Avoiding Body Language Pitfalls

“How can I help you today? ”The words are easy to understand and do not have any obvious double meanings. But how do you know if the speaker is sincere in his or her desire to actually help you today? For instance, if I stand in front of you with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face you can safely assume I am actually not in a very helpful mood. However, if I am smiling and looking directly at you with a comfortable level of eye contact, you are going to be in good hands.

What is Body Language? Body language is the dynamic that puts emotion and validity (or a lack thereof) to the words we use when we communicate. That is where the real meaning behind the words we use can be found. Body language has been studied for generations by psychologists and behavioral specialists all over the world. However, you don’t need to be a specialist to understand the connection between how body language relates to success in relationships, both at work and at home. A benchmark study (Albert Mehrabian, 1971) has been quoted for years about the impact of body language: 7% of meaning is conveyed through the words we use, 38% through our tone of voice, and 55% through body language. But statistics only give us PART of the story. The truth behind the statistics is this… be aware of (or beware!) what you are showing when you are speaking. If you want to convey a message, make sure your body language supports what you are saying.

4 Body Language Pitfalls

Successful communication happens when both parties involved have a complete understanding of what the other person is trying to say. There are lots of articles about arm-crossing, eye contact, and tone of voice. Here are some of the more uncommon pitfalls that might trip up even the strongest communicator.

Slouching – Think of the bored teenager sitting in a classroom hunched over his desk. Hunched shoulders, head hanging down, upper body leaning on the desk, etc. These are all indicators that a speaker would rather be anywhere than where they are now. It also conveys a message of immaturity and lack of professionalism.

Suggestions: Practice good posture. Use occasional stretching to wake up tired muscles or refresh the blood flow through the body. Look alert and aware to lend an air of credibility and maturity to your appearance.

Clock-watching and phone checking –What other gesture could signal a lack of interest better than glancing at your watch or electronic device during a conversation? Not much! It also conveys the message that the other party is not worthy of your time or attention. This message of disrespect can be a dangerous one to send a boss, a coworker, or even a loved one.

Suggestions: Put down the phone, tablet, watch, etc., and give your full attention to the conversation.  Know how much time you have to devote to the conversation. Set an alert that will go off and notify both parties at once that the conversation needs to come to an end.

Fidgeting – Examples are pencil tapping, knee-bouncing, hair twirling, gum chewing, finger twisting, pen clicking, etc. They are all actions that distract from the main message. They can also be interpreted as weakness, lack of knowledge, fear, or distress.

Suggestions: Ask a trusted coworker to give you feedback on your “tics,” then take action. Put down the pen. Clear the desk area of small items that are easy to fiddle with. Calm yourself with a few deep breaths before entering a conversation. Don’t chew gum or eat while communicating. Eliminating these actions will again contribute to your credibility and professionalism.

Scowling – Unless you have a mirror at your desk, you don’t really know what you look like when you are working. When we are concentrating or having an in-depth discussion, our facial features may fall somewhere on the “Not-Smiling” scale. It can be as simple as a lackluster expression to a much stronger frown and furrowed brow.

Suggestions: Get that mirror! Test yourself just for a short time. See what you really look like when you work. Is your expression approachable, pleasant looking? Or do you look angry and unapproachable? Research shows that a smile is actually universal – it transcends language differences and creates a connection before words are even spoken.

PAS has the resources to help you build stronger communication skills both at work and at home. If you would like more information on how to improve your effectiveness through better body language, contact PAS to speak with a career coach!

“Your body communicates as well as your mouth. Don’t contradict yourself.”

Allen Ruddock

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

Peter F. Drucker