What Are You Really Saying? The Power of Nonverbal Communication

man in a meetiing

Stop for a moment and take an inventory of your body language right now. Are you hunched over a computer or bent over your phone? Are your arms folded or legs crossed? If so, you are communicating a lack of confidence and power to those around you. And not only that, but you are also communicating that lack of confidence to yourself.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy teaches that standing up straight and pulling our shoulders back doesn’t just communicate confidence to everyone around you; this posture is actually able to change how you feel in a situation, which means that being aware of your own nonverbal signals is a vital part of your job success.

Communicate Confidence, Not Cockiness

Simple changes in your body language can help you exude confidence. Pull your shoulders back and keep your back straight. Make sure your chin is parallel to the ground, maintain consistent eye contact, and rest your hands at your sides or in your lap. Did you just try these out? Does it feel better?

Showing confidence often means taking up a little more space than normal, so strike a balance. While you don’t want to slouch, you also don’t want to take up all the chairs in the waiting room or angle your head upwards so that you have to look down your nose at people. Similarly, while a lack of eye contact will indicate that you are unsure of yourself or that your answers are not true, a business meeting is not a staring match. Too much eye contact can be unnerving and will likely negatively affect the other person’s impression of you. Finding this balance will mean the difference between communicating that you are confident and capable or cocky and difficult to work with.

Mirror the Person in Charge

We are constantly evaluating each other. How many times have you wondered, “Are they going to be able to pull this off? What does my boss think about this? Are they going to fit in with the team?” You may or may not ask these questions directly, but you’re often looking for an answer through nonverbal cues.

The next question to ask is, “How can I inspire confidence with my body language when I’m the one being observed?” As a general rule, always be professional and authentic. But if you’re looking for specific advice for your circumstances, look no further than the person who is in charge. If he or she is more formal, then you should be too. For instance, if the person in charge addresses you with a title such as Sir or Ma’am, respond in kind. If the person in charge is more casual, match his or her level of formality.

Body language is contagious. If you smile during an interview or meeting, the people you are trying to persuade will probably smile too, and your attitude can influence how they feel about your interaction.

Breathe Deeply

Deep breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth—has been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease physical signs of stress. If you have a particularly stressful meeting or encounter in the future, it’s a good idea to spend some time breathing deeply beforehand. It will help you stay calm so that confidence isn’t just what you’re hoping to communicate—you will actually feel confident.

How You Feel

While how you dress and what you say will influence how people at work perceive you, it’s equally important to pay attention to how you feel and what you may be communicating about that through your body language. As you take careful inventory of your posture, mirror the person in charge, and stay calm through deep breathing, you can make a better impression on those around you.

Related article: Making an Impression: Nonverbal Communication during a Job Interview

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