As the Treasurer of the board, you’re at a homeowners meeting explaining why fees need to be increased. “I’m confident that this is the right thing to do and I’m open to your comments,” you say. A homeowner in the audience is staring at you with arms crossed, lips pursed and fists closed. Should you be concerned?
People’s gestures often give away their true feelings. Holding eye contact can signal an impending challenge; tight lips may spell defiance; the position of the arms and fists often indicates a closed an hostile attitude.
Body language accounts for more than half of your message, while words and tone make up the rest, according to experts. If your words say, “I’m confident,” but your body says otherwise, people are more likely to believe what your body is communicating.
Here’s how you can use body language to enhance your face-to-face communications.
Make sure your verbal and non-verbal messages are in sync. As the board treasurer in the example; you need to convey confidence by walking tall, sitting upright, and standing straight when speaking. You’ll gain credibility if you make eye contact with people you’re talking to- but don’t hold their gaze too long or you’ll create discomfort. Keep your palms visible and open to show you’re receptive.
Keep your facial expression neutral. It will show that you’re unbiased. If you cultivate a neutral attitude-by admitting that you have an opinion and consciously setting it aside – then a neutral expression will follow. Avoid silent feedback, like nodding your head in agreement or disagreement, when you’re listening to a residents comments or a contractor’s pitch. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you’ll take a position and then later vote to do the opposite.
Be aware of your own body language. Learn how your feelings affect your gestures. What do you do when you’re anxious, angry or elated?
Adjust your body language in response to the signals others give you. For example, when you’re standing chatting with a resident, start by standing at a distance that works for you. If the other person moves back, don’t step forward again. This will make your neighbor feel comfortable because you’re not invading their personal territory.
Be Natural. When you believe what you say and feel, your body language will support your message and you’ll appear genuine. If you try to adopt mannerisms that don’t support your true feelings, you’ll seem phony.
Dress for success. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to dress slightly more professionally than the person you are meeting. It shows respect because you’ve taken the time to present well.
But back to the meeting – how should you respond to your neighbor who seems disgruntled, not just cold?
Tell yourself that you will not lose your cool, and your body language will show that you remain confident and in control. Be conscious of what you do when you’re threatened or angry and curb those behaviors. Don’t look menacing in return by mirroring the offending body cues. If all else fails, take a break. Then you can all come back refreshed and ready to start communicating again.