Body language might be nonverbal, but it speaks volumes. It’s important to be mindful about what you say and how you say it, but if your body language is not in sync with your sentiments, it can seriously undermine your message. Here are a few body language basics.
The All-Important Handshake
Typically, the person with higher authority, or seniority, is the one who initiates the handshake. When you are introduced to the boss, he or she should be the one to extend a hand first. If you somehow get ahead of the game and end up being the initiator, it is not a big deal. Be sure to smile, continue to extend your hand and look the person in the eye. If you are seated, stand up to shake hands and face the person with a smile. Eye contact is all important. Your handshake (normally the right hand) should be a firm up and down motion and last 3-5 seconds. Be careful not to crush the other person’s hand and keep your other hand visible but still. Unless you know the person well, it is not a good idea to touch the other person’s arm or cup their hand. A short greeting is in order: “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Brown,” or “I’m so happy we have a chance to meet this morning, Mr. Brown.” This is not the time to launch into a speech.
Posture communicates a lot about your interest (or lack of it). Standing up straight with your shoulders back suggests you are comfortably engaged and interested in the business at hand. Slouching, allowing your stomach to stick out and folding your arms across your body can suggest you are ill-at-ease or defensive. In the same way, how you sit at the conference table is important, too. If you are slumped, propping your head up with your hand, you are signaling fatigue, boredom or disinterest. Try to sit up straight. If you tend to fidget, pay attention to what your hands and feet are doing – avoid jiggling your foot or cracking your finger joints.
Hand and Head Gestures
If you are an empathizer by nature, be careful about head nodding. An occasional nod of agreement is fine, but too much gives the impression of over-eagerness. The same goes for shaking your head. Make it a rare gesture. Some of us use our hands a lot when talking and others stand as still as sentries. Hand gestures can be a helpful way to underscore your point, but don’t overdo it. Think about what you are doing with your hands.
Smiling is important – but you can smile too much. Frowning, grimacing or a dramatic roll of the eyes either support or impede whatever you are trying to convey. Think about your expressions and use them with restraint. Maintaining eye contact helps build trust. When it’s your turn to speak, remember to make eye contact with the entire group, not just the person you believe is the decision maker. Looking downward can make you appear less confident and less trustworthy, too.
If you believe your body language is undermining your ambitions, take some time to study your own expressions and mannerisms, and determine which are useful and which are not. Practice self-awareness, and be willing to seek feedback from your colleagues and your boss in an effort to improve your effectiveness as a communicator.