Intimidating Body Language: How To Be Taken Seriously
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
When the word, "No," comes out of your mouth, it can mean one of two things.
1. I don't want you to do this, but I don't have any way to stop you. I'm dependent on your (dubious) ethics to protect me, and if you choose to set those ethics aside, you could do anything you want to me because I'm helpless to stop you.
2. If you continue what you are doing, you will NOT like the consequences. If you push this agenda, you will suffer, and you'll deserve it. This is a boundary I will not let you cross and I am willing and able to stop you.
Those are very different meanings to pack into one tiny word! How does someone know which version of No you are truly saying?
They read your body language. Body language adds nuance, emotion, intention, and detail to the words coming out of your mouth. If your body language and your words don't match up, people will believe your body language instead of your words.
So, what can you do with your body language to make sure when you speak, you're taken seriously? 1. Posture. We've discussed this in other blog posts, but I'll re-iterate it here: Stand up straight as if you were the Queen of England. If someone pushes you on an issue, one of the most effective nonverbal cues is to straighten up to your full height. Those extra few inches of height make it clear that you are someone to take seriously. Try it in a mirror at home and see the difference.
2. Posing. Posing is another cue that's easy to make, but has a huge impact on how people see you. Spreading out into a more solid, immovable stance makes it clear that if someone tries to push you (literally or figuratively), you will not be moved. Taking a wider stance with your legs and spreading out your arms a little is a great way to say, "You shall not pass!"
3. Symmetry & Stillness. The difference between a casual pose and an authoritative pose is in the symmetry and stillness of your movements. A leader tends to use more symmetrical poses where what they are doing on the right side of the body is mirrored on the left side of the body. These poses look centered and grounded - like an immovable object. Stillness means you don't fidget or move - you relax into your pose and stay still as you evaluate and judge the person before you. Kennedy's actions in the first 30 seconds of this video are a great example:
4. Eye Contact. When you're standing your ground and standing up for yourself, your eye contact is crucial. Instead of avoiding someone's gaze, you should hold it fiercely. Imagine you are an enormous man-eating tiger stalking your prey. You follow them relentlessly with your eyes, envisioning the moment when you are going to leap from cover and tear them apart with your jaws - that's the kind of eye contact to use. Stare at the spot directly between their eyes. If they keep pushing you, narrow your gaze into a glare and lean in closer, embodying that tiger about to leap.
5. Voice Tone. When someone is nervous and uncertain, their voice pitch gets higher. Unfortunately, sometimes we use this high-pitched voice when we're saying something we think will be taken the wrong way, and we want to soften the blow. This is a mistake - when you're saying something that you mean and you're willing to stand by, you should deepen your voice just a little. You can practice that now by taking a deep breath in, and then slowly letting it out. When the breath is exhaled, say "Hello," in a relaxed voice. You'll notice it's a little deeper than normal, and that's the voice tone you want to use to be taken more seriously when you speak.
As soon as the other person backs off and respects your wishes, you should back off the intimidating body language, too. Often, the other person won't be able to put their finger on why they backed off, but you'll know, and you'll be able to use this with anyone, anywhere, any time. The next time someone begins to disrespect you or try to take advantage, you know exactly what to do with your body language to make them stop.
Got questions about a specific situation where you're not being taken seriously? Not sure how to make these cues look natural and comfortable? Want to build a strategy for turning them into a habit? My coaching clients work one-on-one with me to learn body language cues specifically designed for their challenges and goals. They get instant feedback on how they're using the cues, and total support in refining and tweaking their body language for real-life encounters. I've worked via video-chat with clients in Hawaii, Canada, Finland, South Africa, and all across the United States.
Want to see if working together would be a good fit for you? Take a few minutes to schedule a phone call with me.
If we're a good fit, you'll get the individual coaching and support you need to achieve the big goal you're working towards, and change the way people see you.
If we're not a good fit, you'll get clarity about exactly what you're looking for, and extra resources and information to help you make progress in the meantime, and if I know someone I think is a better fit for you, I'll point you in their direction.
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People will keep underestimating and overlooking you until you have the body language skills to make them take notice. How long are you willing to wait?