How Can You Use Body Language to Your Advantage?

How Can You Use Body Language to Your Advantage?

Business is all about negotiation, and effective negotiation is a very refined art form.

World leaders blare their policy plans on our screens daily, while their spin doctors wait anxiously to clean up the mess. Words stated or misstated matter; so too does body language.

C-suite leaders, like politicians, live very public lives. This creates pressure to present well and to hone those all-important nonverbal cues. This applies equally in a one-on-one meeting, in the board room, or presenting to an entire company. Or, yes indeed, the MBA interview.

Transmitting the right message is fundamental.

MBA students seeking to scale the hierarchy to become c-suite leaders would do well to start rehearsing the body language and behaviors that define the people at the top. Admissions committees will be looking for these attributes in their students. Here are six tips that can help you through your MBA admissions interview and beyond. 

1. They always say it, but those deep breaths before a meeting matter.

If you're a fan of yoga, you'll have probably done it a million times. A deep inhale through the nose and an equally long exhale through the mouth. Deep breaths before an important meeting have long been used as a relaxation technique. "If you're unobserved, make a soft 'aah' sound," says executive coach, Carol Kinsey Goman. You may laugh, but, she explains, this will "release tension in your neck, shoulders, and jaw", tension which could otherwise make you look rigid or aggressive as you enter the meeting room.

2. Business is a contact sport

"Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. Touching someone on the arm, hand, or shoulder for as little as 1/40th of a second creates a human bond," affirms Goman. This is why the initial, firm handshake always makes a positive impression. It shows an intent to (literally) reach out, engage, and place trust in the other person. A sure two to three-second hold, combined with direct eye contact, a greeting, and a genuine smile also makes the person on the receiving end more likely to remember you.

3. Don't tilt your head

Do a Google image search for 'tilt + head', and what you will see is a chequered display of quizzical looks, mostly from puppy dogs. "A leader should hold his or her head up straight, and avoid tilting it or cocking it to either side," says Goman.

4. Listening, mirroring and balancing your smile

Appearing alert (no head tilting remember), making eye contact and turning your body toward the person speaking is a sign that you are listening, and is part of the bonding experience. Another part of relating to another person is mirroring. "When clients or business colleagues unconsciously imitate your body language, it's their way of nonverbally saying that they like, or agree with you," says Gorman. Mirroring can also be done with intent, albeit subtly! Remember: keep smiles natural, and not a phony, half-second flash of teeth.

5. Keep the pitch low and pause

Speaking slowly and pausing makes leaders seem more authoritative. The faster you talk, the less authoritative you appear to your audience," says Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School. Speaking at a speed of knots, while your pitch rises is, of course, a sign of panic – never becoming of a c-suite leader or an MBA candidate. To come across as measured and in control, it is important to keep your tone low.

Sometimes, when people are seeking approval, their voice rises at the end of sentences. "When stating your opinion, use the authoritative arc," says Gorman. Start your statement on one note, rise in pitch in the middle and drop back down at the end.

6. Uncross your legs and arms

Finally, and especially important for those MBA admissions interviews is the 'do not cross your arms or legs' rule. This closes your body off from the interviewer or your associates and can make you look defensive. But even more interestingly, research by body language experts Allan and Barbara Pease found that people who cross their arms and legs in a meeting or a lecture actually retain 38% less information than those who sit with their arms and legs uncrossed. 

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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