Are you sending the wrong signals?

Is the way you communicate turning others off?

Communication is not just about what you write or what you say. In fact, words have relatively little to do with the message that people send and receive. Research suggests that nearly 93% of what you are saying, ironically, has to do with what you aren’t saying, that is — your nonverbal cues and gestures.

Nonverbal signals have the potential to communicate specific attributes about who you are as a person. If you have good nonverbal communication skills, you can signal to others that you are confident, engaged and trustworthy. But if you have poor nonverbal communication skills, you may be giving off the impression that you are insecure, disinterested or even insincere.

This may seem unfair. After all, haven’t we all been told to never judge a book by its cover? Or that still waters run deep? But it’s just how human beings are wired. We are innately inclined to make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language. And those judgments can ultimately influence meaningful life decisions, like who we choose to employee or do business with. That is why it is crucial that you understand just how facial expressions, hand gestures, body position, tone of voice and other nonverbal signals are influencing your relationships, your interactions and your ability to move up the social and corporate ladder.

Let’s take a look at ten of the most common body language mistakes that could be costing you more than you realize:

Poor Posture

Power, status and confidence are nonverbally communicated by how you use the space around you. When you slump down, caving your shoulders inwards and making yourself smaller, you give off the impression that you are insecure and basically insignificant. But by keeping your posture upright, your shoulders back and your head high, you are expanding yourself and taking control of the surrounding space. This not only gives the outward appearance of confidence, strength and vitality, it actually starts a chemical reaction in your brain that makes you feel more sure of yourself. According to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, just two minutes of power posing — standing tall, holding your arms in a “v” shape towards the sky, or standing with your hands on your hips and legs apart like Superman — can significantly increase your confidence. So the next time you’re about to step into an interview or deliver a public speech, try holding your body in a power pose and watch how it makes you not only look confident but also feel more confident in yourself.

Failing to match and mirror

Too often, we rely on our words to create a sense of commonality with others. We ask questions, we laugh when they laugh, we try to fill awkward silences with small talk, all to help strengthen the bond between yourself and the person you are communicating with. But words don’t always work.

What does work? Matching and mirroring. By using similar body language or gestures as the person you are communicating with, you can create a relationship of responsiveness. The other person will begin to see you as more trustworthy and, in turn, will be more apt to like you. To understand this further, see how Tony explains it in The Power of Rapport.

Matching and mirroring does take practice. You do not want to copy the other person to the extent it becomes obvious. The trick is to make it as subtle as possible until it becomes as casual and natural as possible.

Grand Gestures

Have you ever watched Steve Jobs give a presentation? He often used the smallest gestures to deliver the biggest points.

In business, flailing your hands or arms wildly about signals to others that you are out of control and makes it difficult for others to respect your authority. But by keeping your movements smaller and more relaxed, using open arms and showing the palms of your hands, you will come across as sincere and respectable. People will in turn be more inclined to listen to and engage in what you have to say.

Gesture is also inherently linked to speech, so using crisp, clean gestures can actually help you form clearer thoughts and speak in a more thoughtful, declarative way.


If you are nervous or stressed, you may find yourself twirling your hair, bouncing your leg up and down, tapping your fingers across the desk, fiddling with your pen, or just moving restlessly about. And while you may think this is harmless, you should know that these actions can actually signal that you are insecure or even insincere. So if you catch yourself fidgeting, take a moment, focus on your breath and fold your hands gently in your lap or on the desk. Your sense of stillness will send the message to others that you are cool, calm and collected.

Speaking without authority

Your voice is one of the most powerful instruments you have when it comes to forming relationships and interacting with others. If people like what they hear in your voice, odds are they will perceive you as confident and knowledgable, and will be more likely to engage. But if they don’t like your voice, they may find you obnoxious or unreliable, and will subconsciously disconnect. This is especially important in the workplace, where the quality of your voice can be a pivotal factor in your ability to command the attention and respect of your colleagues.

To learn more about how you can use your vocal tool box to enhance the power of speaking, take a look at the following Ted Talk by communication master, Julian Treasure:

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Giving no physical feedback

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in the workplace is showing no empathy or interest in what your colleagues are saying. When you do not give them physical feedback, it makes them feel like you are uninterested or aloof.

Express that you genuinely care about what they have to say by using facial expression. By squaring your shoulders towards the speaker, raising your eyebrows, nodding your head, or giving vocal utterances to show that you are engaged, you will make the person you are communicating with feel respected and important.

No Eye Contact

The importance of eye contact has been impressed upon us since we were kids. And there’s a reason for that. Eye contact is one of the most important components of nonverbal communication. The ability to look another in the eyes while communicating signals confidence, authority and sincerity. But when you avert your eyes or stare down at the ground, people will assume you are insecure or untrustworthy. In turn, they will find it hard to engage in what you are saying and even harder to be persuaded.

If you need to gather your thoughts, take a moment of pause, glance away thoughtfully, then return to making eye contact before you resume speaking. With solid eye contact your words will carry even more weight because because your actions support what you are saying. 

Bad Handshake

We’ve all met someone with the “dead fish” handshake or the “bone-crusher” grip, and, chances are, that didn’t make a good impression on you. Why? Because the sense of touch is the most powerful form nonverbal communication. Touch communicates a sense of intimacy and signals the connection between two people. This is why the right handshake can signal trustworthiness and integrity, making the other person feel safe and at ease, but the wrong one could give the impression that you are a wet blanket or an overbearing bully — and who wants to be associated with that?

Ideally, your handshake should be firm, but not aggressive. You should make palm-to-palm contact, sliding your hand down so that the web of your hand (the area between the thumb and the pointer finger) meets the web of the other person’s hand. This will allow others to perceive you as a person of integrity and reliability, and will ensure that they see you as a professional right off the bat.


It goes without saying that frowning, scowling, grimacing or any other negative facial expression creates an immediate distance between you and others. They’ll perceive you as being cold, insecure and closed off. But what many are not aware of is that negative expressions also send a signal to the brain that whatever you are doing is difficult or unpleasant. That, in turn, causes your brain to release cortisol into your bloodstream, which elevates your stress levels. So if you are in a bad mood, you’re only making it worse.

Smiling, on the other hand, demonstrates confidence and warmth to others. And it is accompanied by increased activity in the left pre-frontal cortex, which is essentially the hub of positive feelings. So the next time you find yourself in a bad mood, try forcing yourself to smile. You may just be able to change your emotional state by doing so.

Crossing Your Arms

When your arms are crossed, they form a closed off, defensive barricade between you and the listener. The person you are communicating with will interpret this wall you have created as a sign that you are protecting yourself, that you have something to hide, or that you are resistant to truly engaging in conversation.

In order to not signal anxiety, unreliability, or hostility, be sure to keep your hands in plain sight and position your arms in a more open, inviting way. And if you encounter someone with crossed arms, there are ways in which you can strategically pull him out of it. Shake hands, ask to borrow a pen, or offer him a drink. The more you can get the other person to physically open up, the more engaged he or she will feel.

Regardless of your individual success thus far, mastering your nonverbal communication skills should rank high on your priority scale. By becoming more aware and in control of your nonverbal signals, you will have an important edge. You will be able to understand the message you are sending others, and thereby prevent yourself from sabotaging your own negotiation position. And you will be able to read people more easily, which allows you to communicate more effectively with them. Remember, communication is integral to building relationships, and relationships are central to finding success. So if you want to succeed, take the time to understand nonverbal cues and gestures, it may just be the game changer you’ve been looking for.

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