Body Language Tips for Better Work Communication

August 24, 2016

Career Development In Place

While at work, job hunting, or interviewing for a position, you probably give a lot of thought to what you say and wear. These are important to think about and prepare for. However, what may be even more important is what you are communicating non-verbally through your body language. In fact, a widely-cited study found that 55% of the messages communicated are conveyed through your body language – not your words. (Albert Mehrabian, UCLA)

Do you remember times when you have judged people based on their behaviors? For instance, picture a co-worker who puts her legs up on her desk, leans back and reads. What does she communicate to you? Or how about the new supervisor of yours that always leads meetings with his arms crossed? How do you feel around him? Does it feel like a safe place to share your ideas?

Whether we perceive others correctly or not based on their non-verbal behaviors, the fact remains that we ourselves are being evaluated in this same way whenever we interact. The assumptions that others may make about us can be undermining since you are not in control or even aware of what others are thinking.

How can you make sure you are coming across as professional, engaged, and confident? Alternatively, if you are not progressing in interviews or in your career, could there be aspects of your body language that need improving? Here are four tips to assist you in putting your best self forward.

1. A strong handshake
handshake a
Often our handshake is one of the first ways we are evaluated by someone new we meet. Is your handshake weak, overbearing, or too short? You may not know unless you practice handshaking with a colleague, career counselor or someone else you trust to give you honest feedback. Make sure your handshake is considered firm.

First make eye contact and smile, which both show that you’re confident, friendly, and relaxed. Then, extend your hand for a firm, brief handshake: keep your fingers closed, make sure the web between your thumb and forefinger meets the other person’s, wrap your fingers around his/her hand, and shake. Two to three pumps from your elbow-not your wrist or shoulder-is perfect. And make sure you maintain eye contact the entire time!

For many women across the world, including here in the United States, we are taught at a very early age to be gentle and at times submissive. This is not going to benefit you at all in a professional environment. It may help to think you are actually shaking too hard in order to shake hard enough.

2. Minimize poor mannerisms

It can be awkward to sit, stand, or talk and not know what to do with your arms and hands. People often solve this by crossing their arms in front of their bodies or by fidgeting, tapping their fingers, or twirling their hair. But the best, most professional stance is to keep your arms right at your sides. If this feels uncomfortable, make sure you have something to hold, like a notepad or file.

Don’t stick your hands in your pockets, which can convey reluctance or cautiousness. Also try to think about the movements of your hands. Your mannerisms should be small and intentional, and never a distraction to what your mouth is saying. Using too much movement when you talk may give the impression that you’re emotional or unsure of what you’re saying, and motions like pointing at someone, even if your voice is friendly, can be misinterpreted as anger or an accusation.

3. Be aware of facial expressions

They call it poker face for a reason: Many people may not realize that when they are thinking hard, they may appear to be frowning and come across angry or unfriendly. Your facial expressions, like raising your eyebrows, breaking into a smile, or furrowing your brow, can speak volumes about your thoughts and emotions. Think about what your face is saying, even when your mouth isn’t moving. A small, calm smile will always make you appear neutral, friendly, and approachable, and nodding and raising your eyebrows shows that you agree.

Keep eye contact with the person who’s speaking (or shift between everyone in the room when you’re doing the talking). Looking up, down, or to the side (or rolling your eyes) all send different messages-and likely not the ones you want to send. Ask trusted people what you look like at various moments and apply what you learn from their feedback.girl-1601392_1920

4. Posture perfect

Having good posture is good for your back, but it’s also good for business. Whether you are seated or standing, your posture can non-verbally state that you’re interested and engaged or exactly the opposite. When you’re seated in a meeting or interview, sit so that your back doesn’t touch the back of the chair. This prevents slouching (which naturally occurs when you’re sitting), plus it can give off the impression that you’re too comfortable. Plant your feet on the floor or cross your legs at the knees, though this is generally seen as more casual and relaxed, it’s appropriate.

You can also cross your legs at the ankles or press your knees together, slanting your legs to one side. When you’re standing, put your shoulders back, hands at your sides, and keep both feet on the floor, your weight evenly distributed between both legs. And be still – fidgeting or shifting conveys that you’re nervous or anxious.

Your body language will express strong statements for you, so it makes sense to be more conscious of the often overlooked ways we project ourselves. If you pay as much attention to what you are doing as what you are saying, you can be confident you are sending exactly the messages you mean to at all levels.


Andrea Killion, MS, NCC, MCC
Careerful Counseling Services
503-997-9506 | |

Andrea assists clients in successfully achieving rewarding employment. She works with a diverse array of adults from all industries, backgrounds and stages. Whether you are searching for a meaningful career, trying to gain job offers in a shorter period of time, or unsure whether to stay in your current position, contact Andrea for assistance with these issues and more.

Stock images courtesy of and
This post originally appeared on this site in 2013.
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