Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko
Body language is a powerful tool in the workplace. Using it effectively can help you communicate better with colleagues and managers, and improve your career. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of body language in a professional setting, and provide tips to help you succeed.
Have you ever felt a little out-of-sync in your workplace — like your co-workers just weren’t hearing what you had to say, or reacted to you in a way that you didn’t mean? Even with the best of intentions, sometimes we just can’t get our true message across. You might be the best writer in the world, or have incredible ideas, but if your body language isn’t matching up with your intended message, you simply won't be heard.
Learning to utilize and interpret nonverbal communication is vital to success in the workplace at every level, and it's not impossible to learn. It requires some self-awareness, as well as the ability to be compassionate, attentive, and a great listener. Let’s take a look at a few body language tips to help move your career forward.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can utilize the elements of body language in the workplace, job interviews, or even during an “elevator pitch,” including
What is body language?
Why is it important to understand body language?
Dos and don’ts of body language
5 examples of positive body language
Have you ever spoken to someone who kept checking his or her watch? Or repeatedly stifled a yawn? You probably got the impression that they’d rather be elsewhere. That’s because you picked up on their body language, which includes a wide range of nonverbal cues that we use to communicate our intents and moods. This can include hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and even how you stand or sit in a chair. Once you’ve mastered the basic elements of nonverbal communication, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how others react to you, and make changes to your own body language so that you can effectively portray a more confident, approachable, and winning version of yourself.
According to Psychology Today, “microexpressions,” which are momentary facial displays of emotion, “register in the human brain almost immediately—even when a person is not consciously aware they have perceived anything.” For this reason, body language can influence how an individual is perceived, and how he or she interprets other people’s motives, dispositions, and sincerity.
If you understand what cues to look for, you’ll be able to notice silent emotions or feelings in others. It’s not always easy, and it can be missed if you’re not sure what to look for in a presentation, meeting, or one-on-one encounter. Remember, you use body language in every encounter you have with colleagues and clients.
Consider the 55/38/7 Formula, created by researcher Albert Mehrabian, which determined that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and only 7% what you actually say. By being aware of your own nonverbal communication, you can develop and demonstrate your interest and professionalism towards others.
If an interaction with a colleague isn’t going as you intended, it’s important to remember the “3 P’s,” developed by therapist Magali Peysha: Purpose, Posture, and Presence. Focusing on why you’re interacting with this person, what your body language is saying, and staying in the moment will help you have a positive, productive, and professional encounter.
So what can you do to improve your body language in the workplace? Avoid bad body language by keeping in mind these five important elements:
Pay attention and don’t get distracted. If you’re playing with your phone or checking your texts while interacting with another person, they might think you’re not engaged. Stay in the moment.
Be aware of personal space. Are they getting closer to you, or moving away? This may be an indicator of how someone feels (although be aware that other cultures have different rules for personal space).
Focus on your posture. Sit or stand as straight as your mobility allows, which will project confidence. And don’t cross your arms, as it projects defensiveness.
Use touch effectively. You don’t want to get overly familiar, but a firm handshake can project confidence and the willingness to cooperate.
Even though perfecting body language takes some time, there are things you can do right away to improve your skills and improve your professional relationships.
Use mirroring. If you’re able to, subtly mirror the body language of the person you're talking to, which will make them feel more comfortable and more receptive to what you have to say. But don’t copy their every gesture — that will lead to some major awkwardness.
Look interested. People appreciate knowing that they’re being heard.
Remove barriers. Something as simple as holding a coffee cup too high can indicate being uncomfortable.
Watch people’s feet. It might sound silly, but when stressed or nervous, people will often increase their foot movements, such as tapping or shuffling.
Be alert and respond appropriately. Consider leaning in slightly. Nodding shows you’re listening, and even a slight head tilt can help you appear friendly and open.
Confirmation bias is when we form subconscious opinions about others within minutes of meeting them, and then look for other signs to confirm our feelings, accepting anything that supports them and rejecting anything that doesn’t. Being aware of how we use our body language in these situations can help shift the outcome of an interview or encounter for the better.
Every day, we emit a myriad of unconscious signals during our interactions with others. Using positive body language in the workplace can show you are a team player, friendly, sincere, confident, and seeking success. Conveying this message to your colleagues can help you communicate more effectively, increase your productivity, and improve professional relationships. Being aware of the message you’re sending can support you on your road to career success.
Body language includes a wide range of nonverbal cues that we use to communicate our intents and moods. Make sure your body language matches your intended message.
You use body language in every encounter you have with colleagues and clients, and it can convey important information about you.
It’s important to pay attention, be aware of personal space, focus on your posture, smile, and have a good handshake.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.