Body Language in the Workplace: Are You Sending the Right Message?

If you’ve ever been on an overcrowded bus, you know what it feels like when strangers are unintentionally invading your personal space. Like most people, the last thing you want to do is make conversation. But rather than verbally express to your fellow passengers that you’re not in the mood to chat, you manage to deliver this message by simply using your body language – this is referred to as “non-verbal communication”.

If you think about how you shut out the discomfort of being so physically close to a complete stranger, it’s because you’re avoiding eye contact or reading your book or putting on your headphones (with or without music!).

The problem with body language is that it becomes more and more difficult to recognize as it becomes a daily part of our routine. We develop habits that make the disconnecting body language a more natural part of our every day encounters. This is most problematic at work. If we don’t tune into the physical cues, we could be sending some negative messages…

Social scientists agree that body language is the management of five aspects: posture, facial expressions, tone, gestures and general physical appearance with time and space. These aspects of body language can be appropriately used in the workplace to serve as non-verbal cues and to better manage people. Here are five ways to avoid giving your colleagues (or boss!) the wrong message:

Posture

  • Carry yourself well: When standing or entering a room, keep your posture straight, your shoulders back, and your head held high – this conveys credibility, confidence and competence which leads to trust-building.
  • Sit up straight and tall and take up physical space: Spread out your paperwork and use the space around you – doing so can establish authority, dominance, status and confidence. If you’re slouching and sitting in a corner, it could give off the impression that you do not want to lead or contribute, that you’re just willing to listen in and ‘be there’.

Facial Expressions

  • Maintain good eye contact: eye contact shows attentiveness and genuine engagement. People trust others who meet their gaze when talking.
  • Be congruent: your facial expressions of emotion should match what you are verbally communicating.

Tone

  • Adjust your rate and pitch of speech: how you say things can fully deliver what your intent is.
  • Put emphasis on the right words: where you choose to put emphasis in a sentence can change the meaning of the sentence.

Gestures

  • Avoid nervous gestures: giving in to nervous gestures can be the reason your credibility is robbed. Avoid twirling your hair, drumming your fingers on the desk or any type of fidgeting.
  • Use gestures to reinforce your message: using the right gestures at the right time can give vitality to what is being said and it functions as visual aids that would clarify and support your words.

General Physical Appearance

  • Polish your professional presence: how you dress sends important signals and can dictate how others may perceive you. Perhaps you don’t have any meetings lined up, or you’re not planning to leave your cubicle all day, it’s still worth dressing the part. After all, you should “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have”.

If you devote a little time to cultivating great use of your body language, you’ll send the message you’re trying to deliver, mastering the art of eloquence.

Intersol’s Foundation Course in Group Facilitation touches upon some of the aspects of body language. If you haven’t already, register for the October course here!