Managing Body Language in Difficult Communication Settings

It is important to observe your listeners’ body language as a first step. Whether in the room with you or on video conference, your listeners may exhibit signs of stress because of a lack of clarity or contentious information. What does this look like? The listeners may engage in side conversations. There may be a rumbling in the audience.  This tells you, the speaker, that you’ve done something to trigger this reaction and produce negative reactions.

Whether you’re in a small group setting or an auditorium,  how do you respond to negative feedback?

We know that keeping a calm tone of voice and using reasonable language is critical. However, your body language is equally important. When someone in your audience objects to one of your points, don’t fight fire with fire! Instead, try to remain calm and communicate a genuine and sincere interest in listening to their concern. Lean in, don’t cross your arms or roll your eyes, don’t look at someone else or your phone. Have a strong, grounded, lower body and an active open upper body. This shows your listeners that you’re not crumbling under criticism, but instead, you are listening actively.

People trust and value eye contact. So, while speaking, maintain eye contact, and hold this while someone is challenging you. It also has a significant impact on their perception of your confidence, trustworthiness, and credibility. 

With the correct posture and body language, people exude relaxed confidence and positivity. Simply changing your body language to appear more confident can make you feel more confident even if the present moment contains self-doubt and anxiety. This doesn’t mean acting or “faking it.” What it does mean is having self-awareness of what your body is doing when you are communicating. Studies show us that our body language can change our cortisol levels in the brain. These are hormones that affect the way we feel.

If we’re not careful, non-verbals can work against what we’re saying, negatively impacting even the most positive message. Slouching, hiding behind the podium, fiddling and crossing your arms, looking at your phone constantly, are all signals of being underprepared, anxious, or you’re disingenuous.

Here are a few ways to own your own space:

  • First, be mindful of your posture.
  • Think about where you’re positioned in the room. Use your space well.
  • Coordinate your body language, words, and voice tone.
  • Use hand gestures with purposeful intention, using open hand gestures.  

Remember, it may take time for confident body language to feel natural to you. So try making one small change at a time. 



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