by Vanessa Van Edwards
Up to 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. This means that our body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal behavior is even more important than our verbal content. Yet most people don’t even think about what their body language is saying to others.
As a result, many business people don’t ever realize how much their body language is holding them back at work. I recently did body language coaching with a woman who was having a lot of trouble advancing in her career. She had all the right things going for her — great education, awesome performance reviews, successful sales, you name it — but still was not getting the promotions and upward mobility opportunities she deserved.
Within the first five seconds of meeting her, I knew what was holding her back: her body language. Her nonverbal behavior was timid, weak and disorganized, which was completely opposite of her quiet confidence and intelligence. I taught her a few of the tips below and as she adapted them, she started to get invited to sit in more high-level meetings. Then she got to represent her company at a big conference. Finally, she got an offer to head up a department in their new offices — a major promotion.
Here are a few tips you can use right now to start to improve your body language in the workplace:
Assertive Body Language
Sometimes people need to show confidence and assertiveness in their opinions and points. There are a few body language techniques that are universal signs of strength:
Take Up More Space: Those who are timid tend to keep their arms close by their side and tuck their feet under their chair, taking up as little space as possible. If you want to show confidence, you have to claim space by firmly planting your feet shoulder width apart, or if you are sitting, leaning back in your chair and using the armrests during meetings.
Steepling: Steepling is when you press the tips of your fingers together with palms facing each other in front of your torso. This move (which looks like a steeple) is the universal sign of confidence. You can do this at a business meeting on the table or even when speaking and trying to emphasize a point.
Rapport-Building Body Language
Building rapport is important for both men and women. It’s great for interviewing, networking and getting along with office colleagues. There are a few specific things you can do with your body language to help make connections.
Point Your Feet: Our brains actually subconsciously pay attention to a person’s feet. You will notice our feet tend to point in the direction we want to go. For example, at a networking event, someone who is itching to leave might be talking to someone but have their feet pointed towards the door. So, if you want to show you are actively engaged, point your feet and angle your body towards the person you are speaking with.
Mirroring: When we really get along with someone, we subtly mirror their body posture and movements. You can use this to your advantage when trying to bond with someone. Subtly (very subtly), mimic their body posture or try to speak at the same voice cadence as they do. Our brains register this as “friend,” not “foe.”
Calming Body Language
Negotiating, interviewing and tense situations in business are never easy. People need nonverbal ways to calm themselves down if they are nervous. They also need to make sure they’re nonthreatening to others who might be nervous in their presence. If you are a manager or leader in your organization, these tips are great for calming a hostile employee:
Uncrossed Arms: When we cross our arms, we are protecting our vital organs. This is a naturally defensive position. If you want to stay calm and open-minded, be sure to leave your arms loose at your side. If someone else is crossing their arms, give them papers, coffee or even a pencil to hold. As soon as they get out of that position they will feel less close-minded.
Suprasternal Notch: The suprasternal notch, the space in between your collar bones, is actually touched when people are nervous as a way of self-soothing. Lightly massaging this area or the back of your neck can help lower your heart rate and make you feel more calm.
Body language is a fascinating science that can only be applied artfully. The best tip I can give is to be genuine. People do pick up on inauthenticity.