“Conventional and scientific knowledge suggests that somewhere around 93% of all communication is nonverbal, whether in tone, vocal inflection, appearance, body language, facial expression, gestures, and so on.”
Motivational Monday: Body Language Tricks To Appear and Become More Confident and Attractive
19 min read
We talk a pretty good deal on this podcast and blog about how appearance and wealth aren’t everything. Yet at the same time, we also talk a lot about how some of these seemingly vain pursuits are actually really valuable advantages in your first impressions and the effect you have on people, which can mean more success in interviews, speeches, making friends, dating, and beyond. Today we’re going to focus on body language, because conventional and scientific knowledge suggests that somewhere around 93% of all communication is nonverbal, whether in tone, vocal inflection, appearance, body language, facial expression, gestures, and so on.
If we assume that those findings are overshooting it significantly, we can still safely say more than half of the message and energy you put out in the world isn’t coming from your actual words or blatant actions. In fact, body language and posture alone is known to be a significantly considered piece of who a robber or assailant decides to victimize, so not only can confident body language improve your life and happiness, but it might even save it. So, with a better understanding of what your body language is communicating, you’ll be able to better take control of what the people around you think, and yes, even if you think you are unattractive or even ugly, putting good body language practices into motion will make you more confident and attractive to other people. I will tell you myself right off the bat that I am not at all a “10,” I’m not a tall guy, not exceptionally muscular or handsome or anything like that, I wouldn’t say I’m ugly either but the big thing really is that I make some effort to work with what I have, and back in my dating days one of the most common pieces of feedback or compliments I’d get from ladies was that confidence was a major point of attraction. Of course confidence is a lot of things and here on the podcast and blog we cover a lot of confidence basics and will continue to, but without any further ado let’s today talk about how we can affect our actual and perceived confidence physically with good body language practices.
1. Remind Yourself to Breathe and Talk Deep – I don’t necessarily mean talk deep as in walking around trying to engage people in “meaning of life” conversations, but rather to actually inhale and exhale from deeper and lower within your body rather than shallow. This is something you can try right now. Take a big powerful breath in which your chest and stomach actually expand. Notice that this is somewhat difficult to do if you’re slouched over. Breathing deep will make your voice come out with more command, and unless you make an effort to stay hunched over, it will help you automatically keep your shoulders back a bit and your back a bit straighter, which will communicate confidence to others even if deep down in that particular situation you aren’t feeling particularly confident.
2. Avoid Poor Anterior Head Carriage – Do a quick Google search of “anterior head carriage” and you’ll find examples of heads lurched forward, curving the upper spine and neck and rounding the shoulders. This is probably the most obvious body language trick that everyone is familiar with, yet many people don’t use it to their advantage, and I doubt those people are dealing with a medical condition that prevents them from keeping a straight upper back and head. Not only does walking around with hunched posture look unattractive and communicate meekness, but it’s actually really hard on your body, extending and contracting muscles throughout your entire torso in ways that can cause discomfort and over time more serious medical conditions. If you already have poor posture and don’t know how to fix it, you can actually buy a foam roller and lay on it vertically so it follows your spine, with your shoulders hanging back off of it. You can do this a few minutes a day to begin to correct your posture, and you can test progress by standing up against a wall with your heels and butt touching the wall, gauging how far away your head is from also being able to touch the wall. If you simply forget to sit with good posture at the desk all day, you can get a small travel foam roller or some similar vertical foam object and sit it up between you and the chair. This not only generally feels pretty good, but it’s a pretty quick check for gradually worsening posture because if you lean forward or off to one side, the foam roller threatens to fall down or out of the chair. This one is more a matter of building a habit than it is anything else, so coming up with tricks like these can help improve your posture which is one of the easiest ways to go from looking defensive and meek to brazen and confident.
