It’s no secret that getting ahead in your career is a tricky task, requiring a combination of skill, strategy and experience that usually has to be learnt or acquired. Sometimes, though, it can be more beneficial to scrap the complex behavioural theories and go back to basics. One of the most important – yet most overlooked – aspects of getting ahead is how you project yourself nonverbally or, to put it more succinctly, how astute you are in the art of body language.
Body language is central to first impressions, such as in interviews, but it also says a lot about you in your day-to-day working environment. Therefore, it’s important to understand the various subtleties involved and how you can exploit them to stand out from the crowd.
Luckily, we’ve compiled a handy list of tips to help you out, including how to put each one into practice, so if you’re wondering why the pitch of your voice or weak handshake may have cost you last year’s promotion, read on – this is how to improve your body language in the workplace and effectively advance your career.
1. Stand Up Tall
Height – or the projection of height – is one of the most basic nonverbal ways to project power and confidence in any room, especially in small groups. Indeed, even if you’re not particularly blessed in this particular department, you can still give the impression of being taller than you are.
Whenever you’re in the office, ensure that your posture is strong: straighten your back, lift your chin and keep your head held high. This demonstrates pride in yourself, which translates in the workplace to clear self-assurance in your own abilities.
2. Dominate the Space Around You
In some scenarios, you can project your height even further by standing to address people when they are sitting down. This plays into the more general concept of dominating the space around you, which again suggests a great deal of self-assurance.
Move around, too. Stand-up comedians, for example, are at their most effective and engaging when they walk slowly around the stage; it gives the impression that they absolutely own their territory. You can apply this concept when you’re sat at your desk, too – widen your arms out and always convey your physical presence to its maximum.
3. Lower Your Voice
Although this technically isn’t classed as nonverbal communication, it is still an important part of your overall projection. Before you address an important meeting or talk through an appraisal with your boss, go through a few voice exercises to reach your optimum pitch, and don’t deviate from it.
Indeed, many actors employ this technique on set for this very reason. One such example is Matthew McConaughey, whose ‘chest beating’ voice pitch routine inadvertently became one of the most iconic scenes of the 2014 film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
4. Ignore Power Poses
Despite the 45 million-plus views of social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s infamous TED talk, in which she advocated the release of testosterone through two minutes of lone posturing before a big meeting, it seems ‘power poses’ are not the breakthrough business hack they were once claimed to be. Eleven independent studies – all published in 2017 – were able to identify the original research as being totally flawed and misleading.
One of the new study’s authors, psychologist Joseph Cesario, argues that true projection of confidence actually comes from something much simpler, namely: being good at your job. Faking it can take you so far, after all, but it’s much easier to act the part when you are the part.
5. Maintain Eye Contact
One example of good nonverbal communication that is indisputable, however, is eye contact. Struggling to look someone in the eye is a widely acknowledged social signal that suggests that person is either lying, is uncomfortable or is generally not trustworthy.
Of course, don’t take it too far the other way, either: staring intently at someone can be hugely off-putting. Looking your coworkers and your bosses in the eye during conversations is something that will be noted, and you will be thought of more positively as a result.
6. Use Hand Gestures
Being asked to give a presentation or an update on a report, especially to senior management, can be a potentially daunting experience. But it can also be a huge opportunity to make a lasting impression, so you’ll want to try and engage your audience and stand out from the crowd.
Instead of standing awkwardly with your hands by your sides, use them to emphasise key points and add weighting to your words. High-profile politicians such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin are masters of this technique, so consider watching a few YouTube videos for inspiration, too.
7. Avoid Nervous Gestures
If you’re constantly tapping your foot, twirling your hair or chewing the tip of every pen in sight, then stop. Aside from the fact they are probably driving your colleagues crazy, they also give the impression that you’re a nervous individual.
Sometimes, you may not even realise you’re doing these things, so try to remain conscious of your movements and take practical steps to eradicate your tics. For example, if you can’t stop biting your nails, invest in a preventative product such as Mavala, or if you’re a frequent foot tapper, try crossing your legs. If nothing else, your coworkers will thank you.
