he New Zealand rugby team have performed their traditional dance of intimidation and empowerment, the haka, for over a century. Why? Aside from breaking the moral of the opposing team, there is nothing like the physical expression of confidence and strength to convince your brain to follow suit, way before psychologists had the proof to back it up. In today’s boardroom, body language still wields a shockingly large amount of influence on the all-important first impression; up to 90% in some, close-contact cases, making personal conduct all the more important in the corporate environment.
Although we may be set in our ways of sitting, standing and gesticulating, in the same way we are willing to be trained, learn and expand our skill-set in the office, we should be open to refining the more personal elements of our professional image. “People don’t realise how important it is to re-train and enhance your skill-set as you climb the career ladder” image consultant Joanna Gaudoin told Silkarmour, “A lot of people consciously dismiss the visual aspect of a professional image…when in reality, it has a lot of value and impact on how your colleagues and clients perceive you.” Just as our personal appearance makes the majority of a good first impression, our body language needs to be right behind it to pick up the remaining percent to seal the deal. Whether it’s a million-pound proposal or a salary negotiation, the right body language can not only help you feel confident, but it can turn the tables in your favour; especially using these five tips.
Take a Stance
The relaxed and effortless manner of the average TEDTalker is no coincidence. Social psychologist and Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy stresses the importance of posture, power poses and monitoring our ways of standing in order to improve confidence in the workplace. Cuddy’s personal favourites include the classic ’Wonder Woman’ stance – hands on hips and feet wide apart and placing one hand on an object to “make yourself big”. The classic posing habits women adopt such as touching the neck, crossing ankles whilst sitting or bending the elbow when raising their hands “are associated with powerlessness and intimidation and keep people back from expressing who they really are” according to Cuddy, tapping into our animal instincts in visualising intimidation and submission. Instead of shrinking back, she suggests you take up space. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold your head up high and open your shoulders; Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, has this mastered to her own preferences and consequently, is never missed in a room. Although Cuddy’s work aims to deconstruct the habits that are unconsciously ingrained into us, there is nothing like continued study and practise to re-programme the creatures of routine that we are. Embrace a new stance with rigor.
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Just as the haka retains its relevance in sports today, it turns out that doing your ritual victory dance or celebration ritual before the negotiation could influence the desired result. Research led by business-school think tank Ideas for Leaders has revealed that ‘priming’ oneself for power and positive results had an influential result on desired outcome; something as simple as recalling a position or instance in which you had power and influence or re-enacting the physical reminders such as a celebratory dance, a fist pump or an uplifting high-five with your colleague can provide a quick boost of adrenalin to make you feel like the boardroom killer you are. Taking just two minutes before your next meeting to do what makes you feel powerful, increasing testosterone levels and making the first smile and confident handshake all the more genuine. The haka is still performed today and for a good reason, so take heed from tradition and wield it to your advantage.
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Use Your Hands
There is a reason great leaders talk with their hands; the power of visual aids. Leadership coach Carol Kingsley Goman points out that the errors of confident body language are easily missed, having seen “senior executives make rookie mistakes”. When leaders don’t use gestures correctly (if they let their hands hang limply to the side…or clasp them in from of their bodies), it suggests… they have no emotional investment in issues.” Those who engage with their body and in particular, their hands, are automatically received as more authoritative and confidence in their capabilities. The case remains for politicians, some of which have their ‘signature’ hand motions when making speeches and it’s only when we recall the speech without gestures do we realise how important they are for conveying a point. Knowing what to do with your hands is essential. Although not everyone is an advocate of ‘The Clinton Thumb’ gesture (a closed thumb on top of a clenched fist), the arguments against its authenticity for casual conversation is what makes it perfect for the boardroom; it’s a succinct and comfortable motion that reiterates your point. Alternatively, ‘steepling’, or putting your fingers together as though to form a steeple is ideal for a group presentation as it emits an air of concentration as you wait for your turn to speak.
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Tone It Down
Passion and attitude is mostly conveyed through tone, yet it’s actually responsible for 38% of the audience’s evaluation of a speech or meeting according to research lead by Masterclass.co.uk. We know how to use tone by default and using our emotions as an indicator in meetings but the inclination to speak too quickly or in a high-pitch is unfortunately almost reflexive when under pressure. Speaking coach Patricia Fripp agues how an authoritative tone comes naturally from speaking slowly because of our instinct to over-analyse our own voice. “Concentrate on the positive benefits when you do well [in a speech], such as impressing the boss or getting your proposal or ideas accepted” Fripp says as this highlights the areas needed for silences and pauses. Carol Kinsey Goman also suggests using an ‘authoritative arc’ when you speak, by raising your pitch slightly and then dropping it when closing in on your point, making the audience engage with your hinted emotions. The beauty of fluctuating tone is how it forces us to self-monitor our pace and opens up room for spaces and pauses. When accompanied by hand gestures, what presents itself it the perfect recipe in which you can project confidence.
Words by Minerva Jaquier