A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Body Language Secrets That Will Make You More Successful

Updated: Jan. 31, 2024

Success depends on more than just a shiny resume.

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Get in the right mindset

One of the easiest ways to ensure friendly body language is to go into a room with friendly intentions. “Before meeting someone, imagine that you really like the person,” says attorney and entrepreneur Elena Ledoux. “Then when you start the meeting, try to find reasons why you sincerely like him or her. This leads to a friendly gaze, relaxed body posture, and more smiling.” When you make someone feel special, they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you in the future.

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Perfect your posture

The foundation of good body language is great posture. Straighten your spine, relax your shoulders, and keep your chin parallel to the floor. You’ll also want to keep your arms in a position that doesn’t close off your chest. “Keep your torso open or unblocked,” says John P. Garrison, a psychologist and body language expert. “We tend to cover our chest when we feel anxious or threatened so when it is open, we’re seen as more open and honest.”

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Flash a smile

Everyone knows that smiling gives off positive vibes and shows people you’re open to conversation. But not just any smile will do; in fact, a disingenuous one could wind up backfiring. “Honest emotions are bilateral,” says Garrison. “That means they show up on both sides of the face. So make sure if you are going to smile, that it is a full and genuine smile. A smile on one side of the face is unconsciously interpreted as contempt, so a quick grin or an attempted polite one-sided smile is not a good idea.” Check out these secrets your body language reveals about you.

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Timing is everything

Make your smile even more powerful by timing it perfectly. “Give a smile to someone, but hold it back for a moment or two to really ‘see’ the person,” says Michelle Tyerberg, co-founder of networking group Twin Cities Wedding & Event Professionals. “Then, let that thousand-watt grin spread across your face. This lets the receiver know that the smile is because of who they are, and not you smiling at anything that comes near you.” Don’t miss these 10 other attributes of wildly successful people.

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Make eye contact

Strong eye contact is key to appearing friendly and confident. “Looking someone in the eyes is too intimidating,” body language expert Lillian Glass told CNBC. “Instead, look at the total face for one second. Eyes for one second. Nose for one second. Mouth for one second.” Obviously, you’ll also want to avoid looking around the room or checking your phone.

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Point your feet at whoever you’re talking to

Show the person you’re speaking to that they have your full attention by pointing your toes toward them. “It means you’re connecting with that person,” Glass told CNBC. Additionally, you should lean toward the person slightly to show you’re engaged.

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Shake on it

A firm handshake makes a strong first impression. Reach out vertically and meet the other person in the middle. “Don’t attempt to dominate nor be submissive in your hand positioning,” says Mark Anderson, director of training and development at Anderson Investigative Associates. “Move straight forward and with some measure of firmness. This is not the time for dead fish hands, and if your hand is sweaty, wipe it off.” You’ll also want to avoid the dreaded “alligator arm,” says Anderson. That’s when you reach out your hand but keep your arm attached to the body at the elbow.

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Be aware of this power play

In some cases, power plays are beneficial. But in others—for instance, a job interview—it’s best to appear humble. Garrison says one common hand gesture, putting the fingertips of both hands together to create a triangular shape, also called steepling, can go either way. “Steepling often makes individuals more believable when they are experts in an area and is regularly used by powerful individuals, such as CEOs,” he says. “However, using steepling when not in a position of recognized expertise or power is perceived as arrogant and is likely to irritate others.” Here are 15 more body language mistakes you should never make during a job interview.

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Use hand gestures

Once you’ve started your conversation, you’ll want to let your body move naturally. “Because we freeze when we feel threatened, minimal body movement can be seen as attempting to be dishonest or deceive,” says Garrison. “Research shows that people who speak with more hand gestures are believed to be more honest than those who do not use their hands when they talk.”

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Do this with your hands

One of the most self-assured things to do with your hands and arms is absolutely nothing; leave them at your sides. Still, we understand feeling confident in that position can take years. Other options include holding a glass of water or purse in one hand and leaving the other at your side, or simply clasping your hands behind your back. Never cross your arms in front of your chest if you’re trying to be engaging. Don’t miss these body language tricks to get exactly what you want from life.