The past few weeks have been heavy networking days for me. I've shaken dozens of hands and looked in twice as many eyes. And of course, I've been reflecting on human connection and the language of the powerful.
When was the last time you talked with someone truly powerful? What are some of the characteristics you recall from the interaction?
From my observation the higher ranking a person is, the more likely they are to have a tight handshake, stand with a wide stance, and use power eye-contact.
Of those characteristics, the eye-contact is the fiercest trait. I can guarantee that the most powerful person in the room will always win in a staring competition.
Eye contact is such a vulnerable thing. It's as if through eye contact, others can see within us and find out how powerful (or not) we really are.
If you want to run with the power players, it's important to practice the art of eye contact in addition to the traditional handshake grip and standing with power. If you can't look a person in the eye without looking away frequently, you might be overlooked.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague at work. We talked about a encounter I had where a man who had been clearly watching me on the light rail train home proceeded to follow me on the street during my route home.
There was nothing menacing about the man, nor was he speaking to me threateningly or inappropriately. The issue is that he was breaking a clear barrier and I needed to get him to follow my rules.
My colleague suggested I share this story to illustrate the downside of attraction and practical ways to combat the issue.
When you look approachable, attractive, and interesting people will want to get to know you. In fact, they may go to uncomfortable lengths just to have the opportunity to talk with you.
Whether you're being approached by people who want to network with you (but you want to move on) or someone of the opposite sex that you'd rather not connect with, you can control the interaction by following a few simple rules of body language.
For my encounter, I found it difficult to be completely rude to someone who may be my neighbor, so I was cordial as he tried to engage with me, but told him in a straight-forward manner "I'm not interested in having a conversation with you right now." He then said, "I understand, I'll leave you alone." And he crossed a different street.
It turned out this person lives a few blocks away from me, so I was right to be somewhat cordial, but staring at me on the light rail and following me home while trying to engage was inappropriate, so I was right to tell him to keep his distance.
Things may not always work as simply, but in every unwanted encounter it's important to remember that you have the control and you can command the situation.
"Krystal, you just don't look open and available. People don't know you want to be friends."
This is advice I received years ago during a time when I struggled to build lasting relationships. If you've ever known someone who you'd call "quiet" or "shy" or "loner," you'll have a pretty good picture of what I was like as a young girl. I was an off the charts introvert (I still am), so that meant spending most of my time alone, having few friends, and generally being a wallflower at parties (if you could get me in one).
What completely changed my world around was the awareness that being introverted often caused me to give off signals to others that I'm not interested in connecting with them. Generally speaking, that's actually true, but when the outcome is loneliness it's time to make a change.
If you're an introvert like myself, you probably don't require much social interaction to be content, and an overload causes you to race to a quiet corner to recharge. But it's very easy to go for weeks spending time alone and then realize when you're ready to talk with someone, there's no one there to call. This is what made me realize the importance of opening myself up to develop relationships on a regular basis, so that when I want a friend to call on they can be there in a flash.
Body language represents most of the information people take in when communicating with you. Because of this, it's important to be aware of the body language signals you are sending to others. The signals I was sending off said "I don't need you," which was in some ways an accurate reflection of how I felt. In order to change this I had to change my mindset on the inside, and several non-verbal signals that others see on the outside.
First, I started with the simplest change I could make -- smiling. By smiling more frequently, people felt more connected to me and therefore were more likely to stay in contact. It also opened me up so that others were more likely to approach me for conversation. (As an extreme "quiet" girl it took a while to build up the stamina to hold conversations all the time, but once I did it was very much worth it.)
Next, I learned to aim my torso and feet towards the person I was speaking with. This increased connection even more and sent the signal to others that I was interested in them. When your torso is headed for the door while you're in mid-conversation it's a clear sign that you want out, so people generally end the conversation early to release you from an uncomfortable situation. Learning to avoid this movement will make conversations last longer and avoid the hurt feelings that come when others feel you don't want to talk with them.
And finally, I learned to lean in. One of the major ways to build long lasting relationships is to make other people feel like you hold them in high esteem. Don't be dishonest, but make sure to tell people how great they are and how good you feel when you're around them. Ways to show this non-verbally are to lean towards the person when they talk with you, gently touch non-sexual areas of the body to reinforce your interest in something they have said, and make sure your eyes light up when you see them. These are all signs of interest and let people know that you appreciate them and want to continue building a relationship.
Making these changes took time, practice, and lots of courage. After about 6 years of consistently practicing these techniques I can now say that when I tell people I'm an introvert they never believe me. There's no shame in being who I am -- I regularly share with people my Meyer's Briggs personality type (INTJ), but it is nice to know that by making small changes over time I was able to completely revamp my social presence.
Brushing up on my skills
Even though I made these changes years ago, I still like to brush up on my body language knowledge. I just finished taking an excellent body language class. It's designed for entrepreneurs, but the information is great for anyone who wants to learn to recognize body language cues and maneuver social situations.
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