How often have you heard someone say that body language makes up 90 percent of communication? The number may or may not be true, but we definitely know that our words are only one avenue of communication. Body language conveys information about thoughts, perceptions, moods, and emotions, which other people pick up on either consciously or subconsciously.
As a tool for communication, body language is both influential and complex. While we choose words consciously to produce certain effects, the messages associated with body language are often communicated unconsciously. This can be a problem for Introverts, who have a tendency to develop body-language habits that suggest unapproachability and/or a lack of self-confidence.
If your personality lies in the introverted half of the Myers and Briggs personality spectrum, you may inadvertently adopt postures, poses, or expressions that make you seem distant, withdrawn, or closed off. This is especially true if your introversion is complicated by shyness or social anxiety.
But once you understand what’s happening, you can overcome your self-sabotaging body language habits. In their place, you can choose more assertive and impactful non-verbal communication strategies, which can increase your capacity to control outcomes and manage your future.
How do others see you? That’s for you to decide.
Introverts need time, freedom and space to reflect and re-energize. They seek a balance between meaningful social interaction and equally meaningful solitude, where they can unwind in peace.
But solitude is distinct from isolation, and no Introvert would intentionally choose the latter. You would never consciously avoid social exchanges that could enhance your chances of career advancement or hinder your personal development. You desire warm, healthy, and nurturing relationships, just like everyone else.
If your introversion has left you feeling disconnected, unsatisfied, or frustrated, your communication skills may need some work. Specifically, you may need to take a closer look at how your non-verbal communication patterns are undermining your chances of finding success, however you might define it.
What is body language?
Body language is expressed in five ways:
1. Facial expressions
2. Gestures plus hand and arm positioning
4. Eye contact
5. Physical spacing
Here’s what you need to know as an Introvert to make them all work for you …
Facial expressions: open up!
One of the best ways to say “I’m approachable” is to greet others with an open face. With your eyes wide open and eyebrows slightly raised, smiling or with the corners of your mouth upturned, you’ll appear friendly, sincere, and ready to engage.
Once a conversation begins, others will examine your facial expressions closely, to read your emotions and intent. Unfortunately, Introverts often display neutral or unemotional expressions, thinking it will make them seem calm and relaxed. But it will only make you seem detached and disinterested, which will kill the other person’s motivation to continue the conversation.
Whether you’re pleased, angry, intrigued, puzzled, excited, or sad, you should let others know it physically as well as verbally. They’ll judge you as someone who’s honest and open, and who really cares about other people and what’s going on in the world.
Gestures: use your hands!
Punctuating your speech with appropriate and strategically placed hand gestures will let others know you’re truly invested in the discussion. Hand gestures show engagement in the topic, whatever it might be, and that is something your conversational partners will appreciate. This will be especially true if you’re agreeing with them, or providing your own unique input that supports what they’re saying.
While body language is usually unconscious, hand and arm positioning is one exception to this rule. Introverts (especially those with social anxiety) may struggle to find a comfortable position for their hands and arms during social interactions, resulting in constant changes and adjustments. This behavior looks fidgety and will send the message to others that you’re uncomfortable in their presence.
If the desire is to look comfortable and at ease, the best choice is to let your hands and arms hang loosely at your sides when standing. With your shoulders loose and relaxed, you’ll appear totally calm and open to letting others get close.
When you’re sitting, you should either rest your hands on your knees or clasp them in front of you in your lap. These simple, unobtrusive positions tell others that you’re concentrating on what they’re saying and feel comfortable and relaxed in their presence.
Posture: stay loose!
The key to good posture is to stay upright while not appearing rigid or tight. To achieve this look, you should make an effort to keep your shoulders and stomach relaxed at all times, even as your spine is straight and your head is held high. Good posture will make you look comfortable and natural, as long as others can see you’re not straining to achieve it.
You’ll want to hold this position consistently throughout your social interactions. Frequent changes in posture or body positioning will send the message that you’re nervous and/or unsure of yourself.
To make an even better impression, you can occasionally alter your posture so that you’re leaning slightly forward, toward the other party in the conversation. This is especially effective if you do it when they’re saying something they seem to think is important, or sharing intimate or personal details about their lives. Leaning in to get closer sends the subtle message that you’re interested in what they’re saying and really appreciate their willingness to confide.
Eye contact: keep looking!
From an Introvert’s perspective, excessive eye contact (as they define it) may seem overly intimate or intrusive, especially if they’re speaking to someone they don’t know very well. Another issue is that Introverts have an innate need to reflect on what they hear, so they can gather their thoughts before responding. Inner reflection requires privacy, and the natural thing to do in such a situation is to break eye contact, at least for a while.
Making eye contact may be a challenge, but it is important to do it if you want others to feel attracted to you or comfortable in your presence. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all the time, but just enough so that the other person knows you’re paying attention and interested in continuing the conversation. You can actually look away quite frequently and still make a good impression, as long as you remember to restore eye contact every few seconds.
Physical spacing: think Goldilocks!
At least for now, all the old ideas about appropriate personal spacing have been replaced by the demands of social distancing. Nevertheless, the basic rules still apply, and will still apply even if social distancing guidelines are eventually relaxed.
Proper spacing during conversations is largely a matter of instinct. You should choose a distance that feels comfortable and natural to you, and does not noticeably intrude on the space of others. Getting too close or staying too far away both send a bad message and make a negative impression, the former because it is overly aggressive and the latter because it seems to indicate a lack of true interest. The best spacing is Goldilocks spacing -- not too close, not too far, just right.
To make the very best impression, it is important to actually occupy the space you inhabit, fully and unapologetically. Don’t cross your legs or arms, don’t hunch your shoulders or shrink down, and don’t fidget or turn sideways or slightly away from the other person. These are habits Introverts sometimes develop, in their efforts to be polite and deferential. But the other person will see you as withdrawn and uncomfortable, which will make them anxious to get away as quickly as they can.
Practice makes perfect.
Introverts have a tendency to be overly self-conscious in even the best of circumstances. Consequently, when you make an intentional effort to alter your body language, it may feel uncomfortable and unnatural at first.
But after a few weeks of practice, your deliberate choices will gradually morph into habitual responses. And as your body language changes over time, so, too, will your self-image. You’ll become more hopeful and confident, reflecting your embrace of a more positive and proactive approach to living.
Your body language should reflect your ambitions rather than your fears and uncertainties. When you crave meaningful human contact, or need to flex your communication muscles to achieve constructive results, your body language should be your ally rather than your enemy.
Verbal expression is important. But if your non-verbal signaling is in harmony with your true desires, your chances of being heard, valued, and respected will be dramatically enhanced.