The interpretation of body language is a much-studied area, and the ability to be able to 'read' another person's postures or gestures is a great skill to have, both in business and in personal matters. But have you ever thought how you could use your own body language to maximum effect?
Adopting certain postures, gestures and facial expressions could help to make you appear happier, more relaxed and more confident. And that's something you could put to good use in any number of situations, from job interviews and presentations to social occasions.
Scientists also believe that adopting positive body language can have an effect on your brain. So if you practise happy and confident body language, it may actually make you feel more cheerful and self-assured.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your body language.
It goes without saying that if you stand with your shoulders hunched and your head down, it may not be easy to persuade others that you're outgoing and positive. Standing up straight, on the other hand, can make you appear relaxed and sure of yourself.
Body language experts also believe so-called power poses or power postures can help boost your confidence by increasing your levels of hormones such as cortisol and testosterone. If you have a situation coming up where you need to feel confident and energised, try standing tall with your head high, shoulders back and spread your arms out or upwards beforehand.
Alternatively, try adopting the star power pose, where you stand tall with your arms and legs spread out wide (the idea is to take up as much space as possible, as opposed to occupying a small space where your arms and legs are close to your body).
Find a place where you can have some privacy and keep holding the pose for a minute or two to experience a step up in your confidence level.
Similarly, slouching while sitting won't do your image any favours. The ideal sitting position if you want to make a positive impression is relaxed and open, with both feet flat on the floor or your legs crossed at the ankles (avoid crossing your legs higher up or resting one leg or ankle on your other knee). Keep your shoulders down and your arms away from your body. If the chair you're sitting in has armrests, use them - it may make you appear more energetic and upbeat.
Another advantage of sitting up straight is that it may help make you feel at ease and put you in a good mood, thanks to the way the posture affects your brain.
Psychologists believe that even when you don't feel cheerful, smiling can put you in a better mood because of the way it changes your brain chemistry. They also think smiling when faced with a difficult situation may help you feel more happy and confident - which may help generate more energy to help you deal with the situation effectively.
Smiling may also make people around you feel happier too - just don't overdo it, or you may come across as unbalanced.
On the other hand, frowning can affect your thinking and emotional processes negatively, which may convince your brain that you're facing difficulties.
Use your hands
Experts believe using expressive hand gestures may help in two ways. It may boost your thought processes, helping you to solve problems more efficiently. And it may make you seem more effective; scientists writing in the journal Language and Cognitive Processes discovered speakers using hand gestures were perceived by others as more composed and competent than those who kept their hands still.
Meanwhile, if you're not a natural gesticulator, just keep your hands open and in view, rather than trying to hide them away.
To make a positive impression, always keep good eye contact. If you're in a situation where you're talking to several people - such as in a job interview -make eye contact with everyone (keep eye contact with the person asking you a question, but look directly at the others from time to time as well).
You may also appear more attentive if you keep your eyes wide open (that is, by avoiding squinting). Experts believe keeping your eyes wide open doesn't just make you look as if you're listening carefully, it sends signals to your brain that may help you absorb what you're hearing more effectively.
What to avoid
While there are several ways to appear more positive where body language is concerned, there are also things to avoid if you don't want to appear negative or less confident. These include obvious postures such as folding your arms, which may make you appear defensive, or slouching in your chair, which can make you look unprofessional or nervous.
Other things that can signal nervousness include waving your hands and arms around too much, or moving your legs frequently when you're sitting. Also avoid narrowing your eyes, which may be interpreted as a lack of interest.
Find out about other ways to boost your self-confidence by reading our online guide.