Our words are only one way that we use to communicate. Our bodies communicate our thoughts and feelings and send messages that others pick up and use to make judgements about us. We have all come across situation where the words someone is saying don’t seem to line up with what their bodies are saying to us.  If is crucially important to our success in all areas of life that we become aware of the messages that our body language sends out to others. By being aware of, and focused not only on the words that we use, but what our bodies are saying we can come across congruent and send a complete message that will have the impact that we intend.

Here are 7 ways emotionally intelligent people use body language.

They have a firm handshake

Handshakes are very important as they leave an indelible impression. People automatically make judgements about us based on the firmness of our handshakes.  A handshake that is limp and weak leaves the impression that we the person lacks confidence and interest. Bone crushing, strong handshakes send red flags that the person is aggressive or has a need to be dominant. People with high EI know the right amount of firm pressure to use in all situations.

Give others appropriate space

The amount of space we are comfortable with when with others varies from culture to culture. If we stand to close to someone when with them it can make them very uncomfortable and may signal aggressiveness. Standing to far away can signal that we are uncomfortable with them or lack confidence in ourselves.

Face others squarely

Turning away from others or not squaring our bodies with them while speaking indicates that we are either not interested, uncomfortable, not engaged or distrustful of the person with are speaking to. People who are aware and high in EI lean towards the person speaking and make it clear that they are giving them their complete and undivided attention.

Keep up good posture

Sitting up and standing straight while speaking are power positions. They indicate that the person is confident and has self-respect. It also indicates an interest in what the other person is saying and that they value the conversation. Slouching indicates a lack of serious intent in what the other person is saying or a lack of caring in how they view you. It can also be a sign of a lack of self-esteem.

 Keep from being distracted

Whether they are checking the time, looking at their devices, or checking out someone else, we have all experienced someone being distracted while we are speaking to them. When that happens, we are immediately tempted to shut down and end the conversation Why put in the effort to have a conversation when the other person has more important, or interesting things to do than listen to us. Emotionally Intelligent people are very aware of the kind of message this behavior gives and are on guard against any temptation to act in this way.

Make appropriate eye contact

A lack of eye contact can arouse suspicion that we have something to hide. It can also be an indicator of a lack of interest or self confidence. Looking down while speaking can be a sign of self-consciousness or lack of confidence. On the other hand, intense, sustained eye contact can be seen as being aggressive or wanting to dominate. There are cultural variations when it comes to making eye contact. People with high EI maintain eye contact for a few seconds then glance to the side for a few seconds, keeping the conversation focused and respectful to the other person. It is important to glance to the side instead of the floor may be perceived as a lack of self regard. They never roll their eyes, understanding that this communicates a lack of respect.

Keep a warm facial expression

A natural smile helps people warm up to you, but if smiling doesn’t come naturally, forcing it may arouse suspicion and make the person we are speaking to question our sincerity. A neutral, pleasant expression is better than a smile that appears forced. Scowling or too severe, serious looking expressions make others uncomfortable and can convey hostility, causing defensiveness in those we are speaking to.

Putting it all together

Having the right body language is just as important as the words we use and tone of voice we use when we are speaking to others. The good news is that we can unlearn bad habits we may have developed by making a conscious effort to be more aware of them when we speak to others. Like any other habit, it comes down to practicing until they become natural.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.