It's possible for your words and body language to actually contradict one another and send your listener mixed messages.
When meeting new people, we often spend a great deal of time rehearsing what to say. What will I talk about if the conversation stalls? Will I sound intelligent? What questions should I ask to keep the conversation going? While these are legitimate questions, it's worth noting that studies have shown that only about 7 percent of communication lies is the words that you're actually saying! Thirty-eight percent is communicated through tone of voice, and the remaining (and largest) portion, at a whopping 55 percent, is communicated through body language.
So does what you say matter? Absolutely. But it's also possible for your words and body language to actually contradict one another and send your listener mixed messages. Consider these five body language secrets to better engage others and help them feel both heard and secure.
1. Eye contact
The importance of eye contact is basically Body Language 101--and yet many still seem to struggle with this concept. However, you may be the best listener and conversationalist in the world, but if you can't look someone in the eye, you are sending a wide range of messages--everything from nervousness to boredom to insecurity. Establishing strong eye contact at the beginning of a conversation immediately communicates confidence and that you're listening. However, avoid wide-eyed staring--no need to bore into another with your eyes. It's totally appropriate to look away briefly. A good rule of thumb is to follow the cues of the one you're speaking with to ensure that they are comfortable.
2. Head nods
Appropriately placed head nods are a valuable way to communicate that you are listening and engaged. Coupling these gestures with occasional verbal affirmations is effective as well. However, be mindful of your speed--nodding quickly and repeatedly can communicate impatience and the desire to add to the conversation (and can also make you look like a bobblehead). Slow, brief nods tell the person you're talking to that you're following what they're saying.
3. Forget the fiddling
Messing with your shirt sleeves, playing with rings, checking your phone or moving it from hand to hand, tapping your fingers--all these things can be quite distracting to a conversation and can also communicate that you are impatient, bored, nervous, or restless. Hand gestures have their place--especially if, while you're conversing, you're also engaged in an activity (like eating, for example). But try to be mindful of what these gestures might be saying about you and your attitude toward the conversation.
4. Hands off your face
Speaking of hand gestures, make an effort to keep your hands away from your face, as these kinds of gestures often subtly communicate negative messages. For example, touching your mouth can indicate that you're lying, fingering your ear can communicate that you're unsure or you don't know an answer (even if your words say that you do!), rubbing the back of your neck can imply boredom, and holding your chin may indicate judgment.
5. The perfect posture
Slouching is, of course, a definite no-no, especially when interacting with others in the professional world. However, sitting or standing as stiff as a board can also be just plain awkward. Find a happy medium--don't be afraid to relax, but also keep an appropriate stance so as to communicate your professionalism. When sitting, leaning forward slightly indicates that you're listening and engaged. But make sure to avoid invading another's space and making the situation uncomfortable.
Don't let insecurity or rigidity hinder you from connecting with others! Coupling all these guidelines together can help you to avoid awkward interactions and make a positive impression before you even open your mouth.