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?

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisherGerman 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 behavior, 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 investigated 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: They don't have a second chance for a first impression. It might not be that blatant, but in fact you have less than seven seconds to make a first impression. Because this impression then acts like a filter for the other person's perception. This means that if someone has classified you as “trustworthy”, “suspicious”, “powerful” or “submissive”, all of your actions will from now on also be viewed through this filter. When someone has trusted you, he or she will look for the best in you. But if you are distrusted, all your actions are initially suspect.
  2. The right attitude for your appearance: But what can you do to make the best possible impression? First adjust your mental attitude. Before greeting a client, entering the conference room for a business meeting, or going on 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 posture, because this can not only have a decisive influence on the way other people perceive you, but also your own way of thinking and feeling. Research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows that posture expansiveness, which positions itself to open the body and take up space, activates power behaviors that induce behavioral changes in a person regardless of their actual behavior Rank or role in an organization. Three other studies show that attitude is more than hierarchy when it comes to getting a person to think, act, and be perceived in a more powerful way.
  4. Smile: Smiling is a positive signal, the potential of which is often not used sufficiently by managers. A smile is an invitation that signals friendliness and openness to your employees or business partners. But be careful: in some contexts, smiles can also be rated as aggressive, just think of the superior smile of the winner.
  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 underline your words with appropriate 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 level and gestures within this horizontal plane help executives - and the audience - feel centered and serene. Arms at the waist and bent at a 45-degree angle also help keep you grounded, energized, and focused.

Conclusion: use body language correctly as a leader

How you use your body language for your impact is decisive for your effectiveness as a manager - this applies all the more in times of fast-moving digital communication, in which your personal impression gains more value. And it is absolutely essential for managers.

Personal conversations as the key to success

Because personal discussions are the key to positive employee and customer relationships. Only in personal encounters do people receive all the information they need to get a comprehensive impression - and in addition to words, this also includes all emotional nuances such as voice tone, speaking speed, 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, managers need to be able to see what’s happening - and be able to respond quickly. Good body language skills can help present ideas with more credibility and your own Charisma to present authentically. In this way, body language competence becomes part of the personal brand of an executive.


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