How many times have you wondered if the person sitting across from you in an interview or a meeting is actually listening to you? They’re there physically, but are they there with you mentally? Not necessarily. Our body language and nonverbal communication is quite the chatterbox when it comes to what we’re feeling.
A few distinct body language cues can be easily read and analyzed by anyone. Yes, that’s right, anyone! You don’t need to have a degree in behavioral psychology to better understand your peers through their cues.
Here are the most common nonverbal cues that we’ve all done or have witnessed:
Hands in Pockets
This seemingly harmless gesture can give the impression of insecurity and lack of confidence. It instantly makes you cave your shoulders in and it looks like you’re trying to protect yourself. Not exactly the look you want when going in for a job interview or a meeting with a new client. Be strong and confident; don’t be a ‘Slouchy McGee’ and seem scared to do anything outside of your comfort zone. You’ll inevitably turn away some great jobs if you give the impression that walking to the end of the driveway freaks you out.
Avoiding Eye Contact
How many times did your mother tell you to look her in the eyes when you were talking to her, or use a similar “mom-ism“? Whichever one she used, she was right. It goes further than good manners; avoiding someone’s eyes gives off a dishonest and shady disposition.
It’s okay to be nervous, and yes, catching someone’s gaze is bit alarming when you aren’t expecting it, but it’s a good sign. It means that they’re genuinely interested in what you’re saying! Embrace that feeling, look back at them, and flash them your pearly whites.
Breaking eye contact is along these same lines. It may seem like a harmless offense, but it gives the impression that you’re breaking the connection with the person you’re talking to. If you’re going into an interview or a meeting, be prepared for the other person to stare at you and actively listen to what you’re saying. I promise, it’s a good sign if they’re looking you in the eyes when you’re speaking.
Slouching Back/Leaning Back in a Chair
Another seemingly harmless offense (that we’ve all done at some point during our professional and personal lives) is slouching or leaning as far back as possible in a chair. We don’t intend to be rude, but that’s exactly what this nonverbal cue is telling other people. It tells people that you’re bored, feeling lazy, unmotivated, and are dispassionate about what’s being said.
We should avoid slouching at all costs, whether we’re at our Aunt Sally’s house or at a 7 AM department meeting. It’s about as rude as you can get, and the speaker is probably expecting you to roll your eyes at any moment. That attitude puts them on edge and can make it even harder for them to speak! Instead, be kind and respective. Sit up straight and at least look like you’re semi-interested in what’s being presented to you. You never know, you might just learn something!
Crossing Arms, Standing Behind Chair/Podium:
The Berlin wall created a physical barrier in Germany. Want to know what a nonverbal barrier is? Crossing your arms or standing behind a chair or podium. This creates the same wall, just with much less concrete. You’re essentially telling your audience or the presenter that you’re there physically, but you’re not there mentally. You’ve created a barrier between you and them and what’s being discussed. Don’t use your arms or a chair as a shield, stand out and give your speech or actively listen to what they’re saying.
Showing off those pearly whites not only boosts your mood, but the mood of others as well. Want to try something cool? Try tricking your mind out of a bad mood into a good mood all by smiling. “Smiling forces your brain and nervous system to adapt what’s inside to what’s outside. If you’re smiling, then you should be feeling good. So your body responds accordingly.”
You can smell a lemon until the cows come home (it’s a good way to boost your mood), but give a smile a try first. You won’t only feel better, but you’ll also give the impression of being approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. Plus, the more you smile, the more you’ll make others smile and put them in a good mood also. Give it a try!
Mirroring Others’ Body Language
This last type of nonverbal communication doesn’t fit perfectly with the others, but it’s so fascinating that I wanted to include it in this post.
Want to feel like a puppeteer? Before you go out and buy some puppets, just go grab some coffee with a friend. While they’re talking, watch and mimic their body language. If they put a hand on their arm, do the same. If they cross their legs, cross yours. If they scratch their nose (not ‘pick’ their nose — if they do that with you I’m not sure why you’re friends with them in the first place), then mirror them. Pretty soon they’ll start mirroring you without even realizing it! This simple technique will put the other person at ease for some reason they won’t be able to put their finger on. But you’ll know that you’re “making the other person feel understood and accepted.”
Nervous about an interview? Try this same technique with the person who’s interviewing you (as much as possible) and see how they’ll walk away thinking, “my, my, my, I really felt a connection with that young whippersnapper.” Okay, they maybe won’t say that verbatim, but they’ll feel like a lot better hiring you than the person who slouched in their chair, with their hands in their pockets, and avoided looking at them in the eyes during the entire interview.
If while you were reading this, you thought, “Oh my goodness! I cross my arms all the time! I hope I’m not giving off that impression,” then don’t worry. Trust me, I cross my arms more than Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, sometimes you just do it without even realizing it. Just standing there with your arms crossed isn’t necessarily going to give off a bored vibe. However, standing there with your arms folded, tapping your foot, and staring at your watch will definitely give off that impression.
- Keep your hands by your side and out of your pockets or uncrossed to avoid seeming intimidated, uninterested, or that you’re not listening.
- Make the person be glad they brushed their teeth this morning with the amount of time you make eye contact with them. They’ll feel appreciated and heard, and you’ll remember what they were talking about.
- Sit or stand straight whenever possible to give the impression of confidence, engagement, interest in what’s being said.
- Smile whenever it’s natural to do so to boost your mood and the other person’s mood as well.
- Try mirroring another person’s body language to create a deeper bond and connection with them by making, “others feel comfortable that you both are similar”. Nobody wants to feel like the weird one or oddball, by mirroring them you’re saying that you two aren’t different.
Have you ever tried these nonverbal cues at work or in your personal relationships? What surprised you the most? Do you hang out with nose pickers? Sound off below!