Body language & non-verbal communication
Body language can be an effective tool, both to communicate to others and also to pick up signals about how others are responding to you.
You have only a few seconds from first meeting to make a good impression. So put your "new friend" at the centre of the universe: face them, give direct eye contact, palms outwards, open arms, a big smile and a firm but not bone-crushing handshake.
First impressions are also about your dress, hair, shoes and air of confidence. Be aware that others are rushing to judgement about you - especially important if you are going for an interview or want to impress someone.
A big smile and lots of eye contact
So important. Some people have successful careers with no visible talent other than their ability to radiate warmth. Don't knock it, it is still a talent.
Eye contact is evidence that you are paying attention to the other person.
Tall and erect communicates energy and purpose whereas slouched and hunched implies tired and lacking in energy.
Looking up is generally regarded as indicative of optimism whilst persistently looking downward suggests secrecy or insecurity.
Hands and arms
Palms turned outwards implies warmth and friendship.
Don't point, it is aggressive and perceived as such - especially if you do it in an irritated way. Gordon Brown uses his hands a lot but he will gesture with the backs of his hands turned towards the audience in a way is suggestive of "giving". Tony Blair would pull his fingers together into a point and make dabbing movements.
Using your arms in an animated way can bring energy, enthusiasm and a bit of fun to the proceedings. However, too much gesticulation can look a little bit needy of the audience's attention and there will be situations where this is the wrong tactic.
Use body language as a tool
Meeting going badly? Sulks alienate clients - so uncross those arms and look cheerful. Put on a big smile, enthusiastic voice tone or handshake. Much of this is obvious. If someone has visibly withdrawn from the meeting, direct some body language, eye contact and use of their name to draw them in.
Active nodding and eye contact is especially useful to indicate interest when someone else is speaking. Useful for being ingratiating to customers and the boss, but use it also to support colleagues who are speaking. If a colleague is speaking and you are doodling, yawning, looking around aimlessly or reading notes, then it undermines their credibility.
Need to be boss? Be the first to offer a handshake, the last to go through the door. Put yourself at the head of the table, head up with a purposeful demeanor.
Need to sweet-talk clients or colleagues? Make them feel in control, give them the best seat/position - use soft, smiley body language.
Mirroring tactics can create empathy?
Signal similarity. Show that you have something in common - everyone likes dealing with people they can empathise with. Make every non-verbal approach - dress code, formality of manner, presentation style - precisely reflect your audience.
Synchronise with the other party. Clichéd but true - matching others' movements makes them feel in sync with you. Just don't make it too obvious. Instead, nod when they're emphasising an important point, smile when their words indicate pleasure. Keep it subtle.
People will judge you sincere if they think you are listening to them, so look for signs that someone wants to speak and invite them to contribute.
Politicians sometimes touch their heart to underpin their sincerity or commitment to a key point. Don't overplay this though or it will look cheesy and completely insincere.
Be aware of the space between you and others
Cultural norms vary between country and are also different for friends v strangers, children v adults. If someone is backing away from you, then you are too close.
The business triangle
Imagine a small triangle on the forehead of the other person, just above the nose in between the eyebrows. If you keep looking at this triangle you give the impression of maintaining eye contact, without creating that feeling of discomfort that comes from staring into someone's eyes.
On the phone
Making a phone call? Voice matters too. So sit up and smile as you're talking. Match your tone, volume and rhythm to the other person's. And however the call went, put warmth into the final goodbye.
Closed expressions/gestures and leaning back suggests the audience may be bored. Closed body language (folded arms etc) but leaning forward hints at a confrontational mindset. If they have open body language but are leaning back, they may be unconvinced whereas open body language and leaning forward suggests interest.
The word to remember here is "may". Reading body language is not a science of certainty. See the comments below...
Reading the audience: don't rush to conclusions
Be wary of reading too much into innocent gestures. Folded arms, for example, may simply mean that someone in the audience is cold or likes to fold their arms.
Look for groups of gestures - if someone has angled their body away from you, is looking out the window and picking imaginary fluff off their jumper then yes, you may well have lost their interest.