Body language: Make the best impression

Photo by Barry Pousman, Flickr

I’m always intrigued when I see articles online about body language. The other night I happened to see a link to this post on msn: The Best Body Language for Every Situation

It starts like this:

“When it comes to facing a tense situation, you may have learned the right words to smooth things over and appear confident—but what about your body language? The way you sit, stand or gesture can be a giveaway of how you really feel. To guarantee the best impression possible, make sure your speech—and body—send the right signals. Whether you’re asking your boss for a raise or meeting the in-laws for the first time, read on to learn the right physical cues to use.”

The article is by Woman’s Day and features the advice of several experts who deal with movement in a variety of ways (like a former U.S. Army interrogator and a psychotherapist). I am always really excited about articles that remind people of the importance of their “body language.” I also whole-heartedly believe this statement: “The way you sit, stand, or gesture can be a giveaway of how you really feel.”

Yes! Our movement reveals so much—often more than we realize. I mean, how many of us have seen a friend who tells you they are “fine” despite the fact that their movement reveals sadness, anger, or frustration? Movement has the power to trump our words, letting the cat out of the bag so to speak, by revealing some pretty raw emotions.

Of course, movement can also be quite reluctant. I think of the poker champs who know how to use their movement to mask any emotions. Rather than using their body “language” to communicate, their movement becomes a barrier to their thoughts and feelings.

Send the “right” signals.

The thing that I would be hesitant to fully endorse about this article is some of the methods for “sending the right signals.” The truth is movement is so complex. And no matter how much people want to believe that  *this particular action* translates into *this specific statement*, movement’s meaning is influenced by many factors including the context of the situation, personal habits, culture, and even small things like the temperature or clothing being worn. (Maybe those crossed arms are a sign she’s cold rather than disinterested…)

Tips like “show you are engaged by nodding as they speak” or “lean forward to show interest and tilt your head to emphasize it” may help you be perceived as engaged or interested. But as the article first states, the way we move reveals how we really feel. If we aren’t actually engaged, concentrating on outside actions may just make our movement look forced, awkward, dishonest, or practiced.

Make the best impression.

Yes, we can improve our relationships, interviews, and impressions through our movement. But rather than masking our feelings with trite gestures or “rules of thumb” what we really need is to focus on matching our movement to our feelings. If you want to look engaged, BE engaged!

Of course if it were that easy there would be no need for these types of articles. Movement is extremely personal and subtle. If you struggle to make that first impression despite an earnest and sincere interest in the other person it’s very likely that you have some elements in your movement signature that are disconnected from your intentions. These are often seen in the form of habitual holding patterns or perpetual Effort configurations. They are also often a result of connectivity issues in the body.

Laban Movement Analysis is a tool that helps us understand our relationship to our own movement profile as well as how it relates to a larger context of cultural “norms.” Movement is deeply embedded in our life and usually takes a lot of time to understand and refine. But, placing a figurative band aid over your movement insecurities by trying to “look” like one thing is a short term fix at best and a recipe for awkwardness or insincerity as worst.

So what can you do?

Learn about your movement.

Ask your friends for feedback on your movement or posture. Does your posture, gestures, or other movement “say” something you are not aware of?  Before you can make changes, you need to know what you are already doing. Remember to be open and realize that your movement isn’t always a reflection of the person you are inside.

Explore movement possibilities.

Take a dance class, learn yoga, try martial arts, or sign up for an acting class. Learning movement through any medium will improve your body knowledge. As you enhance your coordination, open up dynamic possibilities, and expand your movement vocabulary you body will have more opportunities to express itself.

Go deeper.

Find an LMA workshop or practitioner who can really help you get to the essence of your movement signature. Even if you don’t have anyone nearby, many analysts are even willing to help through video feedback.

What do you have to lose? Or better yet, what do you have to gain!?

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Post Written by
Robin is a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA) and a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT). With an MFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah, a BA in Dance from Brigham Young University, and years of both private and higher education teaching under her belt, Robin brings an expansive view of movement and the human body to her work.
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