Body Language and Leadership—How to Make a Good First Impression

A big part of leading effectively is the ability to positively interact with and influence others. Whether it’s your team, your clients, staff members, or even those in your personal life, it’s important to focus on how you communicate with those around you.

Maybe you have the verbal communication down, but do you know what cues you are giving off with your body language? What your body says can contradict the words coming out of your mouth or bolster your credibility and trustworthiness with others.

Here are some things every single leader should know about body language.

First Impressions

As you already know, first impressions are so important when it comes to business or sales interactions. Fair or not, those you meet only need about seven seconds to form an opinion—positive or negative—about you. Some studies even indicate that it takes one tenth of a second. Talk about a snap judgement!

What do others see upon first meeting you? Do you come across as trustworthy? Suspicious? Submissive? Likeable? Powerful?

There is no way to stop people from making quick determinations about the type of person you are, but you can stack the odds in your favor. Here’s how:

Maintain eye contact. When you make eye contact with someone, you are showing openness and trustworthiness. Looking around or down frequently can make others feel as if you are disinterested, disconnected, or not trustworthy.

Smile. And not the fake, cheesy kind of smile. We’re talking about the “Duchenne smile,” which is when your mouth is turned up and the muscles around the outside of your eyes form crow’s feet. In other words, a genuine smile.

Check your attitude. Before meeting a client, coworker, or the like, take note of your attitude. Make the proper adjustments in order to project the type of attitude you want to convey in a given situation.

Be mindful of posture. Do you want to appear more powerful? Avoid crossing your arms and/or legs or keeping a closed position. Instead, practice postural expansiveness by standing/sitting tall and positioning yourself in a way that takes up space and opens up your body. This gives the impression that you are more powerful, regardless of your role in an organization.

Lean forward. Leaning in slightly during a conversation tells others that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Of course, be sure not to lean in too close—that can make people uncomfortable. In a business situation, two feet is a good distance.

Engage in an appropriate handshake. In the era of COVID, we are not shaking hands as much as we used to. But, when life returns to some semblance of normal, handshakes will likely return as a vehicle to quickly building rapport. Be sure to shake hands firmly—not too hard and not like a limp noodle. You should try to match firmness with the person whose hand you are shaking, and palms should touch.

Non-Verbal Facial Cues

As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Here are some important non-verbal facial signals to be mindful of (in yourself and others) whether you are meeting with someone in person or even over video conference:

Eye Signals:

  • Eye gaze/eye contact shows interest or agreement. Lack of eye contact portrays distraction, disagreement, or uncomfortableness.
  • Pupil dilation can signal interest or excitement.
  • Blinking frequently can signal distress or discomfort.
  • Slight eyebrow raising can indicate openness and interest.

Mouth Signals:

  • Covering the mouth can be done to disguise an emotional reaction, such as a frown or smirk.
  • Pursed lips can signal distrust or disapproval.
  • Lip biting can show anxiousness, worry, or stress.
  • Subtle mouth changes like a slight smile or frown show a reaction to the topic at hand.

By paying attention to our own body language, as well as that of others we are interacting with, we can make sure that our verbal and non-verbal communication skills match up. This, in turn, will lead to better overall communication and trust-building with others.

Do you want to learn more about effective communication skills for yourself or your leadership team? Contact Leadership Excellence to learn how we can help you communicate more effectively and grow as a leader.