Body Language 101

bodylanguage2As an American child of stout European stock, I was forever ordered to “straighten up” while growing up, the directive aimed at my posture rather than my demeanor. And like most kids, I thought it was lame. All my friends slouched. It was practically de rigueur in my school.

Of course, what my Scottish and Germanic parents knew that I would soon learn is that my genetic lotto ticket would eventually pay off with height in the mid-six-foot range. And nobody likes a slouching giant.

While it may be an overstatement to suggest that body language is destiny, the correct posture, mannerisms and gestures most certainly send strong subliminal messages to others in the workplace about your general attitude, aptitude, confidence and command of etiquette. Little wonder that the research firm TalentSmart found that out of 1 million people it tested, nine out of 10 top performers also scored high in emotional intelligence, meaning they physically present themselves well to others.

So do lean in, as the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling corrective on women in the workplace suggests, as we count down these 10 body language gaffes to eliminate from your physical vocabulary.

  1. Slouching. Shout out to vigilant moms everywhere: slouching does make you appear tired and lacking in self-esteem. Straighten up!
  2. Lack of eye contact. Admit it: you don’t trust someone who doesn’t look you in the eye, right?
  3. Leaning out. Angling your body away from the person you’re speaking with sends subliminal signals of distrust, disinterest and/or discomfort with the conversation.
  4. Hair play. It’s there, we get it, leave it alone. Fidgeting, ear-sweeping or other obnoxious hair-centric mannerisms make you appear nervous, uncomfortable, distracted – or worse, juvenile.
  5. Defensive postures. Sitting or standing with arms crossed presents a subliminal emotional barrier to others. Similarly, hands in pockets can indicate insecurity or disengagement.
  6. Hinky handshake. No squeeze and you’re a wuss; too much and you’re a masher. Practice with friends to get a firm and friendly grip.
  7. Cube crashing. Never invade another’s space, even if it’s a corporate cubicle; it’s common courtesy to always ask before entering. Don’t mess with their desk objects either; it’s rude. And by all means avoid being the classic Seinfeld “close talker;” people need at least 1.5 feet of personal space to breathe easy.
  8. Unpleasant faces. Avoid expressions of displeasure, such as scowls, frowns or those classic Jimmy Fallon “eee-eww!” masks of disgust. They make you appear weak, unprofessional and quick to jump to conclusions.
  9. Clock-watching. Constant glancing at the conference room clock or your wristwatch signals you’re disengaged, preoccupied and uninterested in the work at hand.
  10. Downward-facing dog. When you look down during a presentation, it acts as a switch that turns your audience off. In informal settings, it can make you appear uncertain and weak. Eyes up for success!

Tip of the hat to Travis Bradberry for his body language tutorial in Forbes.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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