3. Avoid Closed Posture – This is one I have to remind myself of all the time, because I do many of these things automatically and they may be a subconscious reflection of my brain’s desire to close off a bit, as I do actually lean toward introversion especially in settings where I’m meeting multiple new people and it isn’t in a business context. Crossing your arms, crossing your legs, or even crossing your hands or locking a hand on a wrist in front of you are all forms of closed body posture and these things can communicate a mental and emotional “closedness” that others are likely to interpret as discomfort, uncertainty, coldness, over-seriousness, or disinterest. Just like I do, if you catch yourself doing this, especially when interacting with someone new, it’s important to remind yourself to keep a more open body posture. Hands at your sides, in your pockets, on the table in front of you, behind your back, interlacing your fingers in your lap rather than directly in front of you, or even placing a hand on the other person at times, depending on the context, are some examples of ways to maintain more open body posture that will communicate welcoming, comfort, warmth, and confidence. Of course, if you are already in a position of power, such as a CEO in a boardroom meeting, closed body posture like crossed arms can actually convey control and confidence, and though it’s unlikely to make anyone love you at first sight, it could actually work in your favor as a way to seem steady, skeptical, and even intimidating. For most people, in most contexts, this isn’t a desirable communication, so open body posture is preferable.
4. Be Aware of Your Hands – One thing that people often don’t think consciously about is how their hands are communicating. Yes, some people are animated talkers and their hands are flying about while they speak, but this is often not done automatically, and you might even notice that people who are doing this, but with enough control as not to let their hands become distracting, very often come off as confident, knowledgeable, or charming. In fact, one of the most powerful body languages moves is called steepling your fingers, which is where you create a steeple with your hands by touching your fingertips to each other and pointing your hands to the sky. This is an extremely confident and powerful way to communicate, but needs to be used in proper contexts because if used incorrectly or if used too often, steepling your fingers can actually come across as somewhat diabolical, like a villain explaining the genius of a cunning and devastating master plan. With your hands, you should aim to avoid excessively touching your face, playing with or twirling your hair, or rubbing your hands together, as these all communicate stress, discomfort, or fear of some kind. Avoid nail biting, as anyone catching you nail biting is likely to interpret the behavior as stress-induced, and even if they don’t see you doing it, they may look at your nails and notice that you’ve shortened them to the middle of your fingertips, which will still communicate to them that you are a stressed-out nail-biter. Hands are also powerful because they are used in touch, and very often when we interact, there is some touch involved. A handshake is an example of nonverbal communication that tells you a lot — just look at how many people were breaking down Donald Trump’s domineering “yank” handshake at the start of his presidency. Having a vice grip or a “yank” can communicate cockiness and desire to dominate rather than confidence and mutual respect. Having a weak, “dead fish” handshake can communicate a lack of confidence, fear, or even poor manners, which some may go as far as to internalize automatically as a sign of bad upbringing or poor learning skills, and can certainly color the entire interaction following the weak handshake. It is important in touch scenarios to mirror the other person – match their handshake and match their level of intimate or prosocial touch.
5. Mirroring – Mirroring body language is something that many people do automatically. Next time you’re in a meeting at work or a restaurant, watch how people are sitting. Very often, you’ll see multiple people in the same group leaning back, leaning in, crossing their left leg over their right, and so forth. This is an evolutionarily important behavior in humans because it communicates unity, similarity, and understanding, which nearly everyone values and appreciates in the people they are around. It’s important to note that while you can do this consciously to your advantage, just like the other tricks, context is important. If you’re talking to the CEO of your company and mirroring their body language, you may over-communicate that you are equal to them when, in that context, you aren’t, and thus you may come off as arrogant. You also have to be aware not to abuse mirroring — if you’re out on a date and begin copying every change of posture your date makes, they may begin to notice that you’re imitating them and become uncomfortable, suspicious, or even call you out on copying their every movement, which can undoubtedly kill the moment.
