10 tips for smart body language at work
| Vaidehi Mehta | - @mehta_vaidehi
Many moons ago, I picked up a book titled Manwatching from a street vendor in Kolkata (then Calcutta). That was the first time I had read about body language, and have since been completely fascinated with what people around me are saying without using words at all. I realised that, with just a few adjustments, I could correct my own non-verbal communication to be positive, both at work and in a social context.
How good you are at your job depends not only on how skilled you are in a particular function but also on the nonverbal messages you send out with your voice, posture, gestures, and manners. To win someone over to your side of the argument, you have to be seen as confident, enthusiastic, transparent and non-threatening.
It’s all in the Kinesics
More often than not, you are probably unaware of what you are conveying to others or what conclusions they are drawing about you. But it is never too late to become aware. Generally, all it requires is a small correction in your own body language to turn a situation in your favour.
1. Watch how you stand
Stand straight. Stand tall. When you slouch, you convey carelessness and lack of confidence. When you stand with your feet together, it appears like you are hesitant.
Stand with your feet about 12 inches apart. A wider stance improves your balance by centring your weight and makes you look more dependable and confident. A word of caution: planting your feet too wide apart will project you as aggressive and combative, so you might want to avoid that.
2. Sit or stand?
If you have a choice, stand. It gives you the upper hand or at least levels the playing field. If you have to be seated, keep both feet on the ground, relax with your arms in a open position, perhaps on the arms of your chair.
Do not fidget. If you do find yourself fidgety, take a deep breath, and place your hands in your lap, or at ease on the table.
3. Use your hands
Did you know that the speech centre in your brain is also activated when you move your hands? Use gestures (not gesticulations) to make your point; you’ll find that your sentences come out sounding crisper and clearer.
When your hands are open with palms facing upward, you project a confident image that says, “I am transparent and have nothing to hide.” Crossing your arms, on the other hand, indicates that you lack confidence, have something to hide, or are not open to suggestion.
Holding your hands close to your body or clenching your fists also make you look nervous and insecure.
4. Beat the stress
Stand with your hands wide open or raise them above your head for a few minutes. Research has proven that such “high power” poses lower the stress-causing hormone, cortisol, in your system, making you more tolerant, and less likely to bite someone’s head off. Try this before an important meeting or presentation.
5. Practise your pitch
Use your voice to your advantage. Speak slowly and clearly so you are less likely to make mistakes or go, “Umm…” or “Huh…”. Use a low pitch; your voice will sound stronger and more emphatic. Practise before a meeting, a pitch (this is also perhaps a reason it is called one), or that important call.
When your voice sounds high or shrill, you come across as nervous. Speak in an even tone that is neither boastful or overly deferential.
6. Maintain eye contact
Perhaps you are an introvert, or shy, or your culture has taught you that looking your manager in the eye is disrespectful. But, with global markets and interactions opening up, you must know that almost everywhere in the world today, making eye contact helps to build a quick rapport. Make positive eye contact at least 50 to 60% of the time.
While there is something shifty about a person who doesn’t meet your eyes, there’s no need to stare fixedly at the people you are talking with either.
7. Smile, please
When you smile, the left prefrontal cortex — the seat of your positive emotions in your brain — is activated. People invariably reciprocate positively when you smile at them. You have a better chance at creating a good impression and winning business with a smile than with a frown or poker face.
P.S.: Smile, not grin, or guffaw, all the time. :)
8. Shake hands with confidence
It is customary today to shake hands when you greet or take leave of people. A firm handshake makes palm to palm contact with your thumb locked with the other person’s. No limp wrists, no bone-crushing grips.
Where you are unsure of whether to shake a woman’s hand, take your cue from her. If she offers her hand, shake it. If she doesn’t, keep your hands to yourself.
9. Respect personal space
Keep your distance. All of us regard the invisible bubble or the immediate space around us as personal. At the least, we feel uncomfortable and crowded; at the worst, we feel offended or threatened when someone intrudes into this space.
Most people consider the immediate 45 centimetres around them as intimate space. With people you have a professional relationship with, stay within the social space, which is 1.2 m to 3.6 m. Anything closer is unprofessional.
10. Be on time
Make sure you are punctual. Always and without exception. Being late to a meeting or an appointment does not say anything positive about you. You will only be viewed as unreliable and disrespectful of others and their time.
There’s so much more…
Kinesics or body language is an interesting subject and there’s so much more to know about it and what we ourselves or others are conveying non-verbally. What I’ve written here are just some tips to help you carry yourself well. If you are interested, there’s a ton of material out there that you can read up. If you have particular questions, do feel free to post your comments/questions to me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Vaidehi Mehta is our very “propah” Content Strategist. She is a teacher and trainer with degrees in Economics, English and Education. Vaidehi spends her time at Influx curating and writing content, and correcting everyone’s English.