Body language…is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Ever meet someone who gives you a weird vibe or perception right off the bat just from the way they shake your hand or from the manner in which they stand? Maybe they instantly put you off and give you the sense that they are weak or arrogant? Or lying? Or are uber fabulous?

This weekend, a friend of mine was telling me about an encounter with a guy she’s had a crush on for years. A fireman…he’s hot, sexy, tall, sculpted, delicious and a great guy to boot. He’s also married. She said that while they were catching up, he was continuously twirling his wedding ring and that caught her attention. To her, his body language was sending signals that she read as “I might be married but I am available and interested.”

That got me thinking, what messages does my body language give off? Do I play with my wedding rings when talking to people? If I do, do people think this means I am unhappily married? Because nothing could be further from the truth.

Wikipedia defines body language as a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements and we send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously. A variety of research estimates that anywhere between 60 to 93 percent of all meaning is derived from our body language.

Yikes. That’s pretty steep. It makes me more self-conscious as to what kind of subtle messages I might be unintentionally putting out to the world without even really realizing it. According to About.com, my two most comfortable ways of standing are likely giving off the wrong impression:

  • Crossed arms might indicate that a person is feeling defensive, self-protective or closed-off.
  • Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control, or it can also possibly be a sign of aggressiveness.

For me, typically it’s a matter of comfort or warmth. In situations like networking or meeting new people, I feel awkward standing with my arms dangling at my side (and I am almost always cold) so crossing them or putting them on my hips is most comfortable. Honestly, I didn’t think there was anything else to it but it sounds like people may perceive me to be defensive, closed-off, and even aggressive – oops. Not great impressions to make when networking.

And then there is the handshake. This one probably sets up our first impression and a weak or overtly strong handshake can make or break it. I have always prided myself on having a great handshake. My hand held vertical and neutral, with a firm yet not “break your hand” squeeze, and I always follow through with lots of sincere eye contact. When someone reciprocates with a tea-cup or a bone crusher, I just want to scream, sit them down, and teach them how to do it right. Major pet peeve. It totally gives a terrible impression of them either being weak and passive or arrogant and controlling.

Check out this video on the ten types of handshakes out there with instructions on how to get it just right:

On wedding ring twirling, I found out my friend may have actually interpreted him correctly. Patti Wood, a body language expert, wrote on her blog that if a person twists their wedding ring as they are talking to you it typically means they are attracted to you and they are aware of the bond they are under and have a desire to ignore that bond.

Interesting. Here on out, I will certainly make sure I am not twirling mine inadvertently.

I do think there is some truth to body language and non-verbal cues. I can see how a basic understanding of do’s and don’ts would be useful to ensure that my non-verbal cues match my verbal ones and my intentions; especially in professional or networking situations where I may not have the opportunity to fully impart my “winning” personality! I want to ensure that people are left with the right impression.

How aware are you of what your body language is saying? Ever been misconceived by your body language?

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