What Steve Jobs—and a surgeon—can teach us about using body language to boost likability, trust and respect

Apple Computer Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs unveils the company's new iTV during a news conference in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, September 12, 2006.
Kimberly White | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Most people don't like hearing the truth. But being brutally honest is what I get paid to do.

As a talent agent and career coach of nearly three decades, part of my job is to point out anything that could hurt my clients' reputation. And one thing I often have to tell them is, "Your body language is awful, and it needs work."

Appearance and nonverbal communication matters more than most people think. It doesn't matter if you wear the fanciest or most expensive outfit; if you don't know how to present yourself as an authoritative and trustworthy person, you'll never garner the respect you need to succeed in life.

Get people to respect you with authoritative body language

Steve Jobs understood the power of authoritative body language. In addition to the Apple co-founder's equally distinguishable and relatable look, he wore other outward expressions of authority — an upright posture, open body language and a commanding gait.

Jobs' presentation style both on and off the stage communicated absolute conviction in what he was selling: Apple products and himself.

"If you don't know how to present yourself as an authoritative and trustworthy person, you'll never garner the respect you need to succeed in life.

His lavish announcements of new Apple products were more anticipated than most movie premieres, and they were punctuated by his stylistic authority whereby he commanded the stage and the millions of Apple customers who followed online.

Here's what Jobs can teach us about how to use authoritative body language to instill trust and respect:

1. Wear a wardrobe that matches your personality. Not only should your clothes make you feel confident, it should also be appropriate for the culture and environment of the audience you're trying to win over. Jobs' trademark black turtleneck coupled with his wire-rimmed glasses, blue jeans and white New Balance sneakers conveyed relatable authority. He was the "geek turned tech guru" that many Apple users could relate to.

2. Never slouch. Hold a tall, straight posture — whether standing, sitting or walking. You can achieve this by engaging your core muscles. Another trick is to pull your shoulders back, raise them to your ears, then roll them back down until they rest comfortably.

3. Head up. You can't achieve eye contact if your face is gazing toward the ground. Keep your neck and head held high. (Think of a wire attached at the crown holding your head straight up.)

4. Use open-handed gestures above the waist to convey a point. One of Jobs' favorite hand gestures was holding both of his hands up, with the palms facing each other (like he was holding a basketball). This movement displayed confidence and control, as if he had the facts at his fingertips.

The late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Keep your movements natural, though. Overly dramatic gestures will make you look like you're trying too hard.

5. Don't drag your feet. First impressions are everything, so when you walk into a room, maintain a confident gait and hold your chin up. Arms should be comfortably resting alongside your hips, not crossed. This often takes a lot of practice.

Trust + warmth = increased likability

More specific nonverbal signals communicate volumes. Arms tightly folded across your chest, lack of eye contact and the absence of a smile will sabotage the overall impression you're trying to make.

Expressions of warmth, however, often translates to strong likability. Dr. Michael Levine, a urological surgeon with Advanced Urology Centers of New York, sometimes invites medical residents to scrub in and accompany him on patient rounds.

"[Patients] want to feel embraced and convinced that your recommendations are sound."
Dr. Michael Levine
Urological surgeon

He says that teaching young doctors how to interact is imperative to helping them succeed in the field. "Patients today want a conversation, a connection, a bridge to build trust," Levine tells me. "They're not just interested in your professional advice. They want to feel embraced and convinced that your recommendations are sound."

In other words, they need to like you. A doctor can have all the expertise in the world, he says, "but if they don't deliver the right kind of experience, they won't be accepted [by the patient]."

Here are the tips Levine gives his residents (and there's a lot we can learn from them, no matter what field of work we're in):

1. Where you put your hands says a lot. Never speak to patients with your hand on the doorknob. It makes them feel like you're in a hurry to get away, and that your mind is already elsewhere, Levine explains.

2. Avoid looking at the clock (or your watch). Stay focused on the topic of conversation to better manage your time. Do your best to convince the patient that you've given them the time to answer all their questions.

3. Relax your face. Smile often, keep your gaze soft and make eye contact (but don't stare). If you feel your eyebrows knitting together or your lips tightening, slowly take a deep breath to soften your expression.

4. Feet should be pointed toward the patient. Levine advises residents to always point their toes in direction of their patients. This makes them feel that their doctor is completely engaged, and not just there to dispense medical advice.

5. Lean forward. This helps you stay engaged and conveys genuine interest in the patient. But be respectful of their space by not leaning or standing too close.

Remember, warmth is tangible. When you communicate it through body language, it produces a positive feeling that can be felt by you and the other party.

Steve Herz is president of The Montag Group, a career advisor to CEOs and entrepreneurs "Don't Take Yes for an Answer: Using Authority, Warmth, and Energy to Get Exceptional Results." He has represented and coached dozens of sports, media and entertainment leaders. Follow him on Twitter @steveherz.

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