The power of perception

There are many superpowers in your arsenal, but one of the most powerful is how people perceive you.

When you enter a room. When you sit down. When you start a meeting. These are just some of the situations where your posture, presentation and personality will change how every person perceives you. The way you sit, the way you hold yourself and the way you dress – every one of these elements has an impact. And yes, it does matter.

Look at the natural world for some simple inspiration. The peacock, for example, has the most glorious tail that flares outwards in a display of confidence that’s both magnificent and mesmerising. Animals take up more space when they’re confident, learn from them, don’t make yourself less than you’re worth. If you feel powerless or lack confidence your posture reflects this, you look smaller, pull yourself inwards and withdraw.

Recent research undertaken by UCLA has found that when a message is communicated only 7% of the communication is sent through words. Just take a moment to pause there. The actual words are not even 10% of the message! Tone of voice is 38%, but the really big percentage? That goes to body language with a whopping 55%. You can spend ten minutes jumping around saying the same sentence over and over again and your audience will walk away feeling energised. The words didn’t inspire them, your body language did.

The problem is, nobody is teaching this. There aren’t classes for body language at schools and yet they would be incredibly valuable. Think about it, almost every country in the world shakes their head when they mean ‘No’. Everyone laughs when they are happy. Most of us wave to show an unarmed palm and we all cry when we are sad. Our eyebrows dance up or down depending on surprise, shock, fear or anger, and when we are confident we spread out. This body language is almost universal – a language that anyone can speak.

So, now is the time to start speaking the language that will cement your future. Start with a handshake. This simple action that’s rooted in history will sent the tone for your engagement. Smile, make eye contact, hold your back straight and shake firmly. Now you’ve set the mood for your meeting the next step is to close the deal with the right posture.

There are a few clever tricks that you can use to cement a deal and the first of these is to not cross your legs. In more than 2,000 meetings not one person who crossed their arms and legs closed the deal. The same goes for eye contact – too much or too little can affect the relationship from the start. These little movements and gestures go a long way to making another person feel comfortable and allow you to build trust.

Understanding how people communicate with their bodies will give you real insight into a situation, so learn about verbal clues and how to read them to help direct conversations and situations. Be prepared to look at a cluster of verbal and non-verbal signals, don’t look at them in isolation as they work together to create one message. Is he looking at his watch because you’re boring or is that a message he’s just received from his phone? The same movement can be interpreted in different ways depending on the rest of his body language and the way the conversation has been moving. Learning how to be more aware of these signals not only changes dynamics, but it will allow you to become more empathetic and able to communicate more clearly. You will also have mastered one more superpower – perception.