Best known for her work as Fox News contributor, Tonya Reiman is nation’s preeminent body language expert. In addition to her appearances on Fox—most commonly on The O’Reilly Factor—Reiman has been featured in media as diverse as Access Hollywood, the Wall Street Journal and Cosmopolitan. As an expert in nonverbal communication, she speaks to everything from politics to business leadership to criminal justice.
Tonya recently took time to speak with Premiere about the importance of understanding body language.
Why did you decide to study nonverbal communication? What initially interested you?
College is when I became interested in nonverbal communication thanks to a psychology professor who taught me a lesson in proxemics, which is the study of space and how we use it. He entered into my intimate zone (18 inches) and without my even realizing it, I slowly and subtly pulled back. In doing so, I lost my “power”, and he became the dominant figure in our encounter. A few years after college, a mentor of mine once again ignited my passion for body language, and I began my intense research into the study of nonverbal communication studying areas of evolutionary biology and psychology.
Why is body language something that business leaders should be concerned with?
All people need to be concerned with body language because it is the core of who we demonstrate ourselves to be. Everyone from the waitress to the CEO needs to be aware of what they tell others—not only in the first few crucial seconds but throughout relationships.
How can business leaders use a strong understanding of body language to their advantage?
Body language not only benefits the person who has mastered the movements for dominance and confidence, it also benefits those who have mastered the mental aspect of persuasion. By simply changing position, moving closer, using specific covert language skills, smiling and nodding at key moments, you are able to influence situations to make the sale, get the deal or win over the discussion.
During this rough economy, how can we use nonverbal communication to instill confidence in consumers and clients?
During this economic crisis, body language plays a key role in ensuring your clients and customers see the most confident and secure you. If you are able to unconsciously convey that you are secure, your company will reap the benefits of that assurance. The brain is hardwired to react quickly to negativity. During hard times, communication via body language ripples beyond its origins within seconds. Frustration triggers sparks of toxicity and poor nonverbal communication slips in quietly. Positivity requires awareness, a bit of time and some reflection. The proper use of nonverbal communication will either ensure productivity and prosperity or it will isolate and weaken your situation. It’s really a matter of choice and commitment.
To ensure excellent communication one must practice in tough times. The brain is wired for repetition, practicing positive nonverbals during tough times allows the mind to revisit those same positive skills if a similar issue rears its head in the future.
What are some things that we should be looking for when we observe co-workers and business associates?
You should be listening to what they say as well as what they don’t say. Confidence breeds charisma, which leads to the perception that you are a success. A lack of confidence can lead to a negative environment, which can cost jobs and money. Your co-workers and business associates need to be demonstrating confidence via good posture, open smiling expressions and appropriate spatial awareness, cooperation via open arms and forward stance, and reassurance via smiles and pats on the back.
What are the most common mistakes people make that result in them being perceived poorly?
Often, people will do seemingly innocuous movements that are perceived as negative such as slouching, tapping the fingers or jazzing the feet, avoiding eye contact, unconsciously and subtly shaking the head back and forth, biting the nails, lips caps, poor voice quality, too many “ahs” and “ums”, and poor fluency. In general, any display of insecurity, anger, hostility, contempt or boredom is considerably dangerous to business. Poor body language is the nonverbal equivalent of throwing in the towel and signals defeat. Unfortunately, it does not take long before these nonverbal cues begin to dictate your moods leading to frequent bouts of low energy, gloom and decreased confidence in a self-perpetuating cycle.
When people are speaking publicly, what are the three most important things to remember about their body language?
A great degree of the success of a presentation depends upon the nonverbal behavior put forward. Unfortunately, most are unaware of their delivery and thus do not recognize the need for improvement. To be effective as a public speaker, one must be lively and dynamic. As animals, we are drawn to movement. Movement keeps us from becoming bored. Hence, the worst thing a speaker can do is stand behind a podium. This not only covers up the majority of the body, but also acts as a crutch for the speaker and a barrier keeping the audience from bonding with the orator. A genuine speaker uses gestures to allow their hands to flow with their words, which then emphasizes their points. Your nonverbal behavior speaks volumes before you have even uttered a word. Most importantly, it reveals your level of confidence. Stand with neck straight up and shoulders back to convey that you want to fascinate your audience. Your eye contact can either help you bond with or destroy your connection with your audience. Make sure you maintain eye contact for three to five seconds with people allowing them to recognize the interaction. This allows your group to feel like participants instead of observers. And of course, your facial expression should match the passion with which you feel about your topic. Become animated and drive home your points with visible enthusiasm.
Excellent prep work ensures powerful words. Excellent body language ensures powerful presentations.
When people try to adjust their body language to send a certain message, do they risk coming off as insincere or like they’re trying too hard? How can you avoid this?
Demonstrating strong, influential body language is like any other skill. It must be understood and practiced. Once you have mastered powerful body language, it becomes second nature. The very cool thing about practicing confident body language is that it typically leads to a positive effect on your mental state.
Do you have any examples of particularly bizarre or interesting nonverbal cues and what they suggest?
An interesting facet about body language is that we disregard the main source of outflow that comes from the lower half of the body. Although the face is what we look to first, the legs and feet can tell us a great deal about a person. For example, when speaking to another, look to their feet to see the direction they are pointed in. if they are pointed in your direction, you hold their interest, if they are pointed towards the door, they are looking for a quick escape.
Is there anything about President Obama’s body language that you’ve found interesting?
President Obama has very confident, approachable body language. I notice he typically roles up his sleeves, which signals to others that he is an “everyday person” on a mission to get down to business.