1. To boost your confidence, assume a power pose
Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that simply holding your body in expansive, “high-power” poses (leaning back with hands behind the head and feet up on a desk, or standing with legs and arms stretched wide open) for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone-the hormone linked to power and dominance-and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Try this when you’re feeling tentative but want to appear confident. In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, these poses lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. The study also found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying.
2. To increase participation, look like you’re listening
If you want patients to speak up, don’t multitask or be distracted while they do. Instead, focus on the patient as she/he is speaking by turning your head and torso to face them directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding, and tilting your head are other nonverbal ways to show you’re engaged and paying attention. It’s important to hear people. It’s just as important to make sure they know you are listening.
3. To encourage collaboration, remove barriers
Physical obstructions are especially detrimental to collaborative efforts. Take away anything that blocks your view or forms a barrier between you and the patient. Even when sharing coffee, be aware that you may create a barrier by holding your cup and saucer in a way that seems deliberately to block your body or distance you from her.
4. To connect instantly with someone – reach out and touch
Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. Touching someone on the arm, hand, or shoulder for as little as 1/40 of a second creates a human bond. Shaking hands is a good beginning, but reaching out with a warm touch to the hand or arm during communication is a comforting and winning gesture.
5. To stimulate good feelings – smile!
A genuine smile not only stimulates your own sense of well-being, it also tells patients that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. A genuine smile comes on slowly, crinkles the eyes, lights up the face, and fades away slowly. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how others respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.
6. To show agreement, mirror expressions and postures
When people unconsciously imitate your body language, it’s their way of nonverbally saying that they like or agree with you. Subtly mirroring a patient can build rapport and nurture feelings of mutuality. Mirroring starts by observing a person’s facial and body gestures, and then subtly letting your body take on similar expressions and postures. Often, the patient will feel understood and accepted.
7. To improve your speech, become “Italian” – use your hands
Brain imaging has shown that a region called Broca’s area, which is important for speech production, is active not only when we’re talking, but when we wave our hands. Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as we talk can actually power up our communication and hold a patient’s attention.
8. To learn a person’s true emotional state – watch their feet Under stress, people will often display nervousness and anxiety through increased foot movements. Feet will fidget, shuffle, and wind around each other or around the furniture. Feet will stretch and curl to relieve tension, or even kick out in a miniaturized attempt to run away. Studies show that observers have greater success judging a person’s real emotional state when they can see the entire body. You may not know it, but instinctively you’ve been reacting to foot gestures all your life.
9. To sound authoritative, modulate your voice
Prior to communicating with a patient, in person, or by phone, allow your voice to relax into its optimal pitch by keeping your lips together and making the sounds “um hum, um hum, um hum.” Be careful that your voice doesn’t rise at the ends of sentences as if you are asking a question or seeking approval. Instead, when stating your opinion, use the authoritative arc, in which your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence and drops back down at the end.
10. To improve your memory, uncross your arms and legs
Body language researchers have reported a fascinating finding in a recent study. When a group of volunteers attended a lecture and sat with unfolded arms and legs, they remembered 38% more than a group that attended the same lecture and sat with folded arms and legs. To improve your retention, uncross your arms and legs. If you see your patient is exhibiting defensive body language, change tactics, take a break, or get them to move. Don’t try to persuade or motivate them until their bodies open up.