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Have you ever wondered why some people are so convincing and engaging as leaders? It’s because they have a strong sense of self-confidence, but also because they’re good at using words. However, just the right words aren’t enough to engage or motivate others. What you need is the right body language. Body language is tremendously powerful; it can make or break your image as a trustworthy and empathetic leader even before anything you’ve said has reached their ears.

In this article, you’ll learn why body language is similar around the world and how to avoid invading someone’s personal space. You’ll also learn that women are better at reading body language than men.

Big Idea #1: Strong leadership requires good communication – body language included.

Leaders need good communication skills. Good communication is more than just words though, it’s also about body language.

You won’t convince or inspire anyone without the right body language. Even worse, you might make a bad first impression. However, the right body language will help you build empathy with whoever you’re communicating with.

As a leader, your body language is interpreted and judged almost instantly. Studies show that we evaluate a person’s credibility, confidence, likeability and trustworthiness within seven seconds of meeting them.

How does body language happen so fast? It’s because of how the brain works. The limbic system is where body language originates from.

The limbic system is a set of brain structures responsible for emotion and memory. It’s the part of the brain that receives and processes emotional information. In that way, it serves as an alarm system, quickly determining if something is threatening.

Since humans are all built the same way and have a limbic system, body language is basically universal. Basic expressions of fear, surprise and anger are displayed in similar ways around the world. That’s also why body language was one of the earliest forms of human communication; it allowed early humans to decide within seconds if a person was friendly or threatening.

Thankfully, nowadays we don’t rely on body language to stay alive anymore. However, it’s still an important skill in business.

Big Idea #2: Successful leaders can both read good body language and project it themselves.

Crossing your arms while asking a question can be interpreted as closed-mindedness. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it because you’re cold or not. It’s how the person receiving the question interprets it that matters most.

When we meet a leader, we subconsciously judge his authority and warmth. A person is more likely to convey warmth by facing the speaker, nodding, smiling and keeping arms uncrossed. Power and social status are also conveyed through body language. So if you want to come off as strong and authoritative, maintain good posture, speak clearly with your eyes focused on the speaker’s face. People want leaders who can project stability and confidence this way. That’s why body language is so important in politics; when people size up a politician they first judge party affiliation (whether he’s Democrat or Republican), then they look at his body language for clues about how confident he seems (for example: fidgeting vs standing tall).

In the future, body language will become even more important because of the growing cultural diversity in workplaces. With different languages and cultures, people need to be able to communicate with each other. You might not be a native speaker for everyone on your team, but you can still convey warmth and trustworthiness through body language.

The Silent Language of Leaders Book Summary, by Carol Kinsey Goman