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Your Body Language Says What You Think and Feel

Last night’s Vice Presidential debate had as much to do with body language as content.  We were treated to a split screen at all times, so we could see the reaction of the person NOT speaking as much as observe the person who was speaking.

Pundits had a lot to say about Joe Biden’s incredulous looks, smiles, laughs, shrugs, eye-rolls, etc., but you must admit, if he didn’t do any of that, it would have been far less entertaining.  Rep. Ryan had all he could handle to maintain his cool, his gravitas and not appear flustered.  I got a little tired of counting the wrinkles on his furrowed brow, and I worried if his back would hurt from hunching his shoulders.  The power of all that body language had a significant impact on your perception of the debate, no matter who you support.

Same thing is happening every day in business!  Sit around a conference table, and watch your fellow meeting attendees, and you can hardly concentrate on what is being said, because there is so much going on for the people listening!  Arms across chests, scowls, eye-rolls, smirks, shrugs, tapping fingers, eye lids closing, harrumphs of protest.  Our bodies and faces are a veritable stage show for others.  You usually know how others feel even if they don’t say anything.

This applies to interviews as well.  Both the interviewer and interviewee are letting each other know how they feel.  Is the interviewer leaning back, or on the edge of his seat?  Eyebrows relaxed, or contracted?  Mouth tightened or smiling?  Of course, our body language is also heavily related to our inner experience as well as being responsive to the words and actions of others.  Interviewers can be as nervous as interviewees, and this can be reflected in the way they sit and the expression on their face.

If it comes naturally for you, try mirroring others in your next meeting or interview.  It increases rapport! If the other person is leaning back, lean back.  Even tilting your body in the chair in a similar manner can be perceived unconsciously as alignment.  If the other person speaks more slowly or more quickly than you do, try to match their pace.  People who are able to use mirroring are almost always more popular.

The author of this recent article Your Body Language Speaks for You in Meetings (in the Harvard Business Review) could not have anticipated that Joe Biden would reinforce his theories, but he correctly points out that most of us are not that aware of how we look to others.  I’m sure we will all be watching Obama and Romney even more carefully next week!