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  • Carol Rosati OBE

How to get ahead without saying a word

In modern society we are surrounded by noise and bombarded with information. Non-verbal communication is a unique way we send messages without saying a single word. From the moment we enter the world, we are all experts. Babies use non-verbal communication to tell us exactly what they want, when they want it. But somewhere along the way human beings seem to forget or neglect this powerful tool and instead rely on language to get their point across. The most frequently quoted statistics from Albert Mehrabian Professor Emeritus UCLA, suggest that language or the spoken word only accounts for 7% of the way we communicate, 38% is tone of voice and the remaining 55% is body language or non-verbal communication. Body language is one of the most powerful tools we have in our toolbox to communicate more effectively and make others feel included in any situation.

Most people are aware that eye contact and facial expressions make introductions much easier and a confident approach speaks volumes. The handshake is often part of the ritual and we have all experienced the many forms including the sweaty palm, the limp hand or the bone cruncher. A firm handshake with a smile works wonders.

However, there are so many other more subtle forms many people are unaware of that make up the rest of our non-verbal conversations. For example, the way you sit gives clear signals about the way you are feeling about yourself. When you travel home tonight, just look at the very difference between the way men and women own their space. Women are taught to “sit nicely!” but men tend to sit legs akimbo spread as wide as possible, arms on arm rests (preferably both) signalling that “I am here, I am important, I am confident and you will pay attention to me!”

In a meeting or interview situation this really can make the difference between failure and success. Particularly when you combine it with an outfit that makes you feel confident. When you are relaxed and confident, you open up your space. You don’t try to make yourself as small as possible. Your hands are used to express yourself rather than hide behind as defence mechanisms such as neck holding, mouth covering or folding your arms in front of you.

Changing your posture can profoundly change the way you see the world and the way it sees you and the success you have in it. The old salesman trick of psyching themselves up in the mirror before they leave for a meeting really can work. Finding a power pose or stance that works for you and practicing it so that it becomes natural and makes you feel comfortable, will help you feel more powerful and you will be perceived to be more powerful and at ease for presentations, networking or even socialising.

The next time you are in a social situation, look at the feet of the person you are talking to see what they are doing. If they are both pointing towards you this means they are totally absorbed in what you are saying. If one foot is pointing away, they are keeping their options open. Both feet angled away, desperately trying to escape. What about the couple in the corner, sub-consciously copying each other, leaning forward, scratching a nose and crossing legs a few seconds later? We all use signs to signal our inner thoughts.

During an interview, you can pick up the same signs and open body language, leaning forward, nodding, repeating words, copied water drinking and good eye contact. It’s all there to be seen, noted and used.

It is entirely possible to include, exclude or close someone down quickly just by the way you use your non-verbal communication. Becoming more aware of your non-verbal communication and learning how to read people more effectively will have a fundamental impact on your ability to manage people, run teams, contribute in meetings or perform well at interview. Just remember, head up, shoulders back and smile.

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