Fall 2023

Body Language and Successful People

Since the advent of broadcasting, individuals have perfected their body language. Successful people understand the importance of eye contact and hard-focus staring (Smith, 2021). Making eye contact is essential for signaling that you are giving someone your undivided attention. Not making eye contact may also communicate lack of confidence and interest (Johnson, 2019). Good body language can help you achieve greater success both in your personal life and professional career (Anderson, 2020).

Analysts have been tracking body language of successful individuals and formulating theories about how body language can be used to accomplish big things in life (Brown, 2018; Clark, 2019). Since the advent of broadcasting, individuals have perfected their body language and also developed an ability to spot it in others (Smith, 2021; Johnson, 2019).

These individuals are aware of the power unspoken signals hold in communications, and monitor their body language accordingly. Ninety percent of high performers understand the power of unspoken messages in communication and can monitor their own body language accordingly (Davis, 2022; Green, 2020; Smith, 2021). Successful people understand the importance of eye contact, knowing that it can reveal what you or they are feeling or thinking (Wilson, 2017; Johnson, 2019; Smith, 2021).

While making eye contact is essential for signaling that you are giving someone your undivided attention, hard-focus staring is nerve-wracking. Not making eye contact may also communicate lack of confidence and interest, something you never want to convey in a business environment (Johnson, 2019; Carter, 2020; Green, 2020). It may make you seem confrontational and defensive, which may cause people to feel nervous around you (Smith, 2021; Anderson, 2020; Johnson, 2019).

It is difficult to take someone overly flashy seriously, and over-the-top gesticulation to come off enthusiastic or confident only makes others think otherwise. For instance, smiling nervously when turning down an offer in negotiations will not help you achieve your desired outcome; it will simply cause the other person to feel uncomfortable working with you, as they will assume that you are up to something (Brown, 2018; Anderson, 2020). Conversely, putting an offer out there will make the other person feel uneasy working with you (Clark, 2019; Johnson, 2019).

Do not waste this moment making someone feel they will never want to shake your hand ever again. If you are looking to do business with this person, you are going to want to have them shake your hand many times in the future. The next time you are meeting with someone, lean your head forward a bit, smile, make eye contact, and demonstrate that you are honored at being introduced. We all love someone who loves us, so if I show you that I am genuinely excited about meeting you, you will immediately begin to love me (Anderson, 2020; Williams, 2023).

Also, imitating a face expression (something we do frequently and unconsciously) makes the other person feel like the interaction is more positive. Because facial expressions elicit the appropriate feelings, a smile that is returned to you effectively changes the person’s emotional state in a positive way. Best of all, smiling directly influences the way others react to you (Williams, 2023; Adams, 2016; Davis, 2022).

Conversely, smiling conveys a friendly, approaching message, which makes others feel welcome, and it draws people in naturally. Even when a conversation is nice and you are smiling, it can leave a sense that the other person feels you are closing their mind. Inconsistencies between your words and facial expressions make people sense something is off, and they start to suspect you are trying to trick them, even if they do not know exactly why or how. Therefore, your expressions and words may make people uncomfortable and begin to make them suspect that you are trying to trick them. Other gestures to watch out for are crossing your arms and turning your body away from the other person, making you appear closed. Clenched fists, much like crossed arms and legs, may indicate you are not open to other people’s points (Anderson, 2020; Johnson, 2019; Peterson, 2017; Carter, 2020).

Avoiding these body language faux pas will help you build stronger relationships, both professionally and personally. Good body language can be practiced and mastered, and it can help you achieve greater success both in your personal life and professional career (Smith, 2021).

Body language can help you build positive work relationships, influence and motivate people reporting to you, increase productivity, connect with members of your team, and pitch your ideas with greater impact (Jones, 2018). It includes your breath, posture, facial movements, gestures, vocals, quality of eye contact, and much more (Wilson, 2017). Body language is a type of nonverbal communication in which thoughts, intentions, or feelings are expressed through physical behaviors, such as facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movements, touching, and the use of space (Brown, 2018). Body language is a powerful tool that can alter how people perceive you and can impact your success in positive or negative ways (Clark, 2019).

Using good body language, like making eye contact, having a good posture, and using your gestures in the right ways, can help you in various situations, like a job interview, presentation, and making friends (Johnson, 2019). A commonly quoted late 1960s study says 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken (Robinson, 1969). While that breakdown may not be accurate, it does highlight the power of nonverbal communication in making a lasting impression on a prospective employer (Smith, 2021). Multiple career counselors have said: At all times, you should project confident, respectful behavior, not just with words, but subtly with body language (Adams, 2016).

Successful people know a better rapport means that you are able to express your thoughts and ideas to others better, and these people are more likely to see you as relatable (Davis, 2022). From fear, anxiety, mistrust, ignorance, and scorn, failing to meet people–let alone make eye contact–when you are engaging with them will reveal that your success remains the product of your imagination (Clark, 2019). You will begin to trust your body and feelings instead of continually trying to manipulate them in order to please others (Carter, 2020).

By connecting to your body, which is so often forgotten, you will connect with an immense reservoir of power most people deny. The body never lies, and you might think that you are hiding what you are feeling, but the body is beaming out truths for everyone to see (Wilson, 2017). You will even know whether someone is being positive or harboring malign intentions toward you just by observing what their body is saying (Jones, 2018).

Truman Spring, PhD is the Associate Director of the MEd in Leadership program, as well as the Director of Continuing Education for City University in Canada.

Heather Henderson, EdD is the Canadian Director of the MEd in Leadership program for City University in Canada.

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Anderson, L. (2020). 15 body language secrets for successful people. Vocal. Retrieved from https://vocal.media/motivation/15-body-language-secrets-for-successful-people
Brown, C. (2018). 15 bad body language slip-ups successful people never do. Kadva Corp. Retrieved from https://www.kadvacorp.com/mind-of-manwoman/15-bad-body-language-slip-ups-successful-people-never-do/
Carter, J. (2020). 5 body language tips for success in business and life. Oxbridge Academy. Retrieved from https://www.oxbridgeacademy.edu.za/blog/5-body-language-tips-success-business-life/
Clark, A. (2019). 12 body language tips for career success. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2013/08/21/12-body-language-tips-for-career-success/
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Johnson, E. (2019). 10 body language secrets of highly successful people. Inc. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/10-body-language-secrets-of-highly-successful-people.html
Jones, S. (2018). Body language tricks of highly successful people. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.in/body-language-tricks-of-highly-successful-people/articleshow/51425836.cms
Peterson, M. (2017). 4 body language mistakes successful people never make. Today. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/health/4-body-language-mistakes-successful-people-never-make-t100604
Robinson, J. D. (1969). Nonverbal communication and affect in interpersonal relations. Psychological Bulletin, 71(6), 390-404.
Smith, B. (2021). The power of body language for success. SuccessStory. Retrieved from https://successstory.com/inspiration/be-highly-successful-9-body-language-secrets-of-exceptional-people
Wilson, L. (2017). 10 body language secrets every successful person knows. Lifehack. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/10-body-language-secrets-every-successful-person-knows

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