Body Language Basics

Next time you are feeling a bit nervous at that unexpected social encounter (perhaps it’s because you just bumped into your ex and their new partner while out with yours), or you simply want to make a long-lasting, positive impression on someone…I suggest you use the following initialism as a mnemonic* for better body language.


It’s contagious, and stimulates our brains’ reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate can’t. Practice smiling genuinely throughout the day, in private and in public. Notice how you smile when someone, or something ACTUALLY makes you smile. Remember how it feels. If you can, get a picture of it, or look through some pictures where you weren’t just smiling for that annoying selfie. It is important to evolve the muscle memory during genuine (also known as Duchenne Smiling). So next time you’re in a conversation, activate that same, happy-to-be-here smile. Even if your feelings for the person might not be at that level yet, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to build rapport**, or start liking someone that you may be having trouble getting along with.
Open Arms
Keep your arms fairly neutral. Use them to gesture when necessary. Hold a drink. Keep them by your sides. (This one is actually EXTREMELY difficult at first, but try it, and see if you can get usd to it.) Or put them away by clasping your hands behind your back. But never cross them, and not always, but for now, avoid putting them in pockets.
Forward Lean
Whether you’re sitting or standing, leaning in slightly shows you have expressed interest and are engaged in what is being said. In a loud night club or bar setting, lean in with your right ear as it’s better than your left at following the rapid rhythms of speech (UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine).
Don’t over-do this one, but don’t ignore it. A friendly, innocent touch, timed at the appropriate moments can help you build rapport. It will also increase the percentage of how likely the person you’re interacting with is to remember you. When and how to touch is a long story, for now, use your intuition, and be aware of cultural\religious differences. A handshake, if nothing else, is already a great start! You probably have to push past your comfort level a little, but draw the line before you obliterate their comfort.  Restaurant customers who have been briefly touched by a server have been found to evaluate the server more favorably, to evaluate the restaurant more favorably, and to leave the server larger tips (Hornik, Crusco & Wetzel).
Eye Contact
Look them in the eyes. This one is so simple, but it’s probably the most powerful of all of these, and also probably the one people struggle with the most. Start paying attention to how long you keep eye contact for. You will most likely feel more comfortable looking into your lovers eyes for longer periods of time than a complete stranger. There are many reasons for this. There are many ways to take advantage of this. For now, just start maintaining friendly, smiling eye contact with people. If you tend to avoid eye contact, or find yourself getting nervous the second the thought of looking someone in the eyes comes up. Start pushing yourself to look into another person’s eyes until they look away first. I’m not asking you to stare at people in a challenging or creepy fashion, but maintain a nice, soft, warm gaze and see if you can “out-look” them. What else changed in your physiology now that you changed how long you looked into someone’s eyes? Did your arms cross? Did your palms get sweaty? Or did you manage to stay open, and relaxed?
Avoid “mhmm’s” and “uhhuh’s” in conversation. They have been reported to actually decrease the other person’s perception of how well they are being understood. Instead, use nods, the occasional “yes” or “yea”, and occasionally say something back, using their words. Imagine your friend is telling you about this new house she just bought. She says: “…And I’m so excited for the garden in the back, it will be so nice to plant some tulips there!” You could smile, nod, and say: “Wow, a tulip garden in the back, that will be so nice”, for example.

*Mnemonic: A learning technique that aids in the retention,and recall of information.

**Rapport: A mutual, well-evolved understanding and communication between two people, or a group of people.

(Note: To make a long lasting negative impression, simply do the reverse of each word: Frown; Upright rigidity; Clear out of everyone’s way; along with a “Kay, I refuse to touch anyone” type attitude is paramount; Intimidating Stares; and Tilt your head permanently, like your doubting what everyone is saying. Your new mnemonic is F.U.C.K.I.T)

Credit for the “S.O.F.T.E.N.” mnemonic goes to Don Gabor. Check out his book: “How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends”