Can You Really Influence Someone Using Body Language?

How do you use body language to influence someone? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Dr. Abbie Maroño, PhD in behavior analysis and Psychology, on Quora:

This is a question that I have spent my academic career investigating, and one with an endless array of answers.

Human beings make quick and automatic inferences about others all the time, even before any interaction with them has taken place. This is an important evolutionary achievement and one that has been driven in large part by the ability to send and receive nonverbal signals. Of course, body language is just one of the nonverbal channels we use to do this, but it is a powerful one.

Possibly one of the simplest ways we can use our body language to have a positive influence on others is to be mindful of our body orientation (where our body is facing). It is well established in the empirical literature that those who orientate towards their interaction partner are communicating engagement and interest, whereas those who orientate away are displaying disinterest and disengagement. Our body orientation has also been shown to affect perceptions of empathy. For example, research has shown that doctors who do not orientate their body towards their patients when talking to them are perceived as less empathetic than doctors who do orientate their body towards their patient. Hence, when you are wanting to influence cooperative behavior and rapport, make sure you are orienting towards your interaction partner.

Likewise, additional nonverbal cues that indicate interest in the other person, such as leaning forward towards them (particularly when they are talking), nodding to show active listening, and keeping an upright posture, have been shown to influence perceived warmth and competence. Of course, the opposite is also true, leaning away and slouching can signal disinterest and coldness.

Additionally, using expansive gestures (taking up more space) and open postures (keeping limbs uncrossed and away from the torso) can influence perceptions of dominance and power. These nonverbal behaviors have also been shown to influence perceptions of competence and capability, whereas closed postures (keeping limbs close to the torso) tend to influence judgments of lower dominance and lower power.

Finally, no conversation of body language and influence would be complete without the mention of nonverbal mimicry. Nonverbal mimicry refers to when a person imitates the nonverbal behaviors of a conversational partner while they interact. Such that, if person A is standing with their hand on their hip, person B may then adopt this same posture. This mimicry typically occurs without conscious awareness, but research has shown that it can be strategically used to strengthen social bonds and foster harmonious relationships with others. In my own research, I have found that during mock investigative interviews, individuals trained to use nonverbal mimicry subsequently influenced greater feelings of closeness, cooperation, and information elicitation from interviewees than those who did not use nonverbal mimicry.

To sum up, the nonverbal behaviors I have described provide only a glimpse into some of the ways we can use our body language to influence others, but I hope it has piqued your interest enough that you decide to explore this extraordinary field further.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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