How Body Language Works

Controlling and Manipulating Your Own Body Language

Experts say that by becoming aware of your body language, you can train yourself to control it, and even consciously harness it to make your communication more effective.

West Palm Beach, Fla.-based public relations consultant Cary O'Donnell recommends making videos of your verbal presentations, and then watching the recording with the sound off. Another expert, communication and litigation consultant Theresa Zagnoli, recommends using breathing and relaxation techniques before a meeting to calm yourself, so that you're more aware of your movements and gestures [source: Laneri].

Zagnoli also suggests deliberately altering your body language to better connect with another person. The technique, called mirroring, involves studying the facial expressions, posture, tone of voice and other microexpressions transmitted by the person to whom you're talking, and then subtly mimicking them. While that might seem manipulative or phony to some, Zagnoli believes that affecting that sort of synchronicity actually enables you to communicate your true thoughts and feelings more accurately, and to avoid misinterpretation [source: Laneri].

But be careful. Shaping your body language can backfire if it's not done skillfully, warns consultant and author Janine Driver, who spent a decade training federal agents on how to interpret suspects' body language during interrogations. One potentially dangerous mistake is to focus on a certain detail, without thinking of how it fits into your overall impression.

"Trying to use body language by reading a body language dictionary is like trying to speak French by reading a French dictionary," Driver writes. "... Your actions seem robotic; your body language skills seem disconnected from one another." Instead of trying to alter or mask your natural body language, Drivers suggests striving to refine and clarify it, so that it reinforces rather than distracts from the message you're trying to convey [source: Driver].