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What Does Your Body Language Say About You At Work?

Posted August 20, 2019, by Elesha

Your body language gives big clues about what you are thinking and feeling without speaking a word.

So, what is your body language saying about you at work? Could it be holding you back?

Here are a few moves that can give the wrong professional vibe and what to do instead. Oh, and we’ve included specific body language tips to help you rock the interview too!

When your workmates read your body language they can make all kinds of assumptions about you. It’s not only your posture and gestures giving away how you really feel, there are other types of body language too.

Facial expressions

Expressions of happiness, disbelief, frustration, excitement, boredom, annoyance, etc are all easy to read without verbal communication. They can flash across your face in an instant – whether you want to reveal our feelings or not!

From scowling when you’re assigned unexpected work, to smiling when you greet colleagues or pouting when your boss gets the ‘great job!’ for work you actually did, can all influence how you’re perceived in the office. 

Posture and hand gestures

The way you sit, stand, walk, hold your head and hand gestures you make speak volumes to those who are watching or communicating with you. 

If you sit up straight or stand straight when speaking, you’ll appear more confident than  slouching or stooping. The right hand gestures can make you appear confident and in control too, especially during a presentation. 

If your boss puts you on the spot and you’re completely unprepared to say anything, here are 3 handy hand gestures you could use. We can’t guarantee they’ll win you any credibility, but it’s worth a try!

Eye contact

Eye contact is a big one.

The signals your eyes send out can reveal a whole realm of unspoken communication. Eye contact can command attention, display interest, demonstrate dominance, show disapproval and create intimacy. Take that last one too far at work and you could put your job at risk…so use with caution!

Eye contact is key to maintaining the flow of a conversation and in the workplace, two important times to make assertive eye contact is when you’re giving instructions or sharing information. 

Voice

Body language isn’t just how you use your body; your voice plays a key role too. It’s not about the words you say, it’s how your tone and speech patterns can reveal more (or contradict) what we’re actually saying. 

Your voice and volume can show stress and tension, demonstrate confidence, inspire and energise others, convey affection or deliver sarcasm. ‘Voice branding’ as it’s referred to in this TED Talk by Dr Wendy LeBorgne is important in shaping your professional image so manage your voice with care.. 

Touch

The most common type of professional ‘touch’ in the workplace is the handshake. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues you’re sending the next time you shake someone’s hand. Whether it’s limp, robotic, strong or overpowering (made consciously or unconsciously) your handshake sends a clear message to the receiver. 

A pat on the back or shoulder could indicate a job well done but tread very carefully when using any kind of physical touch with colleagues, in or out of the office. 

Space

We’ve all had that awkward feeling when someone is just standing a little (or way!) to close for comfort. 

How we fill the space between ourselves and our co-workers can communicate non-verbal messages; closeness can signal aggressiveness or dominance in a non-verbal way, or convey intimacy and friendliness.

Leaning forward slightly to listen to your colleague is a way indicate you are paying attention and value what they’re saying while standing at an obvious distance might make you appear stand-offish (literally) or uncomfortable. 


So, now you know the different types of body language, let’s take a look at a few moves that can give the wrong professional vibe and what to do instead.

Slouching In Your Chair

By the time 3pm rolls around on a busy day, it’s not surprising you’re slouching low and sloppy in your chair….but it really doesn’t set you in a good professional light. 

Slouching can give off the vibe that you lack energy, don’t care or are lazy.

Hmm…not the best image you’re putting out, especially if you’ve got your eye on a promotion.

Do this instead

Your sitting posture speaks volumes about your confidence and professionalism. Keep your back straight, chin up and put both feet flat on the floor. 

The ergonomics of your desk and seating set up come into play too. It’s easier to maintain great posture with a supportive chair that lets you sit up straight. Your head should be aligned directly over your shoulders and hips when your eyes are on the screen.

Fitting a few quick stretches into your workday, like these, will help you maintain good posture too.

Appearing Too Tense

You’re just concentrating, right? 

Brows furrowed, eyes narrowed and powering through your to-do list. You’re in the zone! 

The problem is, your colleagues think you look more angry, stressed out and wound up than hyper-focused. When they come to ask you about the report update (if they dare) you turn and bore that steely gaze right through them. Yikes!

Tense facial expressions (we’re looking at you, RBF) can put people off and make you seem unapproachable and closed. 

Do this instead

Be conscious of taking your intense facial expression down a notch when talking with colleagues. Relax your face, smile and open your palms to convey a sense of friendliness and openness. 

Crossing Your Arms 

In the world of body language, crossing your arms is a negative, defensive gesture.

Whether you’re doing it consciously or unconsciously, it signals defence mode. It’s the classic closed body posture that gives the impression of resistance; to an idea, person or conversation.

It’s not always about being angry though, we cross our arms when we might be feeling shy or nervous too. 

Whether we’re frustrated or shy – crossed arms say “My barrier is up!”

Do this instead

Keeping your arms relaxed by your side or using hand gestures with open palms is more approachable body language indicating openness and willingness. 

If you find yourself folding your arms before you walk into a meeting or work event, check-in with yourself to see if you’re worried about something. 

You could also hold something during a discussion that may become tense – like a notepad or bottle of water – to stop yourself crossing your arms. 

Not Giving Enough Personal Space

Watch that space! 

Are you a close talker? Or make a coffee in the breakroom an inch away from your colleague making hers? 

Encroach on people’s personal space at work and you can come across as intimidating, annoying or worse, perceived as making an unwelcome sexual gesture.

Do this instead

Be conscious of maintaining a ‘personal space bubble’ between you and your colleague – about an arm’s length – when talking. 

It’s also wise to avoid making physical contact with a colleague, putting your arm around them or touching them in any way. These kinds of physical gestures can land you in hot water if perceived as inappropriate. 

Take the hint. If someone leans away from you, it’s probably a sign you’ve invaded their personal space and are making them uncomfortable. Take a step back.

Body Language Tips For Interviews

Poor body language in an interview could mean leaving a less than stellar impression and might cost you the job – no matter how impressive your CV is.

When you’re sitting avoid crossing your arms or legs – this is closed body language and a big interview mistake. Instead, lean forward (not too far!) to show the interviewer you’re interested and receptive. 

Body language experts recommending turning your chair, or your body, about 45 degrees from the interviewer, so you’re not facing them straight on.

Don’t fidget with your hair, clothes or jewellery or move around too much in the chair –  you’ll give off a vibe of nervousness. If you are feeling a bit jumpy, focus on slowing your breathing down – an instant way to feel calmer. 

Mind your hand gestures. Keep your palms open and facing upwards, this indicates honestly, and be conscious not to clasp them together, this indicates anxiety. 

Making eye contact throughout the interview is so important; it helps establish trustworthiness and shows confidence. This doesn’t mean you should stare intensely, never breaking eye contact – that would be kinda creepy. Instead, move your gaze around the interviewers face, between the right eye, left eye and mouth. 

Pro tip – look into their eyes just long enough to notice what colour they are.

For panel interviews, look at each member of the panel but focus your eye contact on whoever is asking questions at the time. 

Smile! A happy, open face leaves a great impression so don’t forget to turn that frown upside down.

Finally, mirror the interviewers’ gestures. This is an effective technique but the key here is subtlety. You can reflect their hand gestures, language and volume of speech – just don’t be obvious about it! 

Mirroring the interviewer will actually put them at ease and you’ll be more likely to build rapport.

Scored a new job? Congrats! Check out these 6 ways to make an awesome impression on your first day of work. 

Elesha

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