchers had tennis players warm up with positive and negative body language (Buscombe, Greenlees, Holder, Thelwell, & Rimmer, 2006). Their opponent viewed the warm up and then rated how good they thought their opponent was and what they thought the outcome of the match would be based on their warmup routine (Buscombe, Greenlees, Holder, Thelwell, & Rimmer, 2006). The study found that opponents viewed their competitor more favorably in skill and confidence when they displayed positive body language (Buscombe, Greenlees, Holder, Thelwell, & Rimmer, 2006). Additionally, when normal people were introduced to a class on body language and speaking – working on things like breathing, articulation, gestures, facial expressions, posture, and stress regulation – objective observers found them to be more confident, better speakers, and the speakers themselves felt higher satisfaction with their performance (Hawani, et al., 2016).
So not only can you improve your own mood, but you can change the perception of others by how you hold yourself. Let’s talk about some actual postures and gestures that you can begin to integrate into your life more consistently. There are certain actions, like pointing or wagging your finger, that carry strong negative signals and significant social power (Rao, 2017). Generally, you want to stay away from gestures like this that bring negative signals. Instead, emphasize showing open palms, which shows integrity and open-mindedness – stemming from way-back-when when it was a display that you had no weapons in your hands (Rao, 2017). People tend to connect with people that are passionate and enthusiastic, so it’s okay to let your body support you message and use your energy through your body and not just your words (Rao, 2017). Maintaining eye contact can give you confidence and builds trust in your audience – whether one-on-one, in a small business meeting, or with a big crowd (Rao, 2017). Things that may seem obvious but often get left by the wayside are smiling when you want people to laugh and keeping your hands out of our pockets (Rao, 2017). This can be so powerful, especially when we are nervous. Challenge yourself to take your hands out and use them to gesture and engage! It not only can make you feel more confident, but allow others to connect with you on a deeper level. Perhaps most important of all though, is not to slouch. Stay up straight in your chair or when you’re standing. Body postures, and especially standing straight versus stooped, has been shown to have a direct impact on emotional processing (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). Research has shown that people that adopt a straight posture and smile are much better at engaging with positive memories and emotions (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). On the flip side, those with a stooped posture recalled much more negative memories and were present with, sitting, standing, and walking (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017). Even when subjects used cognitive reappraisal – a method of reframing experiences in different ways to better process them and engage positively – their body language over-rode and led to negative emotions when they were stooped (Veenstra, Schneider, & Koole, 2017).