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A smile is the most disarming weapon that you possess, and as humans, we are programmed to respond to them in an overwhelmingly positive way. By smiling at everyone – including your bosses, your colleagues, the receptionist, the cleaner and your clients – you put yourself in a more positive frame of mind, which is then reflected in your work and your general demeanour around the office.
Aside from making you appear more likeable and trustworthy, it also has the rather obvious benefit of conveying that you are happy. This can suggest to your bosses that you enjoy being at the company and that you take pride in the work that you do. Even when there’s deadlines looming and pressure from above, always remember to smile.
9. Shake Hands Properly
A handshake is one of the most common and basic social interactions in the world, but there’s a reason it’s so enduring and why we put so much value in it: it can tell you everything about a person, as Donald Trump is always prone to convey.
What constitutes the perfect greeting is the subject of much debate, but one thing that’s abundantly clear is that nobody (and I mean nobody) enjoys a limp handshake. That doesn’t mean you should squeeze too tight, though; firm but fair and not too long should just about do it.
Remember: you’re unlikely to shake hands with your colleagues and bosses every day, but you will the first time you meet, so use the opportunity to make a good initial impression.
10. Own Your Facial Expressions
If you’re familiar with the concept of ‘resting b*tch face’, then you can understand the idea that we are not always necessarily aware of the facial expressions we’re pulling; this can have a negative effect, especially in the workplace where such subtleties are often picked up on.
Pretending to look interested during a particularly dull report will undoubtedly serve you well, but the real professionals are able to take things a step further. Trump and Merkel are again good examples, this time in the art of manipulating their facial expressions to influence others.
Trump, for instance, uses over-the-top expressions to communicate disbelief or disagreement with opponents, utilising the concept of mirror neurons to raise the same doubts in the minds of other spectators. Merkel’s total lack of emotion when she is confronted by the vitriol of her detractors, on the other hand, has the effect of simply making them look unbalanced and deranged. Consider this technique during negotiations or particularly heated meetings, as a simple raise of the eyebrow or a brief glare can communicate an awful lot.
11. Walk with Swagger
From the Bee Gees to Harvey Specter from Suits, it has been demonstrated numerous times that if you want to project self-assurance, then your walk requires a certain element of swagger. This nugget of wisdom is just as applicable in the office as it is on the street, too.
When you make your grand entrance into your office building each morning, do you meekly whisper a few ‘good morning’s and hurry head-down to your desk? Or do you treat the walk across the office floor as your own personal catwalk, taking in the whole room and letting everyone know you’ve arrived?
Of course, nobody’s suggesting you start firing off mock pistols or wink at the boss as you pass through, but it’s important to carry yourself in a manner that suggests you’re confident and ready to take the bull by the horns. People are drawn towards sureness and poise, so let everyone know what you’ve got.
12. Don’t Nod Too Much
When someone is explaining something to you, it’s a natural tendency to nod in order to show agreement or understanding. This is, of course, perfectly normal. But when you constantly nod and repeat the words ‘yes’ or ‘uh-huh’ over and over, not only can it can become incredibly distracting, but it can be construed as a lack of patience on your part, too.
To combat this, you need to exercise a little self-control. For instance, while the other person is talking, wait until they have finished their point – or at least the sentence – before responding. Alternatively, nod slowly, as if to signify understanding, or undertake a series of brief, smaller nods when they are making a particularly important point.
13. Always Give Your Full Attention
Essentially, this last point boils down to simple common courtesy. If someone is talking to you, avoid the temptation to read that text message you just received or that email that just popped up. Even if you’re the best multitasker in the world, it’s disrespectful and downright rude, and people won’t like you for it.
Show that you are giving people their full attention by sitting towards them; ideally, your feet should be pointing at your subject. Don’t slouch or rest your head on your hand, either; sit up and lean forward, as if you were in an interview.
Remember, if you show that you are taking the time to properly listen to someone, then not only will they be impressed by your communication skills, but they will also extend the courtesy back to you.
As you can see, your body language says a lot more about you than you might imagine, and in a competitive workplace environment, it can have a major impact on how you are perceived. Therefore, you should always be aware of it and be conscious of how you are coming across – it could, after all, be the difference between securing that promotion or not.
Do you have any other body language tips? Let us know in the comments below…