Body Language for Likability and Leadership

Within seconds of meeting someone, you create positive (or negative) first impressions with your body language. Do you recall that some 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, with 55-60 percent of that body language?

As a leader, what are you communicating with your body language? Are you approachable, likeable, and trustworthy? Or are you closed, intimidating, “too busy,” and disconnected? A person will often make that judgement before they open their mouth.

So, use these 5 skills to put out the right message and be likeable, approachable, and trustworthy as a leader.

5 Cues for Likability and Leadership

Research in nonverbal communication has identified cues that lead to greater liking, trust, approachability, and attraction, especially in initial encounters. This group of body language cues is referred to as cues of “immediacy” (Andersen, 1985; Mehrabian, 1971). What are these cues that trigger instant likability as leaders?

  1. Make Eye Contact: Always start a conversation with immediate eye contact. Making eye contact shows that you are immediately interested in and engaged with the person. It also conveys willingness, confidence, and trustworthiness.
  2. Smile: Follow the eye contact with a welcoming and friendly smile. This expresses openness, friendship, and trust. Smiling is one of the most powerful and universal nonverbal cues of likability. Look a person in the eyes and smile, and you’re off to a good start to being likeable, approachable, and trustworthy as a leader!
  3. Lean Forward: Lean slightly forward to show you’re engaged and confident while maintaining close but appropriate distance. Leaning back communicates that you’re insecure, unsure, or feel something is wrong, so be sure to lean slightly forward.
  4. Have Good Body Posture: Show an open and relaxed posture, with your arms visible and uncrossed. Pull your shoulders back (i.e., don’t hunch or slouch) to make you appear more confident, approachable, and friendly. Avoid fidgeting or slouching, as this can make you seem nervous or insecure.
  5. Use Facial Expressions and Head Gestures: Try nodding your head “no” when somebody is speaking to you, and you’ll notice them eventually slow and ask what’s wrong. Nod your head “up and down” in a yes motion, and you’ll see them open up, engage, and feel trusted. Other facial expressions that can convey warmth, friendliness, and confidence include raising your eyebrows and tilting your head to the side. Engage your face and head in your conversations.

Bonus Cues: You can at times include a slight touch, such as a warm handshake, or touch on the arm or shoulder, to create a sense of connectedness. Also, be sure to compliment your warm and welcoming presence with an equally warm and welcoming tone of voice. Speak warmly, calmly, understandingly, and invitingly.

Wrapping Up

Mastering your nonverbal communication skills can help in interviews, meetings, networking, social functions, customer interactions, supplier negotiations, and so much more. So, be sure to look people in the eyes, smile, lean slightly forward, maintain good posture, and use engaging facial expressions and head nods. You’ll be more likeable, approachable, and trustworthy as a person and leader.

“60 percent of all human communication is nonverbal body language; 30 percent is your tone, so that means 90 percent of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth.” – Alex Hitchens

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