There is a common statistic bandied around when it comes to communication: only 7% of it is verbal. The rest relies on body language, intonation and other visual clues as to how you are feeling and thinking in the presence of others. Another statistic: we form a first impression of someone in the first two seconds of meeting them. That's how quick the human race is at judging each other, regardless of whether we care to admit it or not. It is an internal process that we cannot help or control.

As an example, think of two scenarios where you are meeting a new employee or team member for the first time. If someone walks into your office, shoulders hunched, not meeting your eye and with a frown, that's hardly a good impression. Someone striding in, smiling and upright with their hand extended as they say hello and acknowledge you directly? Much better.

There are some things related to first impressions that we cannot change: a disability, age, or our skin colour, for example. Although these will add to that 'first impression' moment, there is little you can do to alter someone's perception of these features, even if it's a positive one. some stereotypes can work to your advantage: if you have to wear glasses but prefer contacts, wear your specs to interview: the general concensus is that it will make you look more intelligent!

Body language is ingrained and will reflect our inner selves most of the time. The trick is to try not to show it and that means a concentrated effort to improve your own body language. Eye contact is a major plus. It shows attentiveness, good listening skills and direct contact with the person involved. That said, there can be too much of it - staring someone down is likely to make them uncomfortable. Even if you'd much rather stare at the floor, a plant across the room or another colleague because of how shy you are - it's imperative to make the effort to meet someone's eye. We all know how it feels when someone neglects this. The stereotype of someone being shifty or untrustworthy may rear its ugly head. In a group, make a special effort to make eye contact at least once with every individual person, so that they feel included and will listen more attentively.

You can build up a better rapport with someone by having 'open' body language. Remember the slouching new employee? It doesn't make a good impression. The same goes for any defensive pose that 'pushes' people subconsciously away from you. Folding arms is a classic example. It says 'go away, I'm uncomfortable'. You may well be, but try not to show it. Body language experts suggest open arms, exposed wrists and subtle hand movements when talking in order for your body to help get your message across instead of detracting from it.

Mirroring is another technique that helps others feel more comfortable with you. Believe it or not, it's used very often in dating to see if someone likes you. Couples often mirror each others' body language. If you do this subtly with business colleagues (not that you always want to date them, you understand), then it can have a deeper subconscious effect on them. It may feel a little subversive, almost like hypnotism, but it's a perfectly common and acceptable way to use body language to your advantage.

All the above should be considered before you move on to a more difficult subject and that's concentrating on what you say. HOW you say it is the art of body language, and those who harness its benefits let it speak for them better than any number of words.