Last year I was fortunate to listen to Professor Iven Mareels, Dean, Melbourne School of Engineering, University of Melbourne where he emphasised that he wanted equal numbers of girl and boy students entering his faculty and all of them need skills listed in the following order: Firstly, written and verbal communications skills; secondly, teamwork; and then Specialist Maths were his requirements. His emphasis on the first two priorities was very clear and somewhat of a surprise to some in the audience based on their sudden intake of breath. He went on to say that engineers spend much of their time, not only researching but writing reports and preparing the ‘pitch’ to ‘sell’ the report. He noted if the reports are not written well, the project might never be funded, supported or even noticed.

As the study of neuroscience and psychology both develop, our notions of intelligence are evolving and changing with the research. It’s easy to think that people blessed with brains are going to leave the rest of us behind, but that is not necessarily the case. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy knows first-hand how powerful attitude and body language can be.

Cuddy was seriously injured in a car accident as a teenager, resulting in brain damage that took about 30 points from her IQ at the time. As a result of the trauma, Cuddy lost confidence and her sense of efficacy. Despite these difficulties, she slowly made her way through college and was accepted into the graduate program at Princeton.

Cuddy continued to struggle until she discovered that it was her lack of confidence that was holding her back. This was especially true during difficult conversations, presentations, and other high-pressure, highly important moments.

Cuddy, now a Harvard academic, devoted her research, regarded as controversial by some, to the impact body language has on your confidence, influence, and, ultimately, success. She expounds the powerful effects of positive body language and attitude. Positive body language includes things like appropriate eye contact, active engagement/listening, and targeted gestures that accentuate the message you’re trying to convey. Her studies contend that people who use positive body language feel better about themselves, others like them and they are more emotionally intelligent.

Positive body language changes your attitude. Cuddy suggests that consciously adjusting your body language to make it more positive improves your attitude.

Your attitude creates the confidence and clarity that supports dealing with deadlines, decisions, and volume of work.

Positive body language makes you more likeable. Body language is a significant factor in how you’re perceived and can be more important than your tone of voice or even what you say. Learning to use positive body language will make people like you and trust you more.

Positive body language conveys competence and it’s a powerful tool in negotiation. There’s no question that body language plays a huge role in your ability to persuade others to your way of thinking. Researchers studying the phenomenon in virtual communication found that body language in video conferencing played an important role in the outcome of negotiations.

Your ability to effectively communicate your emotions and ideas is central to your emotional intelligence. People whose body language is negative have a detrimental effect on those around them.

We often think of body language as the result of our attitude or how we feel. This is true, but psychologists have also shown that the reverse is also true: changing your body language can change your attitude.

The traditional academic knowledge and skills remain an important factor leading to success. Professor Mareels listed high level Mathematics and written communication skills. We also know they are not the only factors leading to success in adult life. Hard work, attitude, body language and soft skills (e.g. teamwork) are becoming known as important factors in adult success.