Communication in the workplace is critical. Not only do you need to pay attention to what you say verbally, but it’s also important to consider the messages you’re sending to others through your body language.
As Fast Company reported, “Derald Wing Sue, a professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University calls these signals ‘microagressions,’ and notes that these can have a profound and sometimes damaging effect on how others perceive us.”
You can use your body language to support or negate certain assumptions. I believe this is especially important in the workplace because perception sometimes is reality. For example, if colleagues perceive you as not adding value because your body language or tone implies you’re indifferent to your role, they might look for behaviors to support those inferences. Being aware of body language do’s and don’ts can help you to be seen in a more favorable light.
Here are some tips for the workplace:
Be present and resist distractions.
Don’t be distracted when you are having a conversation. For example, avoid checking your phone or laptop. No matter your workload and the sense of urgency you feel, these actions make you appear unengaged. If you want to take notes on your computer or phone while someone is speaking, let them know you are going to do so. Don’t assume they know what you’re doing.
Pay attention to spacing and proximity.
Take note of the body language of the people to whom you’re talking. Notice if they want to get closer or need more space and are moving back. Sometimes when a topic is contentious, the other person will want a little more space. If the person is sharing something intimate or personal, they might want to be closer to you.
It’s also important to be aware that different cultures have different thresholds for personal space, so adjust based on where you are and the background of the person you’re speaking to. Read your audience and don’t assume they are comfortable just because you are.
Your posture is really powerful. Sitting with slumped shoulders can convey weakness, vulnerability or that you are too tired to function. Sit up straight with your shoulders back, and keep your chin up. Project confidence with your body, not just your brain.
Maintain eye contact.
When you meet someone, say hello, smile and make eye contact. Connect with your eyes, but don’t stare. If you try to keep their gaze for too long, they might feel uncomfortable. It is especially important to make eye contact when you’re trying to hit a point home. In the business world, I’ve found eye contact equals honesty.
Don’t cross your arms.
Crossing your arms is a natural sign of defensiveness. Sometimes people cross their arms because they’re thinking, but other times it’s a sign that they are not engaged or interested.
Master the art of the handshake.
Your handshake matters, whether you’re trying to make a favorable first impression or land a new job. Some people make inferences about your character based on the way you shake hands, including how confident or extroverted you are and your willingness to cooperate. In fact, a study by Harvard Business School found that “handshaking promotes the adoption of cooperative strategies and influences negotiation outcomes.” So, how should you shake hands? I recommend having a cool hand, keeping a firm and assertive grip, making eye contact and limiting the handshake to two or three pumps.
It’s often said that you make a first impression within seven seconds of meeting someone, so make sure your body language is reflective of the way you want to come across to others.