When establishing a rapport and working with a student, your body language is just as important as your verbal language. Check the list below for some tips on body language. These tips will help you be aware of the messages you are sending, as well as the messages the students are sending. Remember to consciously "read" the students, so you can help them feel more comfortable without forgetting to pay attention to the messages you are sending with your own body language.
Tips for Establishing Proper Body Language:
- Limit arm-folding. Folded arms communicate distance and create a barrier. Though you may simply fold your arms as a relaxed way to stand or to keep yourself warm, the gesture can be distancing to others no matter what the intention.
- Limit hands-on-hips. Hands-on-hips can be a threatening or confrontational gesture.
- Avoid finger-pointing. This gesture is traditionally a reprimand, an accusation, a way of targeting the culprit. Instead, gesture to students with an open, upturned palm. (see reference 1)
- Show animation. Try to use your hands while you speak. Making hand motions increases the chances that people will pay attention to you. Hand movements can also help clarify your points.
- Pay attention. One of the key aspects of good body language is paying attention to someone, and also looking like you are paying attention. Nodding your head occasionally and making positive remarks will let someone know that you are interested in what they are saying. If appropriate, take notes.
- Make eye contact. Looking someone in the eye is an easy way to let them know that you are paying attention and feel confident. Because this look is traditionally challenging, try not to meet the eyes for too long. Maintain contact for as long as you feel is necessary, and then look somewhere else.
- Keep your body relaxed. Tension spreads through people. When someone is nervous and tense, other people have that same sense of urgency. Take deep breaths and let yourself relax. Try to let arms hang loose and keep your shoulders and head in a relaxed and straight position.
- Break the invisible wall. People often keep a sphere of personal space around themselves. Stepping into this space for a minute will help gain confidence. Touching a hand, shoulder or shaking hands are all signs of confidence and strength (see reference 2). However, in some cultures, it would be considered very rude to touch a person's hands or shoulder. Be aware of this!
- Facial expressions. Your facial expressions play a big part in projecting a good impression, so be sure to look interested by maintaining good eye contact, smiling and nodding appropriately while you listen.
- Unconscious gestures. Be wary of actions like fidgeting in your seat, shaking your legs under the table, biting your nails, touching your hair, fiddling with your ring or earrings or constantly glancing at your watch. Not only are these gestures distracting, they also give the impression that you are nervous, not confident, uninterested, or in a hurry to get the session over with (see reference 3).
- Smile! Smiling adds warmth and an aura of confidence. Others will be more receptive if you remember to check your expression.
- Lean in. The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what's going through your head. Leaning in says, "tell me more." Leaning away signals you've heard enough.
- Remember posture. Your posture is just as important as your grandmother always said it was. Sit or stand erect if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair or lean on the wall, you look tired. No one wants to do business with someone who has no energy (see reference 4).