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Like your clothing or the way you speak, your style of strolling sends others a strong message about you—even if that message is bogus.
Researchers from Switzerland and the U.K. discovered that people make consistent judgments about a guy’s personality based on his walk. The twist: those judgments are often way off. “The impressions people form from observing another person’s gait are far stronger than what is supported by reality,” explains John Thoresen, Ph.D., of Durham University.
While you can’t always judge a book by its cover—or a person by his stride—there are broad categories of walking styles that betray tidbits about your personality, says Patti Wood, body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions. “Most people are some combination of two of these categories, although one in particular usually dominates,” she explains.
Here, Wood breaks down the four major types of walking styles, what each says about you, and the small tweak you can make to leave a better impression on others.
His walk: Fast and focused, he looks like he has somewhere to be and knows exactly how he’s going to get there. “If there’s an obstacle in his way, he’s going to take the most direct path through or around it,” Wood says. If that means occasionally bumping into someone, the Driver probably won’t be bothered much by that, she adds. His weight is usually forward, as though he’s charging ahead. He’s also likely to multitask while he’s walking, whether that means talking or texting on his smart phone, or breaking down a big client proposal or date in his head. “He really isn’t seeing or interacting with the people he passes,” Wood adds.
What others think: He’s all about getting things done. And while people admire his focus, he may seem slightly cold and unapproachable. This impression can cut the Driver off from others, especially coworkers, Wood warns.
The tweak: From time to time, make an effort to slow down and take more casual strides, Wood advises. Also, make eye contact and smile or nod at your colleagues as you pass them. “Stop once in a while to say hello,” she suggests. You don’t have to do this all the time. But a slower pace and a little more engagement with the people around you will let them know you’re friendly and accessible, if also very goal-oriented.
His walk: Slow and cautious, his eyes tend to be somewhere around his feet or the ground, as though he’s worried about making a wrong step. He also tends to be lighter on his toes, like he’s walking on eggshells. His arms are probably held close to his sides as he walks in order to avoid intruding on other people’s space. And he’s not likely to use a phone, or to walk and talk alongside friends or colleagues unless absolutely necessary.
What others think: He may seem aloof and unsure. People will also tend to see him as introverted and shy, Wood says. Like the Driver, he may also come off as unapproachable and somewhat cold, though for different reasons.
The tweak: Raise your eyes and try to take slightly longer strides to seem more certain of yourself and the direction you’re headed, Woods recommends. You should also try walking and talking with coworkers. “Men tend to communicate best when side-by-side, as opposed to facing each other,” Wood says. “And a lot of the most productive conversations happen when you’re strolling together around the office, or walking to lunch.” Try to develop this skill.
His walk: Faster, though not as quick as the Driver, his gait is springy and energetic. He loves to gesture while walking, and is extremely engaged with anyone he passes, whether that’s smiling and waving or shouting out. His eyes tend to sweep from side to side while walking, taking everything in. His chest is forward, his shoulders are back, and his head is way up. He’s usually in the lead—the first to leave a room or get up from the conference table. (A lot of politicians have an Influencer gait, Wood says.)
What others think: You’re fun and charismatic, but you can seem a little over-the-top, Wood says. You’re socially adept, and people like you. But you may overdo it sometimes, and can hog the spotlight in some situations when another person has the right to it, Wood says.
The tweak: Slow down a bit, try to rein in your gestures and enthusiasm from time to time, and let others lead for a change. “Consider your situation,” Wood suggests. “Is it a good time to make your presence known, or is this an opportunity to hold back and defer to others?” You may not think your walk reveals so much about you—but it does, Wood stresses.
His walk: Slow- to medium-paced speed, with a loose posture. His gait is very smooth, not quick or choppy, and his weight tends to be over his legs, not forward or back. He’s also likely to gesture a lot while walking, though the gestures are small and not exaggerated.
What others think: He’s more people-focused than task-focused, Wood says. It’s clearly important for him to be acknowledged by others, but he’s too shy to be flashy about this need. It’s also pretty obvious that he wants to be liked and to be part of the team. He can come off as a little lost at times.
The tweak: Drivers or Influencers may see you as weak or too easily distracted. Try to speed up your walk a bit and tell yourself to walk with purpose—like you have somewhere important to be. Do this especially in front of company brass, or a woman you’re trying to impress.