Do You Make These 7 Body Language Mistakes?

When you talk you aren't just communicating with your words.

In fact, you are communicating with your whole body.

According to research done by Albert Mehrabian, currently Professor Emeritus of psychology at UCLA, words are only 7 percent of your communication.

The rest is your voice tonality (38 percent) and your body language at 55 percent.

These numbers may vary depending upon the topic, situation and how something is communicated (for instance, talking over the phone is obviously different from talking face to face) but body language is still a very important part of communication.

Three good reasons to improve your body language:

  • Improve your communication skills. If you improve your body language you can get your thoughts across in a more effective way. You can create a connection to another person more easily. When using more powerful and appropriately balanced body language your communication skills become better and more focused.
  • Emotions are linked to your body language. Emotions work backwards too. If you feel good you'll smile. If you force yourself to smile you'll feel good too. If you feel tired or down you might sit slumped down. If you sit slumped down you'll feel more tired and negative. Just try to sit straight up for 5 minutes and feel the difference in energy from half-lying in your chair.
  • Increase your attractiveness. It's not what you say, it's how you say it. A better posture and a more enthusiastic and focused body language will make anyone more attractive. And not just in a sexual way but also when talking to new friends or in job interviews and business meetings.

These 7 common body language mistakes is a mix of deeper things that control our body language. And a few tips where you manually correct and stop reinforcing certain old habits.

1. Not keeping your emotions and focus in the right place.

It seems to me like the biggest part of your body language is how you feel. When you feel open, positive and confident that will come through in your body language. You'll smile and laugh more and gesture confidently and openly.

So to improve your body language in a consistent way in your day to day life the major part consists of improving your life. For example to sleep enough, to eat right, to work out and to get the things you want to get done handled. When you live the life you want to live, when are going about your daily life being your “best self” then you tend to feel good or great. And that comes through in your body language.

As expected, no quick fixes will solve your problem. They can help though.

You can for instance change how you feel temporarily and then build on that feeling by acting as you would like to feel. Once example would be to take kind actions towards someone even though you might feel envious. And then build on that kind feeling your kind action generates. Here are few more ways to quickly change how you feel and a few tips on how to turn a bad day around to a good one.

2. Becoming too self-conscious.

To keep your feelings, thoughts and body language in the right place or to make a change you need to monitor yourself. However, over-doing it will quickly turn your ambitions into feeling self-conscious and nervous. If your inner dialogue goes “Am I doing it right? Am I sitting right? Am I walking too slow? Or too fast?” then you are feeling worried and anxious. That comes through in your body language.

So you need to learn to check your feelings/thoughts or the part of your body language you want to change once in a while. And learn to not let this desire to change spiral out of control into babbling thought patterns in your head that just go around and around and make you feel bad. More on this in the next section.

3. Taking yourself or life too seriously.

Generally, taking yourself or things too seriously isn't a great idea for several reasons. It can cause you to get offended and angry or resentful for the smallest negative thing someone says or does. It can make it hard for you to let things go and instead you let them fester. It can make tasks a whole lot harder to get done as you might see everyday life as a bitter struggle. It can help you reinforce and strengthen victim thinking.

This isn't good for your interactions. And it isn't good for your body language as your negative feelings will come through to others.

It's also not a helpful attitude to have if you want to change your body language as it can make you take this challenge all too seriously. That can cause you to get upset with yourself when you make a mistake. And make you think so much about the challenge that your thoughts get stuck in self-conscious loops.

A few tips for adopting a lighter attitude towards yourself and life are to not identify so much with your thoughts and emotions, to realize that you are not you ego and to develop an abundance mentality.

4. Moving too fast and fidgety.

If you move too fast you can feel stressed. The stress can then reinforce how fast you move. Or make you more fidgety. Moving fast and fidgeting around can make people around you feel stressed, nervous, distracted and uncomfortable.

Shaking your leg while seated or tapping your fingers against the table rapidly are two fidgety habits. Touching your face a lot is another one.

Instead of fidgeting with your hands and scratching your face you can use them to communicate what you are trying to say. Use your hands to describe something or to add weight to a point you are trying to make. But don't use them to much or it might become distracting. And don't let your hands flail around, use them with some control.

