Body Language Basics Part I – Conveying Confidence and Authority


There was an Air Force General Officer I used to work with that taught me everything I ever needed to know about how to use your body to convey authority. He never actually taught me anything, at least not directly. Rather, he just carried himself in a way that, if you were observant, you could learn all there was to know.

See, he was (and still is) about 5’ 7”, maybe 5’ 8” after a good night’s sleep and his hair standing up, but when he walked into a room, he gave off an aura of confidence and ease that was instantly engaging. The General was always standing up straight and tall (though many of his colleagues would, of course, say, “Everyone, please stand up. That includes you, Sir.” “I am standing, you turkey!” he’d say, and the usual menu of short-jokes would follow). His eye contact was direct, his handshake solid and firm; he commanded the room and the situation immediately, every time.

And I took notice of this. I tried to incorporate his manner into becoming my manner. Not only because I want to convey that I know what I’m talking about, even when I don’t (which is way too often!) but also because I’m always struck by how awkward people are. Just in general, the way people walk, stand, fidget with themselves or their hands it can almost make you uncomfortable.

So we have the Be Better Guys Guide to Body Language Basics, which starts with how to carry yourself to send a message of confidence, authority, and ease. Even if you don’t employ all of these tips, try a few, and you’ll impress yourself how people treat you differently, and better.

Your Stride: a lot of people schlump around when they walk, sagging to one side or just hunching over and looking, well, weak. There’s a better way to enter a room; when you walk into a meeting or a restaurant or a date, employ the following:

Stand straight and tall: Here’s how: try to pull your shoulders as far away from your ears as you can. Don’t puff out your chest like you’re Kim Kardashian, but do stand straight. Right there is your perfect posture: your shoulders pulled down from your ears.
Your arms should swing comfortably: When you walk, you want your ease to be conveyed by fluid movements. Gently swaying arms do this. Not wildly flailing them like Lou Piniella arguing a called third strike, but nice and smooth. The message you send is confidence and comfort with your own body.

Pick your head up!

Yes, this sounds elementary. Take a look around when you’re at a restaurant next time how many folks don’t have their head resting straight on the top of their spine, looking tall. And now you just learned how to do it right!
Your Face: We talk a lot about how to keep your face looking good with a good shave and using the right products for general upkeep. Fine. But now we’re going to talk about how to use your face to connect with others and convey charm.

Smiling: The reason people like folks who smile a lot is because smiling opens up your face and conveys a sense of warmth. You’re not trying to walk around like you’re on the verge of wetting your pants, giggling all over yourself. When you first meet someone, you want to have a big, genuine smile to send the message that you’re an open person and that you’re actually in a decent mood. Try smiling more the next time you greet the hostess at a restaurant and ask for a good table or check-in at the hotel desk and ask for a better room. I will about guarantee you you’ll get it. If you smile and if it’s genuine.

Good eye contact: A big smile’s nothing if you’re looking at your shoes. Instead, go for direct eye contact, and I mean directly at the person’s eyes. See, most folks focus on the mouth in a conversation because that’s the part that’s moving all around. But it’s the eyes that bridge the connection. Plus, it keeps you focused on the subject you’re discussing so your mind doesn’t wander. Here’s a little exercise: Look directly at the person’s iris with whom you’re talking. Stare at it (blink occasionally). See if you can tell what color it is. That’s the kind of eye contact we’re talking about.

Your Stance.

Ok, so you’ve entered the meeting (or party or restaurant or coliseum or whatever) and you’ve smiled big and…there you are. Standing there and probably talking. And wondering what the hell to do with your hands and what kind of message you’re sending anyway!

Using your body. When you’re interacting with someone, a customer, or your boss or your date, the way you use your body can determine whether you connect or miss. Face a person openly and squarely – head-on. In other words, you don’t want to with one shoulder ahead of the other. Why? Because it can be interpreted as confrontational. Angling into a person physically sends the message that you’re angling in on the conversation.

Using your arms and hands.

Keep your arms loosely by your sides. One hand in a pocket is fine. Use the other, or both, to punctuate and illustrate your points. Here’s the message your arms and hands send to another person when not just hanging loosely or being used in conversation: arms folded across your chest says you’re defensive. Arms behind your back can send a message of deference. Arms crossed in front of your, um, package can send a message of indifference. Both hands in your pockets can say you’re disinterested.

Mind your spacing. In this land of ours 12 to 18 inches is a comfortable distance between two people in a discussion. A little closer for intimacy, for example, if you’re having a sensitive business conversation (or trying to get your date to put a hand on you!). A little farther away is good as you’re just getting to know someone. You stand closer, the better you know a person. In some countries, folks stand way close from the get-go. It makes you want to immediately back up. Don’t. Do as customs are when in other countries, but in this country, don’t get within 12 inches unless you intend to plant one on them!

Your body is a hugely useful tool to convey messages of interest, confidence, authority, and intimacy. Don’t take it for granted. Learn how to use all of your body to full effect and note the changes in people’s reactions to you. I’ve learned from the General, and I’ll tell you this – I can manipulate situations to my favor, all based on how I use my body language. I like that. You will, too.