The workplace is a ‘split second’ society. Many studies have revealed that people form opinions of one another in less than 10 seconds of meeting. Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, combines the latest research in this field and her 25 years of expertise to give guidance on body language messaging.
1. Sitting silently in meetings In most interactions, sitting silently in group dynamics for too long can be perceived as disinterest in the discussion. Purpose to establish a physical presence in meetings and remain engaged throughout. By taking up space in the room, you unconsciously communicate power and confidence to the people in attendance. You can do this by leaning forward while seated, widening your arms and placing them on conference tables or desk, and widening your stance while standing.
2. Keeping your cell phone in sight. Even just leaving your mobile phone in sight on the table in front of you or using it to check the time sends a bad message to the people you are speaking to. It subconsciously says that they are not important to you and that you cannot wait to get back to the cell phone. Anything that takes your attention away from the speaker is a no-no in a meeting. People will think that as soon as it buzzes or gives some other notification, your focus from the meeting will be diminished. Therefore, you should always keep your cell phone out of sight during meetings and use a watch or the clock to check the time. Be careful not to look at your watch too much because they shows boredom and makes the other person feel rushed and unimportant.
3. Crossing your arms. You might cross your arms because you are feeling cold, which is understandable, but in professional settings, it is not advisable. People unconsciously interpret this gesture as you being defensive, resistant to ideas or closed off from conversation.
4. Not smiling. Smiling generally makes people feel more at ease. Allow yourself to smile if the person with whom you are speaking smiles, or if the context of the conversation allows. It does not have to be awkward or continuous; a slight upward curve of the lips should suffice as long as it looks genuine. Practise smiling even when speaking on the phone with someone. Although they cannot see you, your body language transfers to your voice and it is likely the other person will feel the positive difference in your tone.
5. Fidgeting. Fidgeting is inherently a nervous display and automatically puts the other person in an uncomfortable position. Shifting in your seat, fiddling with your hair or face, drumming your fingers on the table or biting your lip; these are just some of the fidgety signals that communicate a feeling of anxiety or disinterest and they are best avoided in professional settings, where you need to demonstrate enthusiasm and confidence.
6. Exaggerated gestures Excessive hand and body gestures can communicate that you are a chaotic, unreliable or untrustworthy person. If you naturally tend to communicate with your hands, be conscious about them and resort to controlled and open gestures such as showing your palms to the audience which show openness, leadership and confidence.
7. Forgetting to mirror the speaker In interpersonal communication, mirroring is an effective way to show receptiveness. This is done by matching the speaker’s body language in a manner that shows both interest and understanding throughout the conversation. Some characters that can be mirrored include: voice, posture, tempo and movements. You want to avoid staying monotonous when someone is sharing exciting aspects of a new project or sounding excited when sharing news of a team mistake to the manager.
8. Slouching in your seat Good posture is an important element of interpersonal communication and in particular during meetings where you are sitting for a long period. Slouching shows a lack of respect for the speaker and communicates an apathetic attitude. It also makes you look submissive, without much to offer to the conversation.
9. Invading personal space Standing too close to someone can make them very uncomfortable and ultimately suggests that you have no understanding of personal space. Maintain appropriate distance when conversing with colleagues and acquaintances.
10. Contradicting verbal and non-verbal messages People believe your body language over your words, so even if you don’t intend to send the wrong message, you just might. Your body language should match your words. For example, if you are praising someone for doing a good job, do not frown, roll your eyes, cross your arms or sound unimpressed about it. Your face, gestures and voice should also show that you are happy with their work.