10 career-enhancing body language tips

Try these simple techniques to engage associates, convey authority, and influence dissenters.

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Body language is one of the most important and powerful types of communication in the history of the world.

A wink conveys an air of mysticism and charm, a simple raised hand in front of your face tells everyone you’re not going to put up with what’s happening anymore, and a leg popped behind you with your head tilted back is the international symbol for glee and whimsy.

How you present yourself physically at work can truly help (or hinder) your career.

According to a study led by Amy J.C. Cuddy (@amyjccuddy), an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, standing in a power pose for a few minutes before an interview can help you get the job. Watch Cuddy’s excellent TED Talk on power poses here. According to Cuddy, power posing also increases people’s tolerance for risk and pain and their ability to think abstractly.

So what are some simple tricks you can do to make yourself a better negotiator, make a difficult task easier, and encourage collaboration? We talked with Dr.Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of 12 books including “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead,” about her best body language workplace tips.

1. To reach an agreement, send engagement signals.

Goman says she has seen work groups reach agreements faster by showing engaged body language such as smiling, nodding, mirroring, and gesturing. “Interestingly, that positive result is the same whether the display was the product of an unconscious reaction or a strategic decision,” she said.

2. To make a difficult task seem easier, smile.

This is basically faking it ’til you make it for your body. You’re tricking yourself into thinking you’re enjoying this very difficult task.

“No matter the task,” Goman says, “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.” But if you smile, you will start eventually thinking that this work is really not so bad.

3. To reduce resistance, hand out your business card.

If you’re standing in a room with your arms folded and looking down, no one will approach you. Sitting with your legs crossed gives off the same signal. However, if you literally open your body up when a person comes into the room—either by giving them a card or getting them a cup of coffee—this will lessen the resistance.

4. To maximize your authority, curb your enthusiasm.

Sometimes appearing overly excited can make you look weak. “In situations where you want to maximize your authority, minimize your movements,” Goman says. “Take a deep breath, bring your gestures down to waist level, and pause before making a key point. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.”

5. To defuse a tense situation, realign your body.

If a person is arguing with you, it’s most likely because they feel they aren’t being heard. One way to make that person feel better and show good leadership is to physically align yourself with them, either by standing or sitting next to them. Conversely, an action that will make the argument worse is to square your body to the other person or to move in closer, says Goman.

6. To increase participation, look like you’re listening.

If you really want to show people you’re listening, put down your phone. Goman says you can show your focus by turning your head and torso to face the person directly and by making eye contact. Leaning forward, nodding, and tilting your head are other nonverbal ways to show you’re engaged and paying attention.

7. To encourage collaboration, remove barriers.

You should take away anything that blocks your view or forms a physical barrier between you and the rest of the team. “Even at a coffee break, be aware that you may create a barrier by holding your cup and saucer in a way that seems deliberately to block your body or distance you from others,” Goman says.

8. To connect instantly with someone, shake hands.

A good handshake is the foundation of so much good business. Goman cites a study that found people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them.

“Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue. Touching someone on the arm, hand, or shoulder for as little as one-fortieth of a second creates a human bond. In the workplace, physical touch and warmth are established through the handshaking tradition, and this tactile contact makes a lasting and positive impression,” she says.

9. To show agreement, mirror expressions and postures.

When clients or business colleagues unconsciously imitate your body language, it’s their way of nonverbally saying they like or agree with you. “When you mirror other people with intent, it can be an important part of building rapport and nurturing feelings of mutuality,” she says.

10. To improve your speech, use your hands.

Sometimes people say making too many movements with your hands connotes nervousness, but that’s only if you aren’t doing it in the right way. “Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as we talk can actually power up our thinking,” says Goman.

Meredith Lepore is the former editor of the women’s career site The Grindstone. Before that, she was on staff at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and was a contributing writer for LearnVest.

Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals, where a version of this post first appeared.


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