Have you ever thought about what it means when you cross your arms, slouch in your chair, or fail to make eye contact? When you’re hanging out with your friends or sitting at home it might not matter, but in a professional setting your body language can mean more about you than you may realize.

Even though you would probably never say “I’m bored” or “I feel anxious” out loud in a professional setting, your nonverbal cues can still show it. Your body language can a lot reveal about you.

Here are the most common body language cues we’ve all witnessed in a professional setting:

What is Body Language?

Body language is the nonverbal signals that are used to communicate. In the simplest of terms, a smile conveys happiness, while a frown conveys sadness or discontent. In a professional setting like an interview, the way you carry yourself tells the interviewer a lot about your personality.

Studies have found that body language makes up to 65% of all communication. So, it’s important to not only know how to understand other people’s body language, but also to be aware of what your own cues can portray!

What Do Different Facial Cues Mean?

Facial cues might be some of the easiest cues to recognize. In most cases, it’s easy to tell when someone is content or in distress. However, outside of a smile or a furrowed brow there are other facial cues that can clue you in to what someone is really thinking or feeling. You’ve probably made these common facial cues too:

Eyes

Making eye contact is essential in a professional setting. Direct eye contact shows that you are interested and paying attention to the person or object you are looking at. Breaking eye contact can mean that someone is distracted, uncomfortable, or trying to hide true feelings.

Mouth

Mouth expressions and movements can show a lot about what a person is thinking. Pursed lips can be an indicator of distrust or disapproval, and lip biting can show stress or anxiety. The best signal you can give with your facial expression is a smile. Smiling conveys happiness, friendliness, and makes you seem more approachable, especially to professionals you may be meeting for the first time.

It’s easy to make facial cues without even realizing it, especially to express negative thoughts or emotions. Knowing what your facial cues say about you can help you make sure you are conveying a positive attitude in a professional setting.

Did you know? The face is capable of up to 250,000 expressions!

Does Good Posture Matter?

Your posture in a professional setting can tell a lot about your personality like self-confidence, or even if you’re feeling bored! Be aware of your posture while both sitting or standing to be sure you convey the right message to your colleagues.

Slouching or Leaning Back in a Chair

Slouching body language can be a sign of being unfriendly, anxious, or bored. The Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland conducted a study to discover the link between body posture and emotions. 74 participants were randomly selected to either sit upright or slouched. The researchers concluded that the slumped participants used more negative emotion words and overall fewer positive words. The participants that sat upright showed increased self-esteem and a positive mood.

Putting Hands in Pockets

Author Vanessa Van Edwards says putting hands in your pockets “murders rapport”. In a professional setting, the last thing anyone wants to do is feel insecure or unsure about themselves. When you notice someone standing with their hands in their pockets, it can be an indication of that person feeling self-conscious or unsure of their appearance. Instead, try clasping your hands behind your back instead of digging into your pockets.

Crossed Arms

Someone who crosses their arms while they are interacting with you might be a sign of being defensive or closed off. At the same time, if a genuine smile accompanies crossed arms, the person could be feeling confident and relaxed. Be sure to read the person’s facial expression when you notice crossed arms to find out how they’re really feeling.

If you are giving a presentation or speaking at an event, the last thing you want to see is people slouched over or sitting in a closed-off position. Keep this in mind in a professional setting when you are in an audience or the one speaking!

Why is Proximity Important When Talking to Somebody? 

Believe it or not, how close people stand together when they interact is part of body language. The closer people can comfortably stand while talking or interacting, the more comfortable they are with one another.

Intimate Distance

Intimate distance is rare in a professional setting. The level of physical distance is usually 6 to 8 inches, and only reserved for situations like hugging or whispering. Intimate distance indicates a close relationship or high levels of comfort.

Personal Distance

Have you ever been in a crowded area and felt like people are in your “personal space?” Well, your personal distance is anywhere from 1.5 to 4 feet. Typically, only family members or close friends get this close, except for when you’re somewhere like a concert or sporting event.

