No one wants to be judged prematurely, but it’s sometimes hard to avoid making assumptions about coworkers.
It’s not too surprising. You sit in high-stress meetings together, make small-talk in elevators together, and reheat tiny meals side-by-side, but you don’t really know each other. That’s why your body language, as much as your words, can speak volumes about your true intentions.
So, make sure your signals match your intent with these body language tips:
1. First impression? Make contact.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time, unless there’s a physical barrier (like a giant conference table), make an attempt to shake their hand in greeting.
Body language expert Patti Wood notes, “The handshake can serve as an important verb in your body language vocabulary. Few things can create such an effective first impression as an easily given, gracious handshake.”
This is even more important for women in business environments. Studies have shown that women can further their career by applying a firm handshake in greeting.
2. Around the table? Lean in.
Don’t spend meetings tapping at your mobile device or checking email on your laptop. Instead, lean toward whoever is speaking to show your genuine interest in their thoughts and opinions.
“This signals to the other person that we’re interested, engaged, and actively listening to them,” says corporate trainer Denise M. Dudley, PhD. “Most people know what this ‘leaning forward’ action feels like, because we all do it naturally when we’re hearing something important. So, given that it’s practically a universal component of our body language, everyone understands what it means: it encourages the other person and gives them positive reinforcement while they’re speaking.”
3. Making a point? Keep Steady eye contact.
The smallest things make a big difference. For example, making the right kind of eye contact can make or break an impression.
This is not to say that eye contact is simple or easy, because there’s a lot that your gaze (or lack of it) can tell a listener. When you’re speaking to a group, spread around the eye contact, instead of looking only at one person. When you’re talking to one person, it’s best to not just stare in their eyes the whole time (that can come off as creepy).
If you find eye contact tricky, you can actually do a little bit of practice to help hone your skills. (Try these tips from Michigan State University.) Everyone from first-time interviewers to big-time public speakers can use a little eye contact practice now and again.
Body language doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does always make some kind of impression on the people around you. (If you’ve ever judged someone for their posture, you’ll know what I mean.) Take a minute and analyze where your body language could be sending the wrong signals, and try to smooth things out on your own (or even with a friend, if you want a second opinion). You might make big changes at work with only a few adjustments on your part.
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