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How to Use Body Language to Boost Your Credibility and Your Career

When properly used, body language can be your key to greater success. It can help you develop positive business relationships, increase your influence, bond with members of your team, and present your ideas more authoritatively.

Here are 10 tips for using body language to project confidence and credibility and to build a charismatic personal brand:

1.Stand tall and take up space. Power, status, and confidence are nonverbally displayed through the use of height and space. Keeping your posture erect, your shoulders back, and your head held high makes you look sure of yourself. Widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body and you will look more “solid” and confident. If you stand, you will look more powerful and assured to those who are seated. If you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression.

If you are sitting, you can look more confident by keeping both feet flat on the floor, widening your arms away from your body (or hooking one elbow on the back of your chair), and spreading out your belongings on the conference table to claim more territory.

2. Lower your vocal pitch. In the workplace, the quality of your voice can be a deciding factor in how you are perceived. Speakers with higher-pitched voices are judged to be less empathic, less powerful, and more nervous than speakers with lower pitched voices. One easy technique I learned from a speech therapist was to put your lips together and say “Um hum, um hum, um hum.” Doing so relaxes your voice into its optimal pitch. This is especially helpful before you get on an important phone call, where the sound of your voice is so critical.

3. Try Power Priming. To display confidence and be perceived as upbeat and positive, think of a past success that fills you with pride and confidence. (This doesn’t have to be taken from your professional life—although I do encourage my clients to keep a “success log” so that they can easily think of an event.) Think back and recall the feeling of power and certainty you experienced. Recalling that genuine emotion will help you embody it as you enter a meeting room or walk up to a podium.

4. Maintain positive eye contact. You may be an introvert, you may be shy, or your cultural background may have taught you that extended eye contact with a superior is not appropriate, but businesspeople from the U.S., Europe, Australia, and many other parts of the world will expect you to maintain eye contact 50 to 60% of the time. Here’s a simple technique to improve eye contact: Whenever you greet a business colleague, look into his or her eyes long enough to notice what color they are.

5. Talk with your hands. Imaging has shown that a region of the brain called Broca’s area, which is important for speech production, is active not only when we’re talking, but also when we wave our hands. Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as you talk can actually power up your thinking. Whenever I encourage clients to incorporate gestures into their speech, I find that their verbal content improves, their speech is less hesitant, and their use of fillers (“ums” and “uhs”) decreases. Experiment with this and you’ll find that the physical act of gesturing helps you form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences with more declarative language.

6. Use open gestures. Keeping your movements relaxed, using open arm gestures, and showing the palms of your hands (the ultimate “see, I have nothing to hide” gesture) are silent signals of credibility and candor. Individuals with open gestures are perceived more positively and are more persuasive than those with closed gestures (arms crossed, hands hidden or held close to the body, etc.) Also, if you hold your arms at waist level, and gesture within that plane, people are more likely to perceive you as assured and credible.

7. Try a steeple. You’ve no doubt seen politicians and executives use the steeple when they want to underscore a point. This is a power signal where your hands make a "steeple”, where the tips of your fingers touch, but the palms are separated. Try steepling next time you want to project conviction and sincerity about a point you’re making.

8. Reduce nervous gestures. When we’re nervous or stressed, we try to pacify ourselves with some form of self-touching, nonverbal behavior: We rub our hands together, bounce our feet, drum our fingers on the desk, play with our jewelry, twirl our hair, fidget, and so on. When we do any of these things, are statements immediately come across as less credible. If you catch yourself indulging in any of these behaviors, take a deep breath and steady yourself by placing your feet firmly on the floor and your hands palm down in your lap, on the desk or on the conference table. Stillness sends a message that you’re calm and confident.

9. Smile. Smiles have a powerful effect on people. The human brain prefers happy faces, and we can spot a smile at 300 feet—the length of a football field. Smiling not only stimulates your own sense of well-being; it also tells those around you that you are approachable and trustworthy.

Smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.

10. Perfect your handshake. Since touch is the most powerful and primitive nonverbal cue, it’s worth devoting time to cultivating a great handshake. The right handshake can give you instant credibility and the wrong one can cost you the job or promotion. So, no “dead fish” or “bone-crusher” grips, please. The first makes you appear to be a wimp and the second signals that you are a bully.

Handshake behavior has cultural variations, but the ideal handshake in North America means facing the other person squarely, making firm palm to palm contact with the web of your hand (the skin between the thumb and first finger) touching the web of the other person's hand, and matching hand pressure as closely as possible without compromising your own idea of a proper professional grip.

By the way: While a great handshake is important for all businesspeople, it is especially key for women. Their confidence is evaluated by the quality of their handshake even more than it is with their male counterparts.

You can learn more about creating a professional business persona in these AMA seminars:
Polishing Your Professional Image 

Assertiveness Training for Women in Business

About the Author(s)

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD is an executive coach, leadership consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt How You Lead, and most recently, The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them. For more information, contact CGoman@CKG.com or visit: http://www.ckg.com/