Boost your career through body language

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Body language can play a major role in your career success, especially when it comes to networking and interviewing. When you meet someone for the first time, your posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and even your eye movements all combine to make a lasting impression. You have only a few seconds to make that impression positive, so it’s important to use every tool at your disposal.

Your posture speaks volumes about your self-image. Standing or sitting straight with your head held high and shoulders back will exude an air of confidence. Adopt an open-arm position and avoid folding your arms across your chest, which can make you look indifferent or closed off. According to Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, a business coach who writes about body language for Forbes, you should put away your smartphone before a big meeting or interview since you probably bend your neck and shoulders while looking at it. This type of posture can subconsciously convey defensiveness or lack of confidence to those you are about to meet.

When it comes to eye contact during business conversations, try to strike a balance. Avoiding eye contact can make you seem uncomfortable or unprepared, while too much eye contact can be seen as aggressive or hostile. According to Goman, you should strive to maintain eye contact about half the time during a business conversation. If you are by nature shy about making eye contact when first introduced to someone, start out by meeting their eyes long enough to note their eye color.

Gestures are an important part of effective communication and can definitely be used to your advantage in the workplace. Dr. Susan Weinschenk, a behavioral psychologist who writes for Psychology Today, suggests that using no hand gestures while speaking can make you seem indifferent, while relaxed, open arm movements that show the palms of your hands send a message of honesty and openness. On the other hand, repeatedly using exaggerated gestures that are larger than the outside of your body can be overwhelming to others and make you appear frantic or nervous.

In the United States, the handshake is still one of the most important gestures in the business world. Since it incorporates the sense of touch, it’s an important tool for connecting with others. Make sure your handshake is firm without being bone crushing and that your hand is at a vertical angle. According to Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, a person who shakes with their palm facing down is attempting to signal dominance, while a palm-up handshake communicates submission. The best type of handshake leaves both parties feeling comfortable and a bit more connected.

The old adage that it’s not just what you say but how you say it holds true in the workplace. Listeners interpret both our words and our tone of voice when we speak. Although you don’t want to become too self-conscious about how you speak, try to pay attention to how you sound. Timing, volume and inflection all contribute to how our speech is received. Stress can be one of the biggest enemies to a relaxed tone of voice; learn to take a time out and listen to the conversation when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress.

In addition to being aware of positive body language, you can help your career by avoiding negative language. This includes nervous gestures such as twisting your hair, playing with your jewelry, clicking a pen or jiggling your leg when sitting. If you catch yourself fidgeting, take a deep breath and try to relax. Calming your body will help convey the message that you are confident and in control.

One thing to remember about business body language is that it’s not always universal. Different cultures may interpret body language differently. When in doubt about cultural mores, mirror the other person’s body language. For example, as a female software engineer working in a multi-cultural office, I noticed that some men from other cultures backed up when I approached them for conversation. At first, I wondered if I needed a mint. Now I recognize that different cultures have different ideas about appropriate physical space, especially between men and women, and I conduct my conversations with these individuals from a greater distance than I normally would.

A friendly smile is one element of body language that is universal. Numerous studies have found that the smile is recognized as denoting happiness and good will throughout the world. Smiling when it’s appropriate is a great move for any career, and it can provide the added benefit of making you feel good. Scientists have found a correlation between making a face and experiencing the emotion that it signals. So if you want to look and feel relaxed in the workplace, don’t forget to smile. HLM

Sources:, Forbes and Psychology Today.