Social Distance

In a professional setting, you’ll likely keep a social distance from your colleagues, which can be anywhere from 4 to 12 feet. While there may be some people you feel more comfortable with, a majority of your interactions will happen within this space.

Public Distance

When you give a speech or present a product, you’ll be maintaining a public distance. Public distance is 12 to 25 feet of physical distance and is also common for the workplace.

The best rule of thumb for proximity in a professional setting is about a 4-foot distance from the other person. You don’t want to make someone feel uncomfortable by getting too close to their personal bubble, and you don’t want to keep so much distance that it makes conversation difficult. Find a happy medium and you’ll make a great impression!

What Does Mirroring Body Language Mean?

Mirroring body language is when a person begins to mimic the mannerisms of the person they are interacting with. The term “copy-cat” gets a bad reputation, but in a professional sitting it’s a good thing! When someone is mirroring body language, it means that they are trying to establish a rapport. You might also notice yourself mimicking behaviors during an interview or when talking to your boss.

“Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language in the 1950’s, found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only) and 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds) and 55 percent nonverbal.” -Allan and Barbra Pease, The New York Times

5 Tips for Positive Body Language in a Professional Setting

There are plenty of do’s and don’ts when it comes to body language in a professional setting. Keep the following tips in mind next time you’re headed to an interview, working with a customer, or even just around your current workplace.

1. Keep a Relaxed Posture

It’s best not to slouch in a professional setting, but you don’t need to be rigid when you sit either. You want to be comfortable and seem engaged in the person or activity. Lean forward slightly when someone is speaking to show interest.

2. Make Eye Contact

Making eye contact doesn’t mean engaging someone in a stare down. It’s a way of showing the person who is speaking that you are paying attention. You should also make eye contact when you are the one speaking and avoid looking off to one side or blinking excessively.

3. Reduce Fidgeting

Sometimes you might find yourself fidgeting with your hands, tapping your foot, or constantly moving around in your seat. In a professional setting like a meeting or an interview, you want to avoid fidgeting because it is considered rude. Fidgeting for some people might be subconscious, and if you’re one of those people, be sure you are trying not to fall into that habit.

4. Give a Firm Handshake

A handshake can set the tone for the interaction that follows. A confident handshake is a good way to establish your credibility and begin to build a rapport. A weak handshake can show a lack of self-confidence, while an overly strong grip can come off as overbearing.

5. Smile

A genuine smile is the easiest way to seem approachable and make a positive impression. A smile can show comfort and confidence, two features that are important in a professional setting.

If not all these tips are cues that come natural to you, try practicing at home in the mirror! While it may seem weird at first, you’ll be thankful when it comes time to put these skills into practice.

When you pay attention to your body language, you could land a dream job or nail a big presentation.  Now that you know what your body language cues can reveal about you, the next time you find yourself a in a professional setting, you can knock it out of the park!

Resources

Cherry, Kendra. (2019, September 4). Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions. Retrieved November 8, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/understand-body-language-and-facial-expressions-4147228

University of Auckland. (2014, September 15). Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25222091

Fremont College (2019). How to Read Body Language – Revealing the Secrets Behind Common Nonverbal Cues. Retrieved on November 11, 2019, from https://fremont.edu/how-to-read-body-language-revealing-the-secrets-behind-common-nonverbal-cues/

Pendergrass, Kimberly. (2013, December 11). 10 Positive Body Language Techniques to Help You Succeed. Retrieved on November 12, 2019, from https://blog.udemy.com/positive-body-language/

Muse, Ivan. (2013, December 17). Oran and Nonverbal Expression. Retrieved on November 13, 2019, from https://books.google.com/books?id=38piAgAAQBAJ&dq=The+face+is+capable+of+up+to+250,000+expressions

Pease, Allan and Barbra. (2006, September 24). The Definitive Book of Body Language. Retrieved on November 13, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/books/chapters/0924-1st-peas.html

Van Edwards, V. (2017). Captivate. Penguin.

About the author

Gianna Petan

Meet Gianna - no stranger to all things promo products. Her background in research-based writing, linguistics, and advertising gives her an edge in blogging about the marketing industry.