If you have a tick or feel fidgety then learning to relax more can help you out. You can, for instance, become more relaxed by just moving slower. This will also make you seem more calm and confident.

Or you can weed out your habit of touching your face simply by keeping it in mind and avoiding it. There might also be larger issues in your life that you need to resolve to decrease or remove your bad habit.

5. Not keeping your posture in mind.

From time to time that is. You shouldn't make mistake #2 and getting obsessed with it. Sitting or standing up straight in a relaxed manner with your head up has a few benefits:

It creates positive emotions such as alertness and feeling focused.
It can help you with first impressions as it makes you seem more interesting/attractive.
It can sometimes help you avoid pain in your back, shoulders etc.

6. Closing up.

Being open and conveying that you are open is one of the most important parts of communication. If you start to close up or walk into an interaction closed up then it will be hard to establish a genuine connection. If you feel a bit wary and closed up inside then it will not only stop you from being open. It will also keep you from relaxing, smiling and laughing and having fun.

A few common ways to close up is to:

  • Cross your arms and/or legs. You have probably already heard you shouldn't cross your arms as it might make you seem defensive or guarded. This goes for your legs too. Keep your arms and legs open. Taking up space by for example sitting or standing with your legs apart a bit signals self-confidence and that you are comfortable in your own skin.
  • Not keeping eye contact. If there are several people you are talking to, give them all some eye contact to create a better connection and see if they are listening. Keeping too much eye-contact might creep people out. Giving no eye-contact might make you seem insecure. If you are not used to keeping eye-contact it might feel a little hard or scary in the beginning but keep working on it and you'll get used to it.
  • Hold your drink at your chest. Don't hold your drink in front of your chest. In fact, don't hold anything in front of your heart as it will make you seem guarded and distant. Lower it and hold it beside your leg instead.

Closing up often comes from feeling nervous or insecure. You may in some way perceive the people you are meeting as a threat.

Perhaps you're afraid that they will mock you, not like you or that you will make a fool of yourself in some way. A few tips to a shake these thoughts and feelings out of yourself is to:

Belly breathe.

This is one of my favourite tips to make myself feel more relaxed and calm in just a minute or two.

Assume rapport.

Just before a meeting, you just think that you'll be meeting a good friend. Then you'll naturally slip into a more comfortable, confident and enjoyable emotional state and frame of mind.

This also helps you and the other people to set a good frame for the interaction. A frame is always set at the start of an interaction. It might be a nervous and stiff frame, a formal and let's-get-to-the-point kind of frame or perhaps a super relaxed one. The thing is that the frame that is set in the beginning of the conversation is often one that may stay on for a while. First impressions last. With some practise – to remove inner resistance towards this idea and get you to feel more like you know what you're doing – you may become pretty surprised at how effective assuming rapport is. I was.


Have a look at a few more ways to handle nervousness. And a few tips for putting a stop to anxiety. Try a few of them plus the ones above to find which one(s) fit you the best.

7. Holding yourself back.

So, let's say you know most of the things above already. It isn't exactly rocket science. So why are you still not using those tips – or tips from somewhere else – to change and experiment with how you communicate?

One big reason may be that you are holding yourself back.

You may hold yourself back from becoming more expressive over all or, for instance, with your hands. Or you may hold yourself back completely from taking up more space or making more eye-contact.

Holding yourself back may be because of a few different reasons. The most common one is probably the one already described in the previous mistake: a fear of what others may think, say or do.

Yes, people may react negatively. And yes, you might exaggerate your body language a bit too much at first by for instance sitting with your legs almost ridiculously far apart.

However, people aren't looking at you as much as you may think. They are like you. They have their own stuff to think and worry about. If you experiment with your body language, then sure, you might seem a little strange sometimes. But most of the time people will probably not even notice that you have changed something. They aren't standing around watching your every move all day long.

Also, keep in mind that if you for example are normally not that expressive then what might feel weird to you isn't necessarily that weird to others. It's just you comparing the old way to the new way in your own head. It's just you getting used to being more expressive.

If you change your body language for the better, most people will only react in a more positive way towards you. Because as mentioned in mistake #1, how you live your life and how you feel comes through in your body language. And if you feel great then that comes through. And emotions are contagious. So now, people you interact with feel better too. And just about everyone wants to feel positive emotions.

