Body language for executives: 10 tips for the right effect


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The ability to inspire and positively influence people is one of the defining traits of successful leaders. The right body language is an important aspect. What should managers pay attention to?

Executive Body Language: 10 Tips for the Right Impact Body Language for Executives: 10 Tips for the Right Impact


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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisher, German Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.

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Body language: especially important for executives

The opinion is still valid in many places: above all the achievement counts. And especially with executives. The fact that appearance and body language have a decisive effect on the success of the leadership is often enough forgotten.

Therefore, while many executives prepare for key employees or conversations with customers, meetings or presentations so that they appear credible and convincing, their own demeanor is often ignored.

Mirror neurons and their influence on others

Let us think only once of the "mirror neurons" of the brain, which not only mimic behaviors, but also sensations and feelings. If we are denied this interpersonal information and we are forced to rely only on the printed or spoken word, all communication suffers.

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This explains why body language has a decisive influence on your impact as a leader. Because in order to convince and influence people, it is not enough to convincingly present content. People also need to feel that the leader is empathetic, inspiring and trustworthy. And the use of personal space, physical gestures, posture, facial expression and eye contact plays an important role. The body language can therefore significantly improve your effect as a leader, but also weaken or even sabotage.

The confidence of the employees arises through congruence between words and deeds

The trust that is so important to leaders also comes through a congruence between what they say and their body language. If both do not match, people subconsciously perceive insecurity or internal conflict. This can also be measured by brain waves, as the neuroscientists of Colgate University found:

They examined the effects of gestures by using an electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure “event-related potentials” - brain waves that form peaks and valleys.

Incongruent body language creates problems

One of these valleys emerged when the subjects were shown opposing gestures. The same brainwave dip, the technical term, also occurs on 0 when people hear nonsensical speech.

It follows that whenever your body language does not fit your words, for example, when you are looking around or fidgeting anxiously, while you want to convey confidence or open-mindedness with folded arms, this endeavor will probably fail.

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10 body language tips for executives

Here are five key tips every executive should know about body language:

  1. The first impression counts: You have no second chance for a first impression. It may not be that blatant, but in fact you have less than seven seconds to make a first impression. From then on, this impression acts like a filter for the perception of the other. In other words, if someone has classified you as “trustworthy”, “suspicious”, “powerful” or “submissive”, then from now on all your actions will also be considered through this filter. If someone has trusted you, they will look for the best in you. However, if you are suspicious, all your actions are suspicious.
  2. The right attitude for your appearance: But what can you do to make an optimal impression? First, adjust your mental attitude. Before you greet a customer, enter the conference room for a business meeting, or go to the stage to give a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious decision about the attitude you want to embody.
  3. The right attitude for executives: Just as important: Pay attention to your attitude, because this can not only decisively influence the way in which other people perceive you, but also your own way of thinking and feeling. Research by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows that posture expansiveness, which positions itself in such a way that it opens up the body and takes up space, activates a behavior of power that causes behavior changes in a person, regardless of his actual behavior Rank or role in an organization. Three other studies show that posture is more than hierarchy when it comes to getting a person to think, act and be perceived in a more powerful way.
  4. Smile: Smile is a positive signal whose potential is often underused by executives. A smile is an invitation that signals friendliness and openness to your employees or business partners. But beware: In some contexts smiles can also be rated aggressively, just think of the superior winning smile.
  5. Make eye contact: The eyes are the mirror of the soul, it is said, therefore, the eyes of a man show his energy and openness. Most people feel comfortable with eye contact, which lasts about three seconds, but when we like or agree with someone, we automatically increase the time we spend looking them in the eye. When you make eye contact and lean forward slightly show that you are committed and interested. At the same time, keep a reasonable distance from other people in business.
  6. Interpret handshake - shake hands: Handshake is also an important tool for managers when it comes to their perception. All we have to do is remember the handshake between US President Trump and French President Macron. In this case, both wanted to signal power and perseverance. Otherwise, the handshake is the fastest and most effective way to connect to a person. This should be firm, boar no bone fractures. Studies show that it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of relationship that can be achieved with a single handshake.
  7. Gesturing - but right: If you want to sweep away and convince people, you need passion. And passionate people often back up your words with suitable gestures. The right movements are therefore essential for the effectiveness of a manager. Science shows that audiences tend to be more positive about people who use a wider variety of gestures. Because studies show that people who communicate through active gestures tend to be rated as warm, pleasant and energetic, while those who stand still or whose gestures appear mechanical or “wooden” are considered cold. By the way: Even people who let their hands hang limply or enclose your body defensively give the impression of a lack of passion. Therefore, if you want to generate enthusiasm among your listeners, you can reinforce the gestures. But be careful, not too much: especially if your hands are raised over your shoulders, exaggerated gestures can quickly make a manager look less credible and powerful.
  8. Show hands visible: The open pointing of the hands is as an evolutionary signal deeply rooted in our subconscious mind. Because in the Stone Age one made survival decisions, which were based exclusively on visual information. If a human's hands were invisible, he would have been able to carry a weapon earlier. Therefore, invisible hands still cause discomfort and cost executives confidence in this way.
  9. Do not point your finger: Recently in my circle of acquaintances someone posted a picture of themselves on Facebook during a speech in which he pointed to audience with finger. That should probably mean dominance, but seemed to me rather irritating. Aggressive finger pointing may indicate that a leader has lost control of the situation. At least the gesture looks more like parental scolding and therefore rather ridiculous than dominant.
  10. Grounded gestures: Arms held at waist height and gestures within this horizontal plane help executives - and the audience - to feel centered and relaxed. Arms at the waist and flexed to an 45 degree angle also help keep you grounded, energized, and focused.

Conclusion: use body language correctly as a leader

Decisive for your impact as a leader is how you use your body language for your impact - this is even more true in times of fast-paced digital communication in which the personal impression gains more value again. And it is indispensable for executives.

Personal conversations as the key to success

Personal conversations are the key to positive employee and customer relationships. Only in personal encounters do people receive all the information they need for a comprehensive impression - and in addition to words, they also include all emotional nuances such as voice tone, speech tempo, facial expression and much more.

Conversely, executives rely on immediate feedback to gauge how well their comments are received.

Strong relationships through nonverbal communication

The nonverbal connection between individuals is sometimes even so strong that when we are in genuine relationship with someone, we unconsciously compare our body positions, movements and even our breathing rhythms with those of them.

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If people disagree with your boss's suggestion, leaders need to be able to see what's happening - and respond quickly. Good body language skills can help to present ideas with more credibility and your personal Charisma to present authentically. In this way, body language competence becomes part of the personal brand of an executive.


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