What Your Office Body Language Says About You

bodylanguage_slide1Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You may speak company lingo like you just schooled trainees at a regional conference, but are your gestures saying the opposite about you?
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Instead of worrying what your coworkers are saying behind your back, you should be more concerned with what your actual back is saying behind your back.
No, seriously. Slouching, for example, doesn’t just tell someone you weren’t a ballerina in your early days; it can be interpreted as insecure, as if you are trying to take up as little space as possible, curling your body into itself in hopes of disappearing. (Dramatic, but true, say the experts.)
Here are more things you’re likely, unknowingly, doing that speak octaves louder than your words.
Your Signature Strut
Do you race around your workspace, even for a coffee refill? Or, is your walk closer to a peaceful pace? Eliot Hoppe, communication trainer and author on the subject, tells The Huffington Post, “The slower the walk, the more internal dialogue….And, the more brisk the walk, the more confident the person is, the more upright and erect you become.”
The takeaway: Strolling conveys a sense of nonchalance, so even if you aren’t in a hurry, adding a pep to your step will make you seem more alert and focused on the task at hand, even if it’s small. Who wouldn’t want to give someone like that more advanced projects or responsibility in the office?
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The Way You Stand
The way you walk often correlates to the stance you assume when at rest.
Interestingly, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows in a TED Talk how you can implement “power posing” into your workday by standing in a posture of confidence. Think spine straight, chest out, and widened stance. Believe it or not, these physical changes can affect the testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, making you seem more assertive.
Where You Point Your Feet
Apparently, where your feet are facing says a lot about how you feel about your current conversation.
“Our brains,” explains Vanessa Van Edwards, “actually subconsciously pay attention to a person’s feet. You will notice our feet tend to point in the direction we want to go.”
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As you can imagine, if you are truly interested in what the person is saying to you, you will likely move in closer with your toes pointed straight toward the speaker. But, if you’re desperately trying to escape, your feet will be looking like you're ready to make a move — straight out of the conversation.
Edwards says, “…at a networking event, someone who is itching to leave might be talking to someone but have their feet pointed toward the door. So, if you want to show you are actively engaged, point your feet and angle your body toward the person you are speaking with.”
bodylanguage_slide2Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Hand Gestures
The frequency in which you use your hands to emphasize your words reveals your intelligence level, says recent research shared by Anne Murphy Paul of Business Insider’s The Brilliant Blog.
Citing studies by Susan Goldin-Meadow, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, she explains how hand gestures play a supporting role in the speaker’s story, filling in the holes in verbal language with body language to round it out.
Mismatching hand gestures with contradictory language displays the highest level of intelligence — nodding your head yes but saying no, for example.
Showing this type of control over mind and body exudes a sense of authority. Keep in mind though that using hand gestures above the waist when public speaking can be distracting, and therefore more hurtful than helpful to your professional branding. But, when hands are kept low and move with purpose, you can emphasize points in a memorable and assertive way.
Yes, actions speak louder than words, but how — you’re likely wondering — are you supposed to retrain your body to be in sync with the image in your brain? It simply takes practice, according to Carol Kinsey Goman’s program “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help — or Hurt — How You Lead.” Taking time throughout the day to take note of your nonverbal cues and adjusting them as necessary will do the trick if you keep practicing consistently.
Goman also mentions in her Forbes article, “10 Simple and Powerful Body Language Tips for 2013,” that a great way to make you stick to your changes, especially if you’re on a leadership level, is to tell some of your team about your challenge. They can keep you in check, and will know and respect the role you’re assuming.
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Moreover, when you obtain more control over your nonverbal communication, Goman says you can trick your brain into following your body’s lead:
No matter the task, when you grimace or frown while doing it, you are sending your brain the message, ‘This is really difficult. I should stop." The brain then responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. And, this creates a vicious circle: The more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes.
Conversely, when you smile, your brain gets the message, “It’s not so bad. I can do this!”
Body language — it’s powerful stuff.