We worry so much about the words we say to colleagues and clients that we tend to neglect the power of body language.
This is the way our body ‘speaks’ through breath, movement, facial expression, hand gestures and eye contact – or lack of!
Research by UCLA Emeritus Professor Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer in the field of non-verbal communication, shows that body language accounts for around 55% of the message we project, with tone of voice 38% and actual words only 7%.
Judgement of your presentation begins as soon as you enter a room, not the moment you open your mouth to speak.
Walk in with good posture, confident stride and a warm smile, and you predispose colleagues and clients to look favourably on you, whether you’re making a pitch or heading up a project team.
Here are some powerful ways to enhance your body language for success in the workplace.
Standing tall with shoulders back and head held high makes you appear self-assured and in control.
Don’t save this technique for important work events – practice daily until great posture becomes second nature.
Accustomed to slouching, fidgeting and tangling your legs? It’s time for an overhaul.
Sit with upright back and feet on the floor, avoiding slumping or leaning over your desk. Lose the finger-drumming, leg-crossing, hair-twiddling ways which indicate a nervous or distracted state of mind.
Good sitting posture gives the impression of someone calm and self-contained, while looking after your back, neck and shoulder muscles at the same time.
Smiling is a great way to get ahead at work, and scientific studies back this up.
If you can’t manage a genuine full-face, eye-creasing (Duchenne) smile, even a standard smile activating only the muscles around the mouth is beneficial.
The positive effects of smiling work in two ways:
- Research published in the Neuropsychologia journal shows that people are more likely to remember smiling faces than those with neutral expressions – useful when you’re trying to impress colleagues, bosses and clients.
- A US ‘Grin and Bear It’ study reveals that smiling while tackling difficult tasks helps lower the heart rate, promoting a quicker recovery. Duchenne smiles produce the fullest relaxation response, but even forced smiles offer positive benefits.
Make eye contact
Eye contact is one of our most primitive and powerful survival mechanisms.
We are instinctively drawn to people who look directly at us. It even applies to static eyes, with Cornell University researchers discovering that adult subjects repeatedly chose the cereal box with the rabbit gazing right at them, rather than away.
By making eye contact with work colleagues and clients, you draw their attention and are more likely to keep it. This makes you more memorable and also presents you as a trustworthy, sincere person.
Break the eye contact occasionally to avoid being intimidating, either by moving your gaze slowly from eye to eye, or looking to the left or right. Avoid looking down which can make you appear shifty.
Other body language cues
- Lowering the tone of your voice. High-pitched voices carry less weight than lower-toned ones, so keep your voice tone low, assured and even.
- Increasing your emotional intelligence. Emotional awareness and management are great assets in any work environment, so study ways to improve yours.
- Using open gestures rather than closed ones. Opening your arms and hands while speaking inspires trust and confidence rather than crossing arms or holding hands close to the body. Gestures are most powerful when kept around waist level.
- Mastering the firm handshake. Not too crushing and not too limp – the optimum handshake is thought to be a firm, assured grip lasting from two to five seconds.
- Perfecting the art of breathing. According to the Better Health Channel, deep, abdominal breathing is one of the best ways to centre yourself, calm nerves and project an air of quiet confidence.
Smart body language can open numerous workplace doors, so it’s worth spending time on getting it right.
It can also be critical during the recruitment process, particularly in interviews. If you’re hiring or looking for a job, talk to us about the importance of paying attention to body language.