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Feb 12, 2013 by Vanessa Fiorido in PM Best Practices & News

5 Ways to Become a Better Leader Through Body Language


Body language is a powerful persuasive tool that should be in any business leader’s arsenal. Unlike learning a skill that requires a 4 year degree, or taking toastmasters class after toastmasters class to develop into a good public speaker, becoming a better leader through body language can take effect in a matter of seconds.

Better yet, body language has an immediate outcome on both your mood and the impression you give to other people. You can go from an ice queen to a social butterfly just as quick as you can transform from a shy wallflower into a powerful pioneer.

Since it’s so easy and effective, every business leader should adopt the following five body language tips to instantly feel happier, and appear more confident, competent, approachable, and friendly to your colleagues and clients:

1. Smile to Improve Company Morale

People look to leaders for encouragement and inspiration. The last thing a worried team member wants to do is see their manager visibly distressed. So the first critical improvement a business leader can make to improve their body language is to simply smile.

Smile even when you’re unhappy. Studies in psychology suggest there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by simply turning that frown upside down. Research suggests that not only do our emotions influence our body language (i.e. we smile when happy) but our body language also influences our emotions. That means if you force yourself to smile eventually the very act of smiling will cause your brain to cheer you up!

Not only will you find yourself feeling happier, soon your whole office will follow suit. Scientists have found that smiling is truly contagious! By forcing yourself to smile, soon you will have not only cheered yourself up, but boosted your entire team’s morale. Great news, since a happy team is a productive team.

2. Expose Your Wrists to Seem Open and Approachable

A leader is nothing without his or her team. After all who would they lead? It is important to have a strong enough relationship with your team members so that they feel comfortable offering ideas, reporting problems, and giving updates. However, it’s easy to feel intimidated by your boss, so as a business leader you must take extra efforts to seem approachable.

The easiest way to seem approachable is to use open body language. Uncross your arms, orient your body to whom you’re talking, and remove any obstacles in front of your body. Think of how intimidating Mr. Burns looks when he glares at Homer with his hands folded behind his desk. That is exactly what you must avoid. An easy tip to seem more approachable is to display gestures that show your wrists during a conversation.

3. Sit up Straight to Display Confidence

Business leaders are supposed to be charismatic and in control. Whether or not that is how you feel, it is important to at least give off that vibe—especially when meeting clients.

The surest sign of a shrinking violet is slouched posture. When you see someone all curled up in on themselves with their eyes to the ground, the first thing you think is not “let’s entrust our most important business needs with that person”.  It is important to stand up straight to radiate self-assuredness. Additionally, just like how smiling makes us feel happy, the act of sitting up straight actually increases our self-esteem so by sitting up straight you can both look and feel confident.

4. Take up Space to Get Respect

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy recommends all her MBA students to adopt power poses just prior to giving a presentation or attending an interview. These stances include standing with your legs shoulder-width apart with your hands on your hips, laying back with your feet up and your hands clasped behind your head, and leaning forward with your hands straight down on a table.

Communicating confidence with your body makes you feel more powerful and in control of your actions. Cuddy’s research shows that people who adopt these power stances before a job interview get hired at a much higher rate than those who slouch and express shyer postures. Furthermore, power poser users also report higher tolerance to risk, uncertainty, and stress. By adopting these posture changes you instantly become more equip to deal with the turbulence of today’s economy. In order to benefit from the confidence boosting effects of power posing, start your morning by standing up straight with your hands on your hips to appear capable all day long. Corny, but it works.

5. Look People in the Eye to Seem Honest and Likeable

The final body language tip for today is one your teachers probably lectured to you at school: “look someone in the eye when you are talking to them!” If you are going to remember one classroom lesson, forget the quadratic formula and remember the importance of eye contact.

Looking someone in the eye not only conveys honesty (since shifty eyes are often associated with lying), it also releases the chemical oxytocin in both parties making eye contact. Oxytocin, often known as the cuddle hormone, increases positive feelings between people. It also solidifies relationships, eases stress, and improves social skills.

So the cheapest and easiest way to become a better leader is to start your day off with a power pose, smile, open your arms, stand up straight, and look someone straight in the eye when talking. Easy as pie.

Image credit, gage131, Flickr

vanessa-fiorido
Vanessa Fiorido

Vanessa Fiorido watches a lot of YouTube at work. Sometimes she blogs about project management.

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