• April 2015

10 Powerful — and Simple — Body Language Tips

By Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of body language in the workplace
CarolKinseyGoman.com

Evidence from psychology, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology, and communication studies has given nonverbal communication new credence in the workplace.

Here are 10 powerful, simple — and sometimes surprising — body language tips from recent research studies:

  1. To boost your confidence in your thoughts, sit up straight when you write them. Good posture not only influences the way that other people perceive you, it changes the way you feel about yourself. An Ohio State University study found that people who sat up straight were more likely to believe the positive comments they wrote about their qualifications for a job. Those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept their own statements as valid.
  2. To become more trusting, hold a cup of coffee. A study done at Yale University discovered that participants who held a warm cup of coffee as opposed to a cold beverage were more likely to judge others to be more generous and caring.
  3. To increase your productivity, synchronize your head nods. Scientists at Stanford University found that people working together on a project who moved their heads and bodies the same way came up with more creative solutions. When team members’ body language was in sync, they worked more collaboratively and generated more productive and innovative ideas.
  4. To perform well under pressure, squeeze a ball with your left hand. When seasoned athletes under-perform they may be focusing too much on their movements (which, for right handed people, is a right hemisphere brain function) rather than relying on the automatic motor skills developed through years of practice (which are associated with left hemisphere function). Research findings at the Technical University of Munich found that athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand, performed better and were less likely to choke under pressure.
  5. To stay positive when you read email, relax your face. A study at the University of California found that people process messages as having an angrier tone when they are asked to read those sentences with their eyebrows furrowed.
  6. To negotiate a “win-win” deal, shake on it. A simple handshake communicates warmth and cooperation. Harvard Business School found that people who shook hands before negotiating ended up with a more equitable deal than those who went straight to business. Plus, the hand-shakers were less likely to deceive one another as the negotiation progressed.
  7. To increase your paycheck, lower your voice. Scientists at Duke University discovered the optimal pleasing sound frequency to be around 125 Hz., and the lower the voice, the more authority it conveys. (James Earl Jones — the actor who gave voice to Star Trek’s Darth Vader — speaks at around 85 Hz.) Along with researchers at the University of California San Diego, the Duke team analyzed recordings of 792 U.S. chief executives at public companies. After controlling for experience, education and other influential factors, they found that a drop of 22 Hz in voice frequency correlated with an increase of $187,000 in compensation.
  8. To make a positive first impression, start before you enter the room. A study at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging discovered that it takes the brain just 200 milliseconds to gather most of the information it needs from a facial expression to determine a person’s emotional state. That’s why you can’t wait until you’re in the meeting room to “warm up.” You’ve got to walk in, already expressing the emotions you want to project.
  9. To enhance your customers’ experience, touch them. Research by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration shows that being touched increase the tips that customers leave their servers. The results were significant. Customers who weren’t touched left an average tip of 12 percent. Tips increased to 14 percent from those who were touched on the shoulders, and to 17 percent from those touched twice on the hand.

    But it isn’t only in restaurants that customers respond favorably to touch. In many commercial settings, casually touching customers has been shown to increase the time they spend in a store, the amounts they purchase, and the favorable evaluation of their shopping experience in that store.


  1. To make sure you’ll keep your New Year’s resolutions, tighten your muscles. Research at the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago found that participants who tightened their muscles — hand, finger, calf or bicep — were able to increase their self-control. It was also found that muscle tightening only helped with willpower when the choices the participants faced aligned with their stated goals.

  2. About Carol Kinsey Goman

    Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach and international speaker —on collaborative leadership, change management, and the impact of body language in the workplace — at corporate, government, and association events. She’s a leadership blogger for Forbes and the author of twelve business books including “THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can Help — or Hurt How You Lead.” Learn more at www.CarolKinseyGoman.com.