Whether you’re an entry-level employee or a successful CEO, how you behave determines how others perceive you and also influences how they will respond to you. Chances are you already are aware of this, but when research shows that the majority of how we communicate is with nonverbal cues, it never hurts to have a reminder.
Let’s take a look at the 9 most common body language blunders, broken down by career stage.
Stage 1: Exploration
The exploration stage usually takes place during the high school and college years, and the relationships you make during this time will no doubt dictate the success you have once you move on to the Establishment stage, or your first job out of college. The two mistakes you need to avoid in this stage are Failing to Smile and Bad Posture.
Failing to Smile is one of the most critical ways to turn someone off during a conversation. Smiling shows that you are happy and open, and a grim expression (or no expression at all) gives the signal that you don’t want any attention. Many say that smiling too much or too often can damage credibility, which is true. However, during your first interactions with companies or potential employers, your credibility is limited and you want to portray yourself as someone who can get along with anyone.
Bad Posture is a habit that can plague anyone, no matter your role or industry. Early on you need to learn and practice how you want others to perceive you. If you are drooping through your back, shoulders and neck, it will surely convey the wrong message.
Stage 2: Establishment
This stage endures through your first two to three positions, where you will undoubtedly start reporting to managers and have basic responsibilities. You are guaranteed that you will make at least one major mistake for which you will have to learn how to take responsibility and admit failure.
Performance and experience are critical factors when looking at a career path. After all, if you’re not qualified, you’re probably not going to even be considered for a promotion or a raise. However there’s another factor you need to take into account that will either help or hurt your chances for success in your specific career path — body language. In this stage it’s critical to learn to avoid Nodding Too Much and Fidgeting.
Nodding is a socially acceptable way to acknowledge someone, however nodding too much indicates that you are trying to move the conversation faster so that you can interrupt them. Wait for a pause in a lecture or meeting and do one powerful nod to show that you were listening.
Fidgeting implies discomfort and a lack of interest. Whether during a meeting or even just at your desk, concentrate on the task at hand and avoid the urge to make quick movements or gestures, especially those that take your attention away from your work. Availability of electronic devices makes this worse; you may argue to yourself that checking your email or texts is work related, but the perception will be that you are disengaged. Only check your phone if absolutely necessary, otherwise avoid it like the plague.
Stage 3: Mid-Career
During your Mid-Career Stage you will have changing priorities, possibly with several people working under you. This stage defines whether you are on your way up or on your way out. To make sure you’re on your way up, steer clear of Crossing Your Arms and Avoiding Eye Contact.
Crossing Your Arms appears defensive, or demonstrates that you’re uninterested in the topic at hand. While this is a very common unconscious movement, make a conscious effort to avoid it when possible.
Just like moving up a ladder, always keep your eyes up, focused on the prize. Whether dealing with insubordinate employees or taking responsibility in front of senior leadership, appropriate eye contact will show that you can defend your actions. Shifting your glance makes it appear that you are lying, whether you are or not.
Stage 4: Late Career
While some of you may make shifts between multiple positions during your Mid-Career, you will eventually encounter the Late Career Stage. This stage is when you are probably locked in with a single company and have to work less to prove your value. Effective body language in this stage includes the avoidance of Leaning Back and Narrowing Your Eyes.
With natural progression in a career, you may find that your office will get bigger and your chair may get more comfortable. That doesn’t mean that you should slouch or lean back too often, especially in the presence of others. Leaning back shows that you don’t care about your conversation, and others may be off put by you.
If you want to appear as though you don’t like someone, narrow your eyes. It can give the impression that you’re vetting their value and don’t trust them. Instead, practice conversations without narrowing. There’s even research to prove that squinting your eyes to see something in a distance isn’t effective, yet it takes a lot of brain activity to perform that function.
Stage 5: Decline
After several decades of successful hustling, you will come to the point where you will consider retirement. This will be difficult for those of you who have found great success in your careers, but there is one great way to keep the attention of those around you even after you leave the corner office.
When greeting or meeting someone new, don’t Forget to Have a Firm Handshake. While this can be a sometimes unconscious or passive activity, a firm grip (without squeezing too hard) can let the other person know that you have vitality, and are engaged in the interaction.
Are there any other body language blunders you would add? I’d love to hear your anecdotes and ideas in the comments below.
About Zachary Lukasiewicz: As an entrepreneurial marketer and growth hacker, I have the chance to learn about the best and worst ways to stay optimistic from all sorts of experts but I’m also a recent college grad living in the Midwest with a busy schedule, active social life, and the occasional craft beer craving.