5 Body Language Mistakes You're Making at Work

Published: Oct 17, 2017

 Interviewing       Workplace Issues       

A substantial portion of our communication is done through non-verbal behavior and micro expressions—subtleties that we notice and evaluate in our subconscious. In fact, only a small percentage of the brain processes verbal communication.

In an age where in-person communication is becoming less common, body language is more important than ever. It can help you exude confidence, trustworthiness, and build relationships at work. Whether you want to land a promotion, ace a presentation, or nail a job interview, it's essential to master the unspoken dynamics at play.

Avoid these common body language pitfalls to be more confident and successful at work:

1. Nervous gestures

Leg jiggling, hair twirling, face touching—any other motion you do when nervous or bored—indicates insecurity. If you’re prone to hand movements, find a place for them such as on a table or your hips to rest instead.

2. Poor eye contact

A good formula for maintaining eye contact that’s confident and certain (read: not creepy) is to shoot for holding a person’s gaze for 50-60% of the time you’re interacting with him or her. Think about the last conversation you had: Can you remember the color of the person’s eyes? If not, it’s probably a sign that the eye contact wasn’t sufficient. Play a game with yourself and set a goal of noticing this the next time you’re speaking with someone face-to-face. If you can master this, chances are others will perceive you as engaged.

3. Facing away from people

Check to make sure that you’re not angled toward the door when engaged in conversation with people, which shows disinterest and distraction.

Instead subtly mirror or mimic their gestures. Why? When we have rapport with someone we're interacting with, we tend to angle our bodies toward them and subtly match their movements. For example, without being too obvious, place your hands on the table if theirs are, or lean slightly back in your chair if they are doing the same. This expresses harmony and alignment.

4. Crossed Arms

Crossing your arms, which many of us do out of habit, can indicate defensiveness and self-protection. Instead, try to adopt an open stance with your arms by your side, slightly out from your body. This shows openness and confidence. Try holding something such as a notebook during important face-to-face conversations to keep your hands occupied.

5. Smallness

When we’re feeling intimidated or uncertain, we tend to “shrink” ourselves, slouching and hunching our shoulders. This may communicate fear, powerlessness, or even laziness and lack of motivation (which obviously is the opposite effect you're going for!)

The next time you notice yourself becoming small in a meeting or tough conversation, sit up straight. Relax your shoulders back and down. Lean slightly forward. Not only will this make you appear more assured in high-pressure situations, but you’ll also begin to feel that way, too.

Body language can have a subtle, but powerful, psychological effect on how you're perceived at work. More importantly, research shows adopting certain body language boosts self-esteem. By avoiding these common body language mistakes, you'll not only feel more confident and self-assured, you'll become more successful in the process.

This post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, which helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.