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Body Language

The Surprising Power of Body Language

Five ways to communicate with nonverbal gestures

It's a common misconception that body language is akin to spoken or written language—that particular nonverbal behaviors have particular meaning. Nonverbal communication is actually much more subtle and complex. Moreover, the situation matters a great deal in interpreting nonverbal cues. Still, some nonverbal cues can cause a particular responses in yourself or others. Here are five of the most interesting:

1. Power-posing postures boost confidence.
Research has shown that placing your body in an expansive “power pose” (such as the “Wonder Woman” pose with hands on hips and legs apart, or the seated “CEO” pose with legs on the desk and hands behind the head) can increase your level of testosterone and commensurate feelings of self-confidence. Here is more information on power posing.

2. The power of eye gaze.
Staring at someone can constitute an “invasion” akin to violating someone’s personal-space bubble. Prolonged eye gaze is usually perceived as a threat. Typically, when we make eye contact with a stranger, the polite thing is to look away. However, holding the gaze a little longer than normal can be seen as flirting. For lovers, the amount of mutual gaze can be used as a measure of the degree of liking or loving. Read more about the complex and fascinating power of eye contact here.

3. Invading someone’s personal space causes arousal.
We all carry a “bubble” of personal space around us. When someone gets into our bubble, we feel a sense of arousal. Of course, the situation will determine how we perceive that arousal and react to it. If the person invading our space is attractive to us, the arousal can be interpreted positively—liking, love, stimulating. If the person is menacing or a stranger, the arousal can be interpreted negatively—fear, irritation, anger.

4. The subtle power of touch.
Studies in restaurants showed that waitresses who lightly touched a patron received higher tips than those who didn't. Touch, if done subtly and in a non-invasive way, can signal liking and create positive responses in others

5. Smiling, even posed smiling, will make you feel happier.
Studies of what is called the “facial feedback hypothesis” suggest that putting on a smiling face can actually trigger feelings of happiness. The firing of facial muscles when you smile is linked to the actual experience of happiness. So smile, and you will feel more positive emotion.

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