How we communicate is a vital component of how effective we are in our careers. When we communicate effectively, we are more likely to get people to see our point of view and create buy-in for our ideas.
Verbal communication is important, but just as important is our nonverbal communication. Body language is constantly referenced as a very rich vein of nonverbal communication that you can develop to improve your communication skills. A vital component of your body language is your posture.
In this blog, we’ll explore the science nonverbal communication, the connection between posture and effective communication and outline what areas of your career can benefit from an amazing posture.
Spoiler: there are more than you think!
What is nonverbal communication?
Many people think that they only communicate when they’re speaking. But humans have many different ways of communicating. One of the ways in which humans communicate is nonverbally, through things like body language, facial expression, and posture.
In many ways, nonverbal communication acts as a parallel track to our verbal communication, and is often richer and deeper in meaning.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you’re a manager hiring for a position at your company. You call someone in for an interview and you meet them at the front door. You extend your hand them them to shake, and they say hello.
Now, if all they’re saying is ‘Hello’, that’s a fairly neutral statement, and you wouldn’t be able to gather much about the person and how they were feeling about the incoming interview.
However, taking a look a body language could give you more information.
When they went to shake your hand, they stepped forward, smiled, tilted their head slightly and had a strong, upright posture. This might tell you that this person eager and excited about the job and the interview.
While verbal and nonverbal communication can complement each other, they might also contradict each other.
Let’s take another example. Say you’re a manager taking one of your employees into a room to give them feedback about their poor performance at work. You sit them down, list your concerns and wait for them to respond. They say, ‘Thank you for telling me, I’ll work on improving in the future.’ Based on their words, you might think that they were receptive to your feedback and fully intended to follow through.
However, a look at their body language would tell another story. You notice that their arms are crossed, their face is tense, their gaze is downcast and they are looking away from you.
This is what’s called ‘closed’ body language, indicating that the person in question feels uncomfortable or under threat, so they make themselves smaller and cover parts of their body. From this scene, you might conclude that the employee in question was very hurt by your feedback, and you may need to take extra steps to reassure them of their place in the company.
As you can see, how someone carries themselves can tell you a lot about what they might be thinking or feeling.
Without knowing it, you might be communicating particular things to other people through various nonverbal cues.
The connection between posture and effective communication
One of the most potent forms of body language is posture.
Far from just being an aesthetic choice for people who want to seem confident, posture is one way we nonverbally and, in many cases, unconsciously communicate with other people.
When we adopt an upright posture, many things happen. First, our bodies take up more space. This instantly communicates to other people that we are confident. It also opens up our chest, neck and face to the world showing that we are willing to face and engage with whatever comes our way.
When we have bad posture (when we are slouched, hunched, gaze downcast, etc), we communicate the opposite: that we are scared, reticent and unengaged.
There are many scientific studies that bear out how important posture is in effective communication and relationship building.
For instance, many studies have been done testing body posture of oncologists interacting with patients. One of the studies noticed that the introduction of the electronic medical record (EMR) had a negative effect on doctor-patient communication. Physician posture towards the patient changed because of the second locus of attention of the EMR, making the patient feel less cared for and attended to.
Other studies have been conducted on the posture of salespeople, with very interesting results. Salespeople who adopted ‘dynamic postures’ (those that displayed various kinesthetic cues, fluid movements and erect posture) were more likely to deliver successful pitches to clients.
Your ability to communicate through posture doesn’t stop there. Part of effective communication is your ability to listen. People who stand erect are less likely to take in information from other people. A seated or reclined posture is more effective for taking in the information from your interlocutor so that you can respond effectively.
So, having good posture isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all thing. Adjusting your posture and body language to the situation is a vital part of communicating effectively.
Part of communicating means putting yourself at risk. Think about it. When you speak, you’re throwing your ideas into the world where anyone can pick them apart. This can be daunting for anyone. Indeed, speaking publicly is often cited as one of the biggest fears experienced by Brits.
However, a great posture when speaking publicly is the starting point to captivating your audience and delivering an amazing presentation.
Why is this?
First, there is how you appear to the audience.
When you have an upright posture, you take up more space. This increases your sense of authority. Your audience will be more likely to believe what you say and take you seriously.
An upright posture clearly shows your face and chest. This signals to your audience that you are engaged and confident in what you have to say.
Secondly, there is how a good posture makes you feel.
In a recent TED Talk, Dr Amy Cuddy stated that doing ‘power poses’ can release testosterone into your system, making you more confident and feel better, while decreasing the amount of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. So, standing up straight can literally make you feel better. If you feel better going into a speaking engagement, you are more likely to feel comfortable in what you’re saying and to communicate that effectively to your audience.
So, good posture is good, so I should just go and do that, right?
Yes, but it might be a bit trickier than that.
When people are speaking, they tend to get into a zone and revert to instinctive postures. And for many people, an instinctual posture when speaking publicly is a closed posture, and that’s not good for you or your audience.
To train yourself to consistently retain a proper upright posture when you speak, use a posture brace to help your along the way.
A meeting can often be a performance. Especially if you’re a leader of some kind, you need to be able to project to your colleagues that you’re trustworthy and that they can work with you. In order to do this, you need to communicate clearly and well, with both your words and your body.
When presenting your ideas in a meeting, be aware of the people around you and make an educated guess about how forceful or not you want to be with your body language.
As a general rule of thumb, try following this formula. When giving ideas, sit or stand up straight, use your hands to emphasise your points and don’t forget to look people in the eye and smile.
When listening, sit back, relax and take in everything your coworker has to tell you.
Your general impression in the workplace
We’re all guilty of making snap judgements of people. It’s not what we would like to do, and in an ideal world, it wouldn’t happen at all. Unfortunately, that’s just not how the world works.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. In fact, it can be an opportunity.
People who have good posture instantly project a positive image to the people they work with. This might seem superficial, but it is incredibly powerful.
When people see you, they can form instant impressions of you. And if you have good posture, that initial impression will be that you are confident, assured and capable.
When people have a good impression of you, they are more likely to go out of their way for you and think well of you.
Never dismiss all the dimensions that exist for communication. Every little bit of you sends a signal to the rest of the world that ‘this is you’. Posture is simply one of many. But it’s up to you to unlock all the benefits of posture correction that can help you take your career to the next level.