Body Language Expert Mark Bowden Shares Communication Hacks for a Less Stressed and More Presentable You.
by Kiki Athanas
March 04, 2018
What I’m about to share with you should be used for good - not evil. See, it’s relatively easier than you think to influence people, and hence the circumstances around you. I’m talking about everything from making a better first impression on a blind date right up to knocking your peers’ socks off (and making a sale...or at least a few valuable leads) at your next networking event.
Just promise not to use these secrets to manipulate people or to be a better liar, okay?
Cool, let’s begin.
Mark Bowden is a body language expert and keynote speaker for organizations worldwide whose work depends upon winning the hearts and minds of others. Mark entertainingly trains any audience in the most cutting edge techniques to stand out, win trust and gain credibility every time they speak. He just wrote a book, with co-author Tracey Thomson TRUTH & LIES, and it seriously rocks. Do yourself a favour and watch his TED talk here and then come back and read this post.
I sat down with Mark to pick his brain so I that could share some of my favourite takeaways with you - just incase you don’t have time to read the book, but still care to upgrade your communication skills across your personal and work life.
Let’s Get One Thing Straight
Body language - or rather, how Mark prefers to refer to it, ‘nonverbal communication’ - is in the here and now. It’s exclusively available in the present. See, you can say yes about the past and the future, but you can only use body language in this very moment. It requires contextual information, as it’s really an element of our judgement in the now. “I judge you now”, Mark jokes.
Here’s an interesting way of looking at it: If body language were a book, it would be the one we’re all writing right...NOW. With this in mind, it’s easier to come to terms with the idea that body language is really important, and you simply cannot manipulate it before or after the case - so might as well get it ‘right’ while you can.
So what’s more important? Controlling your own body language or being able to read others?
I thought it was a hard question. Mark didn’t - he quickly and confidently answered that it’s always better to start with yourself. “You can control your own body language, so might as well start with that.”
Perfect, that approach certainly feels more doable (and less manipulative) to me anyways, so let’s get to it!
You’re on a First Date (And Want it To Go Well)
Mark advises us to use open body language in this types of situations - that ensures the best impression, every time.
How do you do it? Well, it means not closing yourself off, because with insufficient data, we immediately default to the negative. If, on the other hand, you’re being open and friendly with your nonverbal communication - keeping your arms at your side rather than in front of your body, and having your face and, most importantly, mouth in clear sight, than it’s easier for people to trust you (and hence what you’re saying). Start “hiding” your body by turning in, having your hands over your mouth, etc. then you’re literally telling the other person that they don’t get to see you.
What they can’t see, they can’t predict. Hence, default to negative.
So What About Online Dating?
For what it’s worth, good or bad, Mark laughs that online dating is inevitably “Easy in, easy out”. It’s easy to whip up a meaningless conversation, enjoy some small talk via text, but as soon as things get too intense (i.e. an in-person meeting) - the out is as easy as ever. Often referred to as “ghosting”, Mark explains that it’s simply a consequence of the situation getting real. It was low risk, but as soon as the opportunity for rejection bares its glorious face, it’s an easier call to just get out and mitigate the social risk.
Doesn’t that make you feel a little less annoyed or “stood up”? It’s not you, it’s them - mitigating social risk.
Stay Cool, or Just - Still?
I opened up to Mark and shared that sometimes* (*hardly ever because obviously I’m perfect and rock ever social situation I’m ever thrown into)...I get “stationary” at parties. In particular, I can’t help but remember those high school and university party days where I wouldn’t always feel entirely comfortable, and I’d eventually realize that I awkwardly stayed in the exact same spot throughout an entire party. I seem to pick a spot and dare not leave.
Mark advises that freezing is literally the “cheapest” thing to do when our fight or flight response kicks in. Going nowhere requires very little resources. Think about if a predator (or crazy popular person you’re frightened of) approaches...just don’t move, and maybe they won’t see you, or better yet - completely pass. Similarly, Mark suggested that I might have been strategically positioning myself to a safe spot.
See? I knew I was perfect.
Okay, now let’s get to the social situation we all dread but are destined to find ourselves in...either because we’re “go-getters” or because our bosses are just total jerks and summoned our attendance...
Why Do Networking Events Suck The Life From Your Soul + How to Love Them Instead
Get’s get why we hate them out of the way, so that we start with complete understanding. Why are you there and what are you thinking while you’re there? “I hope people like my ‘X’ [business, product, pitch, offering, etc.]”.
If you’ve been reading this post diligently enough, you’ve probably already clocked into why that’s an uncomfortable situation: there’s high risk involved. A huge opportunity to feel socially inadequate. So, likely, you go on to act, and thus seem, less adequate than you really are.
Let’s not. Do this instead: be more inquisitive.
Ask questions, be curious, put your attention on other people and things. It distracts yourself from yourself, and also others from yourself. They’re too busy talking about themselves, which we all fundamentally love doing, let’s be real.
So next time you’re at a “networking event” (do they still call them that?) - don’t be afraid to get chatty with people. Go ahead and start asking them questions! Where are you travelling from today? How did you hear about this event? Where’d you get those fab shoes?! Whatever the heck you fancy talking about (within reason) - turn the attention to the other people and you’ll be surprised just how easily and quickly you get comfortable in what were once socially horrid scenarios.