The seven seconds you most need to understand


By Emma Serlin
September 14, 2019

Treat dictionaries and encyclopaedias as biblical texts all you like, but at the end of the day even the most impressive of vocabularies won’t make up for lacklustre body language. Research has shown that 60 to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, which means that facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture and tone of voice speak louder than words. From meeting new friends to corporate introductions, body language is a hugely influential social medium, and has serious sway when it comes to first impressions.

First impressions—the seven second rule

In the same way that body language affects communication, first impressions can establish the entirety of a relationship. Humans are intrinsically programmed to shy away from situations that are uncomfortable, uncertain and unknown – i.e. the exact feelings that are present when interacting with strangers. This concept was made famous by Berger and Calabrese (1975), and labelled the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. It asserts that in order to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing people, humans communicate, which leads to very speedily made first impressions. In fact, these materialise within seven seconds of meeting someone! These first impressions are, as it happens, made up almost entirely of value judgements, regarding intentions, credibility, authenticity, aptitude and general likeability. Positive judgements stimulate more communication, while negative judgements restrict it. So there’s a strong case for being in control of the impressions we make…

Body language plays a big role in first impressions

Recognising the link

There’s an intrinsic link between body language and first impressions, and understanding the relationship between the two is a key part of refining your communication skills.

So how can you ensure that your body speaks the language of success? Well here’s a few top tips to help you on your way.

1. Adopt a positive posture.

Whether sitting or standing, posture should be positive and perpendicular. The back should be straight but not rigid, while the shoulders should be relaxed, not slumped. This helps to create an aura of confidence and authority.

2. Uncross limbs

It’s an all too common habit for people to cross their arms and legs when they’re engaging in conversation. When meeting someone for the first time this is definitely something to avoid as it creates a defensive sense of negativity. Instead, keep arms relaxed while listening, and legs uncrossed in order to appear open and absorbed.

3. Lean in

Demonstrate focus and genuine interest by leaning in a little when listening to another person speak. Remember, this should be a natural movement, not a forced slant.

4. Mirror body movements

Build trust by mirroring the body language of the person you’re communicating with. This creates a subconscious sense of solidarity.

5. Use hand movements

Add depth to conversations by using hand gestures to reinforce verbal communication. This engages the listener, and brings an air of confidence and authority to your voice. Plus, research has also shown that using hand movements while speaking actively improves the thought process.

6. Maintain eye contact

Nothing jeopardises first impressions like lack of eye contact. Locking eyes not only proves that you’re interested, but is also associated with confidence and self-assurance. Remember, there’s a difference between eye contact and staring, so be sure to tread the line.

To sum up…

Body language is an incredibly complex arena, and the above is just a snippet of how both conscious and unconscious gestures influence verbal communication. If you want to refine your skills as a native or non-native English speaker, London Speech Workshop’s unique Serlin Method™ draws on psychological, emotional and practical elements to dynamically improve communication performance.

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