Think you have a good poker face? When it comes to communication, your body language speaks volumes whether you realize it or not. “It can literally tell the other person how you’re truly feeling and the truth behind what you’re verbally saying,” says Karen Donaldson, celebrity communication expert, body language and confidence coach, speaker, and author.
But that doesn’t mean there is no point worrying about non-verbal communication. The more you become aware of body language, the more you can use its power to your advantage at work. “Being able to read others’ body language allows you to be in tune with and more aware of people’s reactions to what you say and do.”
“In addition, when you start to be intentional with your own body language, it can help you build
relationships, build rapport quickly, put people around you at ease and gain buy-in when needed.”
However, it’s important to note that body language is contextual. A person crossing their arms over their chest might simply be cold and not feeling defensive. True communication masters read body language in clusters of gestures that are happening at the same time and that are revealing a consistent meaning, according to Donaldson.
So in the example used above, if someone is crossing their arms over their chest while also squinting and pursing their lips, they might indeed be feeling defensive instead of cold. Fascinating stuff to start paying attention to and putting into action, right?
Ladders asked Donaldson to share her best non-verbal communication. Here are seven of the most important body language habits to embrace for greater success in the workplace.
Feet never lie
“Some of the celebrities that I’ve analyzed have been trained quite well by their communications or PR people to present a certain persona to the public. The way they pose and position themselves when taking pictures can have them appear to be a solid couple or look calm and confident,” says Donaldson.
But feet never lie. “While we can manipulate and be intentional with our hands, using open and closed body language gestures, etc. the feet are the last place people think about. In fact, the feet can signal if a person wants to be in a certain setting or in the presence of someone or not.”
When interacting with people at work, make sure to point your feet in the direction of your interlocutor to signal interest instead of sending the message you’d rather be somewhere else.
Strong eye contact
Maintaining strong eye contact when speaking is crucial if you want to project confidence and leadership, says Donaldson.
“It signals that you’re confident, want to be there, are interested in what is being said, and paying attention. This allows you to be perceived as an attentive leader and capable of being present during a conversation.”
On the other hand, looking all over the place can erode your image. “When you’re looking all over the place you appear distracted and uninterested and may have the other person feeling like what they are saying is not important.”
Intentional and confident hand gestures
Erratic hand gestures can be super distracting during conversations, but intentional and assertive ones can work wonders if you want to be engaging and appear self-assured.
“Intentional, defined and assertive hand gestures allow you to appear reassured of yourself. Your hands can ‘draw in’ people and help them pay attention to what you’re saying while also helping you get your point across,” says Donaldson.
Hand gestures are natural, so it’s important to build on your genuine movements. Just consider whether your hands are consistent with what you’re saying and not moving non-stop.
Meeting power poses
When in a meeting, Donaldson suggests you sit up tall and slightly lean in.
“Sitting up tall is a power pose and signals that you’re confident, prepared, and want to be there. Leaning in signals that you’re interested in what the other person is saying,” she says.
Notice a trend in all the insights shared so far? Being confident and attentive is so important at work if you want to get ahead. “In the workplace, you want to show up in a manner that is confident and attentive. You can be relaxed when sitting down, however, when we relax too much our posture gets impacted, we begin to slouch and start looking disinterested and removed from the conversation [or situation].”
Palms up when speaking
Keeping your palms up while talking signals that you’re honest, open, and inclusive. Plus, upwards-facing palms are a highly persuasive non-verbal cue that can help you gain buy-in when pitching something.
But when your palms face down, you could risk being perceived as controlling, possibly domineering, and even negative. “Think about it this way; when we say ‘no’ to something or someone, and also use our hands when speaking, our palms are always facing down. For humans, this gesture is subconsciously negative and emulates being scolded or reprimanded,” says Donaldson.
But, again, be mindful of context. It’s not to say that you should never allow your palms to face down, but that you want to be intentional with their placement and make sure your body language matches your intention.
Avoid the hand clench
“Stay away from clenching your hands tightly. This hand gesture alone tells the world that you’re stressed and uncomfortable with whatever is being said or whatever is going. The tight grip is you holding back the tension that you feel in your body,” according to Donaldson.
Don’t bob your head
Bobbing your head is another body language no-no. It’s human to nod your head to show agreement, but when your head nod is continuous it can signal submission and a lack of clout. To avoid hurting your credibility, Donaldson suggests only nodding to show agreement — one to three nods — and simply listening intently without moving your head outside of those moments.