Want to appear taller and more powerful in your next meeting? Sit a handspan from the table.
5 min read
There’s a reason “The Room Where It Happens” is one of Broadway hit Hamilton’s standout songs: the track’s theme — longing to be included among key decision-makers in the place in which decisions are made — is timeless.
The right type of body language can help get you into that room.
Confident body language is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: The more you project success, competence and resources, the more those things will likely be awarded to you. As far as the body language you want to present, making it a habit is vital. Just as important is spending time in the same vicinity as the people with the power to help you reach your goals — and projecting confidence to them, said Mark Bowden, author of Winning Body Language and other books on the subject. Being in the right place at the right time with the right people is the best way to use your body language to supercharge your goals.
Whether you’ve got your eyes set on a raise, partnership, promotion or any other new business opportunity, here are five body language tips to help get you there.
Take advantage of your full height.
Four or five inches in height — in other words, the difference between the 25th percentile and the 75th — could translate to a salary increase of 9 to 15 percent, according to research published in 2015. Though you can’t grow taller by sheer force of will, you can make use of every inch you’ve got by standing (and sitting) tall.
“Power, status and confidence are nonverbally displayed through the use of height and space,” said Carol Kinsey Goman, creator of the LinkedIn Learning course “Body Language for Leaders.”
Don’t be afraid to take up space.
If you’re looking to add a few more notches to your perceived height, make a habit of taking up more space: Stand up and move around when presenting in a meeting, hook your elbow on the back of your chair while seated or spread out your belongings on the conference table, Goman said.
Another strategy: Sit a handspan from the table in meetings and negotiations, Bowden said. You’ll appear taller because others in the room will be able to see more of you, and when you reach out to take something from the table, such as a notepad or glass of water, your arm will stretch out further — resulting in the perception that you’re taking up more space. For better or worse, our built-in instincts tell us that big is more powerful than small, Bowden said. People tend to award higher salaries, honor and resources to those they perceive as more powerful.
Don’t discount the power of a smile and eye contact.
Want to be memorable? Break out a toothy grin. Research published in 2015 suggests that “socially positive signals conveyed by smiling faces” may prompt people’s memory of both the person they met and the meeting’s context — especially if they perceived both of those factors as positive. Smiling at someone also often triggers them to return the gesture — and that muscle movement, in turn, can positively impact their emotional state.
And it may be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it’s oft-repeated for a reason: Eye contact projects confidence. Aim to maintain eye contact for 50 to 60 percent of the time you speak with someone, Goman said. Here’s a strategy to help you build the habit: When starting a conversation, look into the other person’s eyes for long enough to note their color.
Talk with your hands.
People perceive quality leaders to be calm and assertive, and there’s a type of body language that denotes those qualities: open-handed gestures at navel height. This movement inherently suggests that you’re honest with nothing to hide, and it also projects trust, credibility, confidence and calm, Bowden said — all before you’ve even opened your mouth to speak.
An oft-cited piece of research published in 2007 focuses in on Broca’s area, an area of the brain associated with speech production, and suggests that making hand gestures while speaking can play an important cognitive role for both a speaker and a listener. For the former, it can aid in “semantic retrieval and selection,” or choosing which words to use and why. Goman, an executive coach, said that when her clients incorporated gestures into their speeches, their speech content improved and their use of “filler words” decreased.
Identify your common nervous gestures, then work to break those habits.
Whether it’s twirling your hair, wagging your foot, rolling your neck or fidgeting with your hands, you likely have a go-to nervous tic (and if you’re unsure what it is, your peers can likely point you in the right direction). Repetitive anxious behavior often takes away from the image you’re trying to portray: a calm, cool and collected leader.
To reset your body language and project confidence, take a deep breath and practice being still, Goman said. There’s a good chance that practicing meditation can help that feel more natural, and there are a host of apps out there for beginners who want to dip a toe in the water.