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?

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 is Important in Body Language?

When assessing someone’s body language, you need to look at the following:

  • Facial expressions
  • Posture
  • Hand gestures

These nonverbal cues give the person you’re interacting with an idea of what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling. It’s definitely something to be aware of so you’re not sending the wrong message.

Why Are Facial Cues Important?

Facial expressions might be some of the easiest cues to recognize. In most cases, it’s easy to tell when someone is content or in distress just by looking at their face. Eye contact and mouth movements reveal a lot about what a person may be thinking or feeling.

What is the Purpose of Eye Contact?

what is the purpose of eye contact

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.

How to Read the Mouth in Body Language

how to read the mouth in body language

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.

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

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

Why is Body Posture Important in Communication?

Your posture can tell a lot about your personality like whether you’re confident, or even if you’re feeling bored! Be aware of your body’s positioning while both sitting or standing to be sure you convey the right message to those around you.

Below you’ll find 3 common body postures and how they’re interpreted.

Slouching or Leaning Back in a Chair

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Slouching body language can be a sign of being unfriendly, anxious, or bored. It can also mean you’re feeling apathetic or extremely tired. Teenagers slouch in their desks in high school, so unless you want to seem surly and angsty, it’s best to sit up tall and straight.

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 slouching 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

If you put your hands in your pocket during a social interaction, it might mean that you’re feeling awkward or uncomfortable. It can also mean the person is self-conscious and unsure of what to do with their hands.

Author Vanessa Van Edwards says putting hands in your pockets “murders rapport”. In a social or professional setting, the last thing you wants to do is seem insecure or unsure about yourself.

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.

Try not to cross your arms if you are giving a presentation or meeting somebody for the first time. You don’t want to seem closed off or unapproachable.

Albert Mehrabian, a body language expert, found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only), 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds, and 55 percent nonverbal. The words you say matter, but so does your body language.

How Close Should You Stand When Talking?

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?” 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 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 Someone’s Body Language Mean?

body language mirroring

Mirroring body language is when a person begins to mimic the mannerisms of the person they are interacting with. By copying another person’s movements, you’re conveying that you’re connected to that individual. You may also be sending the message that you’re empathetic to their situation or feelings.

How Can I Make My Body Language Positive?

You don’t want to come across as standoffish or insecure. These five tips help you adjust your body language so you’re always making a positive first impression:

1. Keep a Relaxed Posture

It’s best not to slouch, 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

While you don’t want to engage someone in a stare down, eye contact does communicate with 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

Stop fidgeting with your hands, tapping your foot, or constantly moving around in your seat. Fidgeting might seem rude or like you’re trying to escape the situation. If you’re someone who fidgets subconsciously, try to catch yourself when you’re doing it, or have some kind of strategy in place to stop the behavior.

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 in your body language. Smiling shows that you’re comfortable and confident, two features that are important in any social interaction.

These behaviors may not come naturally to you, so even if it seems weird, try practicing at home in the mirror! You’ll be thankful when it comes time to put these skills into practice in the real world.

Why is Body Language So Important?

why is body language so important

Your words will fall flat and may lose their meaning if your body language doesn’t match the message. For instance, if you’re praising a movie, but your arms are crossed the whole time and you have a scowl on your face, people might think you’re being sarcastic.

Body language is important because it helps us be better communicators. A warm smile, relaxed posture, and plenty of eye contact is a cue to people that you’re someone they can approach. Be aware of good body language, so you come across as the awesome, friendly person that you truly are!


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.

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