6. Smile With Your Eyes, and Smile Often – Most people can spot a fake smile, but very often they don’t know why they can do so with decent accuracy. This was something I actually recall a psychology professor doing with all of the students in a lecture hall, and a majority of people were able to spot the fake smiles in projected photographs showing many different types of smiles, yet most were unsure why. As it turns out, the clear difference is that genuine smiles actually involve different sets of muscles that cause the eyes to squint, creating “crow’s feet” at the corners of the eyes. This is actually called a “Duchenne smile” after the French physician who discovered this dichotomy between genuine and fake smiles. Genuine smiles also engage muscles that tend to hide your bottom teeth, so paying attention to whether the bottom row of teeth are visible is another cue to spot a fake smile. When you greet others and interact with them, ideally you are able to smile genuinely as often as possible, but even when you are smiling or laughing more than you might want to — as is pretty common on dates and in interviews — you should be well-practiced in making the smile appear genuine by learning to smile with your eyes. If you’re like me and have a bit of “RBF” or “Resting B* Face” it may be worthwhile to practice smiling in front of a mirror, as those of us with a natural “RBF” may be really thrilled to see or meet someone but still fail to communicate that with our faces. In addition to smiling genuinely, it’s important to remember to smile often. People love other people who are infectiously positive and friendly. We love people who make us feel good about ourselves, and smiling and laughing is one of the key ways we communicate fondness for each other. Watch interviews with hyper-charismatic individuals like Will Smith, Chris Pratt, and Jennifer Lawrence; these individuals demonstrate many attractive and prosocial behaviors but one big thing you will notice is that these individuals smile and laugh a lot, particularly when other people are talking, and that one thing alone is neatly enough to make them seem electrically desirable to be around.
7. Eye Contact – The last thing we’re going to cover today is eye contact. Yes, eye contact is part of body language, and for me, this is the hardest one on the list, this is the one that comes the least naturally to me. I think part of this is tending toward introversion despite being confident and despite working in sales, but I think it’s also due in part to the fact that I grew up in a Japanese household, and in Japanese culture excessive eye contact, especially with superiors, can be seen as rude, arrogant, or deferential. However, in the U.S. and many other countries, darting your eyes around or looking down during an interaction can be considered rude, disinterested, or downright lacking confidence. In fact, a hallmark characteristic of autism spectrum disorders is difficulty making or maintaining eye contact, which in some cultures like Japan might not as much be seen as a “symptom” or “byproduct” in a negative sense as it is here in the U.S. It is paramount that you make eye contact especially when introducing yourself to someone new — imagine you’re in a group and a guy walks over and introduces himself to you, extends his hand for a handshake, and immediately as you shake his hand, he looks away and begins addressing someone across the room or introducing himself to the person next to you. Just short of greeting someone at a networking event by slapping them in the face, this uncommitted use of eye contact is one of the most off-putting things that can happen in a first interaction, and it’s very likely that even just imagining the scenario a moment ago was enough to get your blood boiling an extra degree or two. Similarly, looking around the room or at your shoes during a date or interview will automatically make everything else you do and say come across as anywhere from totally unsure to totally shady. At the same time, you have to maintain a balance; direct, intense, unwavering, eye contact is going to be pretty uncomfortable for most people, so it’s important to know how to identify appropriate moments to break eye contact, which used intelligently can communicate deeper thought about what the other person is saying or what you’re in the process of saying. Eye contact is especially important when you are listening to someone, as darting your eyes to things in the surrounding environment — especially other people — will look like you are trying to escape the conversation rather than dive deeper. For me, this is the aspect that has required the most deliberate practice, because I tend to be sensitive to what’s happening in my environment and will feel compelled to take note of someone walking by, a passing car, or a conversation happening behind me, even though 9 times out of 10, a mutually involved one-on-one conversation is smack dab in my comfort zone. It has taken some practice in mindfulness for me to remind myself to make sure my eyes are not betraying my actual level of interest and listening, so if you are in a similar camp, know that this, just like the other tricks listed, is a practicable skill.