Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.
This definition is powerful because it encompasses emotional intelligence in action. We spend so much time trying to understand concepts like EQ so we can use them in the workplace and become better professionals and leaders. And you can use the power of body language to boost yours.
“Emotional intelligence and body language go hand in hand. Sometimes you can tell a person’s mood just by their body language,” says public speaker and self-confidence coach Sheena Yap Chan. “It’s beneficial for professionals to learn important body language signals so they can have better communication with their peers and clients.”
Business mentor and speaking strategist Laurie-Ann Murabito agrees.
“Emotional intelligence is all about how you interpret the world and present yourself to it. In the workplace, you need to be sure that you are sending the right messages for others to feel they can trust you, approach you as well as building relationships,” she says.
According to her, what you are thinking will not only automatically show up in your body, but also send subconscious signals that others will pick up:
“For example, if you don’t feel confident or suffer from imposter syndrome, your body will give you away before your words do. You may not make eye contact, shoulders are slumped, look away when questions are asked or hide in the back of the crowd. In this case, you really can judge a book by its cover.”
Ready to supercharge your emotional intelligence using body language? Here are five ways you can pay more attention to the body language cues you’re picking up or sending — and use that information to your advantage at work.
“Being aware of your feelings is the first step in understanding EQ and making changes,” says Murabito.
The more aware you are of your emotions, how they fluctuate and how appropriate they are to different contexts, the more you can direct how they show up through your body language.
“If you’re feeling fun and in a good mood, is that an appropriate mood to enter a meeting where you have to deliver bad or difficult news? No, it would be better to switch to a feeling of compassion.”
Murabito recommends setting a timer to go off every hour and asking yourself what you are feeling in the moment. While the process may sound tedious, it’s super effective. “Keeping a diary of the feelings my clients are experiencing helps them see patterns. From there, it’s easier to make changes when we have the facts.”
Before a meeting or conversation
Being aware of the body language of others is also a powerful communication tool, according to Yap Chan.
“Leveraging that kind of information can help you prepare how you communicate with people in the workplace. It’s important since it can allow you to observe other people’s behavior through their body language before you say something or before you have to prepare for a meeting,” she says.
Paying attention to things like whether your boss seems preoccupied or what kind of information a potential client appears to be most interested in can make a major difference in your results at work.
To build a positive work culture
Murabito says building trust within an organization comes from two key areas: communication and integrity, especially during times of uncertainty. And when it comes to communicating effectively as a leader, you need to be able to pick up on the emotional state of your team through their body language.
“During times of uncertainty like 2020, it is best to over-communicate with your team, answer all of their questions and address any fears they may or may not verbalize,” she says.
Worried about your own body language in moments when you actually don’t know what to say and don’t have any answers? Don’t try to fake it — honesty is paramount. “When leaders don’t know the answer it is best to stress that and share info as it comes in. 2020 has created many unsafe environments because of the increased level of uncertainty.”
While public speaking
According to Yap Chan, body language and EQ are particularly important during a presentation:
“It’s always good to scan the room and check your audience to see what the mood is like through their body language before the presentation — and during the presentation as well,” she says.
“If you can see someone who looks uninterested in what you have to say, you can quickly add in a piece of information to get them interested again.”
Get into the habit of reading a room when you’re not the one presenting, as it’s a capacity that can be overridden by the nerves that come with public speaking. And when you’re speaking to a group, practice tweaking the way you deliver information in real-time based on the response of your audience. You’ll be a pro in no time.
On a video call
Yes, EQ and body language also matter on video calls. “Since most of us are working from home because of the pandemic, it is important to study others’ facial expressions when in a Zoom meeting since we mostly see their faces,” says Yap Chan.
Since social cues are easier to misread remotely, start paying close attention to your coworkers’ expressions in different video call settings to become more adept at picking up on more subtle signals.
And be extra aware of your own body language and demeanor.
“Eye contact is key. A person on the other side of a Zoom meeting can tell whether you are invested in them when you look into their eyes. Your eyes can set the mood of the environment. And eye contact is also a sign of confidence.”