Is Your Body Language Costing You A Promotion?

“Half or more of all communication is nonverbal,”
says Todd Dewett, a management professor at
Ohio-based Wright State University. “Professionals
are stressed. They are multitasking. They face
many competing demands. Consequently, while
they might sometimes be focused on using words
correctly, they never give a second thought to what
their body is saying.”
Evolutionary psychologists contend that nonverbal
communication is largely driven by the limbic
system, so body movement and facial expressions
are usually unconscious reactions–evolutionary
artifacts of behaviors that developed thousands of
years ago. However, many of the mechanisms that
once ensured survival—an unfamiliar face provoked
a fight or flight response—are no longer productive
today and may even derail your success.
“Communication, including body language,
becomes significantly more important when
considering who’s promotion material,” says
Dewett. “As soon as you step into a supervisor role,
it all comes down to communication skills.”
Do you know what your body’s saying?
Communication and management experts detail
the silent signals you may be sending.
You’re Not Confident
From their vocal intonation to the tilt of their heads,
successful professionals should convey confidence
and authority. However, common body language
mistakes may make them look uncertain and
indecisive. Poor posture can be detrimental. “When
you slouch you do not have a dynamic presence,”
says career coach Sarah Hathorn. “In the business
world it sends a strong signal that you lack
confidence and have poor self esteem, which can
undermine your actual abilities.”
Similarly, your handshake is a strong indicator of
who you are as a leader. Hathorn says it’s
important to strike the right balance, as a weak
handshake (something women are often guilty of)
shows a lack of authority and a bone-crunching
handshake (more often in the realm of men) can
come across as overly aggressive. “Most people do
not how to do it properly,” says Hathorn. “You want
be firm and match the strength of the person’s hand
you’re shaking.”

You’re Disinterested
People at work fall into day-to-day routines and
show far too much of their internal life, says
Dewett. Showing signs of disinterest and
disengagement is particularly destructive.
Dewett warns against common ticks like looking at
the clock or your watch while speaking with
someone, as they will assume you are arrogant or
don’t buy into what they’re saying. Also, angling
your body away from a person, not leaning into a
conversation or looking past them signals that you
want to distance yourself from them or their ideas.
It’s also very important to control your facial
expressions. “Be aware of it,” says Hathorn. “Are
you looking down, frowning or scowling with the
forehead?” She says even a blank face may come
off as negative, and suggests holding a very slight
smile so that you look like you have energy and are
paying attention. Furthermore, avoid fidgeting in
meetings—adjusting clothing, pulling the lint off
your sweater or playing with your phone—which
will come off as distracted and indifferent.
You’re Disrespectful
Invading others’ space is a major no-no, because it
signals that you don’t respect them or their
boundaries. Hathorn says every person has a radius
of 1.5 feet that they consider intimate space. In
business, you wouldn’t want to come any closer
than arms length, she says, or you run the risk of
making someone feel uncomfortable. The same
respect should be given to others’ office spaces and
personal items. Picking up items on their book
shelf, putting your feet on their desk or otherwise
making yourself too at home will communicate
disrespect for the person and their work.
Facial expressions like eye rolling and frowning are
clear signs of disagreement that need to be kept in
check. More subtle movements may also portray
negativity. If you squint or narrow your eyes
because you’re thinking, you might inadvertently
appear as if you are questioning what your
coworker is saying, says Karen Friedman, author of
Shut Up and Say Something: Business
Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges
and Influence Listeners. Meanwhile, multitasking–
even having a Smartphone out on the table—will be
perceived as disrespectful because you’re not offering your full attention.

You’re Uncomfortable
“People tend to use very closed body gestures,”
says Hathorn. Folding your arms over your chest or
crossing your legs appears protective and as if
you’re not open to receiving the message. “Open up
your body language so others feel like they can
approach you.”
Feelings of discomfort are especially evident when
you’re making a presentation—the one time
everyone’s looking at you. “Most people can’t stand
presenting,” says Dewett. “They’d rather die.”
Usually that’s apparent. You either shut down
emotionally, using a monotone voice, no facial
expression and look at the floor, or have an excess
of movement, seen in shuffling feet, playing with
hair, scratching or rapid blinking. “Get yourself on
video,” he advises. “It will open your eyes very
You’re Lying
Your body should communicate your credibility, so
the last thing you want to do is fake it. “There is
nothing worse than a phony smile,” says Friedman.
“If you are smiling because you are trying to be
polite or ingratiate the boss, then that smile should
truly light up your face to the crinkles at the corners
of your eyes. Fake smiles typically involve just the
Dewett adds that eye aversion and incongruity
between words and gestures also suggest
deception. “The funniest to me is when there’s a
mismatch: You’ll say ‘sure I don’t mind doing this’
but your face is repulsed, or you’ll say ‘yes’ while
nodding no,” he explains. Dewett recommends
becoming more aware of your body and asking for
honest feedback from trusted coworkers to better
align your words with your body language.


8 thoughts on “Is Your Body Language Costing You A Promotion?

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