Imagine sitting in a meeting with your boss. You’re leaning back in your chair, arms folded and legs crossed. You are gazing at the ceiling to avoid distractions and to help you focus. You are listening intently without a thought to how you look. Suddenly, your boss barks: “Are you listening?” You practically jump out of your seat thinking to yourself: “Yes, I was.”
While you were doing everything you could to be a part of the meeting the signs you sent said just the opposite. What your boss saw was a disinterested employee who appeared to not care about the meeting. While that was not your intent – perception is everything. Your body language gave off unintended non-verbal signals. It wasn’t what you said, it was what you did.
There have been hundreds of studies on body language and what it tells us: Things you should do. Things you shouldn’t. What this movement means. What that movement doesn’t.
According to Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language, “Excellent nonverbal communication skills can tell your audience that you’re confident, energetic, engaged, and honest.” On the other hand, Reiman says that, “poor nonverbal skills may give off an impression of low self-esteem and a lack of interest.
Is there any real validity to the theory of body language and how a better understanding of it can help us in our professional lives?
At Goodwill of Greater Washington we don’t pretend to be experts in physiological science. However, there are several body language mistakes that even most non-experts would agree should be avoided in the workplace.
According to Forbes Magazine, here are 10 common body language faux pas’:
10. Avoiding eye contact – “indicates deception or lack of respect”
9. Slouching – “signals a lack of confidence or poor self-esteem”
8. A weak handshake – “signals lack of authority”
7. Folding your arms – “creates a sense of being closed off or disinterested”
6. Looking down – “when done while giving a presentation, it can make you look weak”
5. Angling body away from others – “can make you appear uncomfortable, distrustful or disinterested in the subject”
4. Fidgeting or touching your hair – “can reveal an excess of energy, which signals discomfort or anxiety”
3. Invading others space – “When you are closer than 1.5 feet away from a colleague it signals disrespect and that you don’t have a clear understanding of personal boundaries.”
2. Glancing at the clock –“… or even looking past a person who you’re speaking with will communicate disinterest or arrogance.”
1. Frowning or scowling – “can communicate unhappiness and disagreement”
Is there a hard and fast rule to body language and what it communicates? Nothing that can’t be debated. Every human being is unique and will respond to posture and body language differently. The nature of the relationship between two individuals can also play an important role in interpretation. However, we think most would agree that avoiding the 10 bad habits outlined above would be wise under any circumstances.