In several famous studies by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, it was found that 7% of communication is verbal, 38% is vocal (sounds) and 55% is NON-VERBAL.
That means that most of the signals we send to those we talk to involve no words, no sound, just our body language. Studies show that most of us commit these little errors every day without being aware of them. So if you want to better protect your thoughts and avoid offense, check out these 17 common mistakes we all make with our daily body language.
1. Smiling only with our mouths
I love smiling, and it’s great to see one, no doubt. But when the smile isn’t naturally occurring, when you only smile with your mouth but don’t let the rest of the face participate – you create a silly impression at best and appear phony at worst. If you feel the need to smile, remember to smile with your entire face and truly mean it.
2. Looking up or around you
When your eyes start to wander in the middle of a conversation, especially going up, this sends the message that you are not listening, not interested or not focused. When people are talking to you, look right at them.
3. Fiddling with objects around you.
When we’re tense we tend to fiddle with stuff in our hands – roll, tear or play with an object (this includes personal grooming or removing cat hair from your shirt). You may be surprised to hear this, but body language experts agree that this doesn’t show nerves, it looks you are not agreeing with what the other person is saying.
4. Crossing your arms and legs
Crossing your arms and/or legs is a comfortable position, and when we’re tense we often feel a strong urge to do so because it makes us feel more protected. However, the other side of this coin is that the person in front of you feels as if you are closing yourselves off to the conversation and to them emotionally.
Restless legs, changing postures every minute, drumming with your fingers or moving your head from side to side – may just indicate you find your chair uncomfortable or perhaps you need to go to the bathroom. But for the person in front of you, the feeling is of nervous ticks that may distract them from what they were saying, or make them feel you aren’t really listening.
6. Not looking the other person in the eyes
This is one of the staples of inter-personal communication: Avoiding eye contact, say body language experts, is the first step to bad communication. If you meet someone and they almost never look you in the eyes, you probably felt quite uncomfortable during the conversation. That said, eyeballing someone isn’t good either, as it can seem aggressive. Keep eye contact for a few seconds at a time, then look away, and return to eye contact when the other person is talking to you.
7. Keeping our hands on our hips
Many of us place our hands on the hips, with elbows facing outwards, so in an subconscious way we feel the need to ‘enlarge’ ourselves and leave more room for our personal space. This is a defensive position but one that can be interpeted as threatening to the other person. So unless you are going for intimidation, leave the hands relaxed and placed on the thighs or the sides of the body.
8. Keeping our head low
Lowering your head sends a message of shyness, surrender and even shame. Without even noticing, it places you on a lower status than the person you are talking to. So remember to lift your head and look at the other person directly.
9. Nodding too much
When we listen to another and want to show him we agree without interrupting him, we nod. So far so good. The problem is that too much nodding can show you as submissive, as if you are trying to please the other person too much. If you feel you’re nodding too much, try to catch yourselves doing it and deliberately switch to some verbal cues “yes” or “I agree”.
10. Doodling on a piece of paper
Sometimes, during a meeting, you need to write some things down, and that’s fine. But while you’re not writing something important, don’t doodle. Keep that for another time. Why? Because that lack of focus is transmitted to the other person, telling them they are wasting their time with you, and of course – it prevents eye contact.
11. Rolling our eyes
Sure, this gesture can be comical around friends and family, but we might be so used to it we do it in an official meeting, which can cause very bad results. Doing this amongst strangers shows not only that you do not agree with what they are saying, but may also convey a lack of respect. It summons the image of a sullen teenager who is just waiting to be left alone. In short – it is rude, and you’d be best avoiding it.
12. ‘Melting’ into our chair
The antidote to a stressful meeting is not lounging or melting into your chair or sofa (lowered shoulders, putting your elbows on the table, leaning back with spread legs etc.) This kind of posture may transmit a lack of caring to the other side, and that you’re not really interested in having a conversation at the moment. Sit straight but not rigid, and if you are standing – stand firm.
13. Playing with our hair
Playing with your hair is very common in flirtation, so its perfect for a romantic date. However, if we’re talking about a business meeting or any other stressful event, keep your hands away from your hair. Playing with your hair may be interpeted as being nervous, rolling or even chewing the hair may be signs of a lack of maturity.
14. Pinching our nose while closing our eyes
This movement is what experts see as if you saying to the other person that you are not happy with them and have a negative view of their actions. If you have a headache or sinus pain, you may be doing it without noticing. But try to explain why you are doing it to avoid giving the wrong impression.
15. Touching our nose too often
If you feel an itch, by all means, scratch that nose. But often touching the nose may, subconsciously, send the message you are either lying or hiding something. There’s even a medical explanation for it: When our blood pressure rises ( when we lie), our nose tissue and cells create histamine, which causes an itch. Your partner may not know this, but subconsciously they can feel the connection between nose touching and lying.
16. Standing with our body pointing at the exit
This is true in any culture. If you want to show your conversation partner respect and interest, you must face them. If you are turning, even with only half your body, towards the door or any other exit in the room, the message is sent that you cannot wait to finish this conversation so you can leave and do other things. If you notice this, correct yourselves and face your partner once again.
17. Cross our hands behind our back
In movies and television shows, we see this kind of stance as connected to learned types or grizzled army men. In reality, standing with your hands behind your back transmits anger, disagreement with what is being said and even a hint of threat or violence. So please, leave this pose to the actors.