Thanks to modern studies, we are all more or less aware that body language plays a big part in our lives and our ability to communicate with other human beings. How much focus we put on refining our body language and understanding the one of others somehow varies from case to case, individual to individual and even job to job. I am not an expert on social behaviour but I am a keen fan of body language techniques and how we can use them to our advantage. I have been training my sixth sense since early age and I have always been more of a “feelings” person than a “facts” person.
How many times have you been in a situation, at work or in a social context, whereby you meet a person for the first time and it’s an instant dislike? You can just feel it in your guts. Many would argue that we shouldn’t just stop at our first impression. It seems somehow superficial to limit our judgment to just one look or a short conversation. I have a different opinion. Beyond our cultural differences, which can play a big role in clouding our judgment, if we “feel” we don’t like a person at first sight, chances are we are right. It’s not about being superficial, it’s about our brain unconsciously being able to decode the other person’s body language, read the little signals his/her body sends out, and interpret them. It doesn’t mean that this particular person is bad for us. It simply means that probably, we are not a good fit.
This said, there are things we can do to improve the situation and turn something potentially conflictual or unpleasant into something better by using our body language as a tool. A couple of years ago, I sat in a training session about conflict resolution in a work place with Lorna McLaren. One of the things she told us was that we should use kindness as our best revenge – and this is especially true for women. If someone does something that hurts us in some way, let's respond with kindness. Let's try to transform our self-pity or anger into self-nurture and kindness toward ourselves and others. I know what you are thinking right now: it’s easier said than done. Being a very impulsive person, if I am upset, I find it so very difficult to stand back and be gracious when all I would like to do is shout my head off - though my anger usually fades away rather quickly. But that doesn’t mean I cannot try.
Be proactive. Try a simple experiment. Next time you walk in to a lift with other people, don’t turn your face to the door or stare at the empty space. Acknowledge their presence, face them and SMILE. And then look at their reaction. Immediately, their tense faces will relax and respond back to you. With kindness! The spell is broken.
Be positive. Think positive. Act positive. A smile can open many doors. It’s cheap and easy to produce. But make sure it’s a real smile – i.e. it comes from within. Because if you fake one, people will be able to tell and you may end up triggering the opposite effect. I have been doing it for a while. Every day, I walk in to the lift of the banking building where I work, full of very busy, fast moving people, and look at those around me and smile. Sometimes, I even say hello. Occasionally, I get a cold reception but most of the times, it works. It works with strangers, friends, colleagues and clients. Think about it: would you be more likely to return to a shop where the clerk is nice and graceful or one where the clerk is formal and cold?
The best way to start the day is with a positive attitude. Some days, we may need someone to smile at us first in order to be able to refill our "positivity bottle". But if you smile, people will always smile back at you. There are things we can’t control and things we can. Let's focus on the ones we can. And keep smiling.