So, yeah, you may look like fool a few times if want to change. But that's OK. It's a lot better than going around all of your life and holding yourself back. And if you don't take yourself and life too seriously – mistake #3 – then your fear of looking like a fool and being rejected in some way will decrease.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great post, Henrik! Living in L.A., I find that a lot of people, especially young people, try to act too cool — like they just don’t care that much about what anyone says or does because that’s what they see their heroes doing on TV and in the movies. But, that is a huge mistake if they actually want make any good friends or get the respect of their professors, bosses, etc. Of course, we have to strike a balance between appearing too nice or eager to please and being too nonchalant or bored with everything; but, if I had to err one of these extremes, I’d rather take the former. Sure, people will roll their eyes at you or behind your back, but that’s really their problem, isn’t it? I’ve done a lot of people watching, and in real life, most people (even the seemingly crustiest ones) eventually get won over by niceness. It’s just too irresistible and contagious — like an excited puppy!

  • Shanel: Good point. Trying to act cool works best in the movies. Balanced niceness is better in real life.

  • Henrik, what’s wrong with trying to act cool ;). Kidding, of course.

    I think the biggest problem is definitely being closed off. People use it as a defense mechanism unconsciously,and it’s like a self fulfilling prophecy – you subconsciously think nobody likes you/wants to talk to you, so you close yourself off. And now that you’ve closed yourself off, others pick up on that subconscious cue – and they don’t talk to you!

  • Sid Savara: Very good insights about being closed off and self-fulfilling prophecies. Thanks for sharing!

  • Henrik, very nice post. It is important to avoid these body language mistakes but, as the others said, not by acting but really trying to improve your body language. Body language, as any other language, can be improved by practice and effort.

    It is also equally important to be able to speak body language, i.e. to be able to interpret the body language of others in order to understand what they really want to say and what their real feelings are.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • Good post! It’s very informative and useful. Reading it I realized I was guilty of holding my coffee at chest level, I’m definitely going to work on not doing this anymore. But would it make a difference if I smiled while I held my coffee this way or does this still convey a certain distance to whomever I’m speaking to?

    Thanks for the body language notes!

  • Great refresher and some new things to learn. It is always great to have someone revisit a topic that you have learned and slacked on over the years. I constantly tell people about Effective Communication and you are completely correct…you must be aware of your body language to invoke effective communication.

  • Agreed on this one:

    “people aren’t looking at you as much as you may think. They are like you. They have their own stuff to think and worry about.”

    Normally, we just too aware of ourselves, then scared ourselves and cannot act naturally. We do not aware when we breath, right? Forget yourself, there is no you. Then your body movement will be come naturally.

  • Thanks for this great information. It’s so easy to forget that our body language is just as important as the words we are trying to communicate. Body language is something that I think about from time to time, but it’s not in the forefront until I see an article or book about the subject. I need to read blog this on a weekly basis.

  • Thanks for all the feedback, guys. I´m glad you found something helpful.

    Julie: A smile always pretty much always makes positive difference. =) I think the best thing would be smile and not hold anything in front of your chest. Of course, be careful with coffee so you don´t burn yourself.

  • Funnily, I’ve been writing a post on the same topic. however, when i’m on conversation I care more about what they are saying than how I’m standing.

    If I’m going to give a speech or go to talk to someone initially then I’ll definitely think about it though, habit becomes natural.


  • An awesome read. I know that I came upon your articles in no coincidence as I have been working on my body language for the past few months. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to more!

  • Henrik

    Great post. Body language is the single most powerful enabler to make a positive impact on the people we meet.
    I would like to add that a good dose of confidence would be a very important attribute in non-verbal communications.

    As you note, nervousness can cause our thought process to go haywire. My experience has been that it is easy to overcome this if we feel confident about what we know (our area of expertise).

    Bookmarking you right away…

  • Hi Henrik!

    That’s the main reason why I hold my coffee at chest level but slightly away – it’s rather hot and I don’t want it to spill all over me just in case :D! But nothing wakes me up better than a hot cup of coffee in the morning!

    Thanks for the reply and cheers!