Forget trying to fake your face. You can’t do it. Not according to Dr. Paul Ekman, who has been studying facial expressions for more than 40 years among cultures all over the world. (You may have seen the TV series Lie to Me, which is based on his work.) Facial expressions are created with more than 52 facial muscles; these morph into more than 5,000 expressions that signal others about what’s going on inside your mind.
Consider the following examples of negative body language that may diminish you. At best, the various gestures may reveal secrets you don’t want to communicate.
I’m Nervous; I Need Reassurance
Some gestures show signs of inward stress. They relieve tension building up on the inside: smoking rituals, gum-chewing, nail-biting, finger-tapping, foot-tapping or -shuffling, hair-tossing, sleeve-adjusting, watch-band adjusting, lint-picking, ring-twisting, knuckle-cracking, button-adjusting, coffee-cup shuffling, leg twining around each other, hugging yourself (one arm grasping the other and hugging it tightly to the trunk of the body), hands rubbing neck, holding your own hands in front of you or behind you (in imitation of having a parent hold your hand).
When you stand to speak or walk, a few more gestures scream “I lack confidence”: pacing, waving your hands frantically and randomly, crossing one or both arms across the chest for protection, locking your arms behind your back, clasping your hands tightly in front of or behind you. Some people clutch props such as a handbag, portfolio, or file folder in front of themselves for protection as they walk nervously in front of a group.
The universally recognized gesture of arrogance is the raised chin. We frequently hear the cliché, “She walked by with her nose in the air.” It signifies a smug attitude. Jutting your chin out at someone says, “I see you and recognize you, but I’m not bothering to speak.”
The sarcastic eye roll or eye shrug as in “whatever” so typically delivered from teens to their parents conveys boredom, sarcasm, frustration, or lack of respect.
I’m Lying Now, So You Can’t Trust Other Things I Say Either
Consider some small lies tactful (such as responses to “How do you like my haircut?”). Other lies lead to growing doubt for important messages, and over time they diminish trust and personal credibility. So what are the signs of lying? Sweating. Flushing. Increased swallowing. Irregular breathing. Hand-to-mouth and hand-to-nose touching. Either frequent blinking or a stare (the opposite of what’s typical for the person). A frozen face (an attempt to be expressionless and not give away any secrets).
I’d Rather Flirt Than Talk Business
Whether subconsciously or intentionally, women suggest their femaleness by glancing over a raised shoulder. Or, they dip their head to the side and peep upward. This head tilt is a submissive gesture that makes a person look smaller and more vulnerable. When women feel attracted, they often expose the inside of their wrist and display the silky smooth skin there.
When men feel attracted, they proudly hang their thumbs over their waist-band to frame their frontal area, as if to say, “Look at me.” Women often add the pelvic tilt to this hands-on-hip gesture (think fashion model on the catwalk) to say, “Look at me!”
Body language always trumps words. Make sure your body doesn’t betray you.
Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 45 books, published in 25 countries and 19 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication. www.booher.com