I have this friend. Let’s call her “Kate.”
Kate is super nice. She genuinely cares about people and likes socialize. Smart, educated, hard-working and imaginative, she would be a great asset to any company.
But Kate is finding that she rarely makes it past the interview stage. People don’t seem to want to engage and conversations are often short. When she does manage to get hired, she rarely advances past her initial position. Her superiors pass over her and promote others, and even though she tries to connect with co workers, she feels lonely and left out.
She tried entrepreneurship but that was a bust – every attempt to make a genuine connection with someone ended in radio silence. Stuck in career hell, she’s miserable because she knows she’s capable of so much more.
Why can’t she seem to achieve her #bossbabe dreams?
The answer is so subtle that hordes of people miss it – body language. And, just like Kate, what they’re missing is having a disastrous effect on their careers.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah yeah, body language blah blah blah, but aren’t my words and the quality of my work more important?”
Here’s the thing. Body language is a crucial step in the framework of social interaction. What’s coming out of your mouth is important, but your body language is the powerhouse that validates those words.
Since the beginning of time, humans have used body language as a tool for deciding who is the strongest, most confident, the best asset, even who’s telling the truth. Body language is a visual indicator of intangible characteristics.
Physical signs of weakness or timidness will be quickly applied to everything else about you, including your words. In the same way, people who are confident, open and available for connection via their body language are perceived as strong, capable and trustworthy.
Those around you are influenced by your body language on a subconscious level, and that’s a million times more powerful that whatever comes out of your mouth.
Your words communicate what you want people to know, but your body communicates how you truly feel.
If you want to be the kind of woman whom others perceive as confident, capable and trustworthy, you have to master body language. Here are 5 body language blunders, how they sabotage you, and clear action steps for losing them faster than hair ties and bobby pins.
#1: Lack of Eye Contact
You’re in the break room chatting with a colleague, telling him what hilarious thing happened to you over the weekend.
However, the whole time you’re talking, he’s looking over your shoulder and constantly glancing at people walking in and out. Rarely making eye contact with you, he seems distracted, like everything and everyone else is more interesting than you are.
How would you feel? Annoyance and frustration would be just the beginning, not to mention feeling as though you were wasting your time. You wouldn’t feel valued, and you’d think to yourself, “is he even listening to me?”
If you had to pick someone to work with in the future, he’d be your last pick.
Our eyes are a major part of how we connect as humans, and they hold immense power. It’s cliche, but eyes really are windows to the soul – they tell us a lot about a person. Eyes can signify trustworthiness and safety, or they can indicate the person is hiding something and shouldn’t be trusted.
When you avoid eye contact with people, they inherently don’t trust you. Looking down or away when you speak is an indicator that you’re lying or hiding something.
It makes you seem cowardly, weak, and easily intimidated.
By not meeting people’s eyes, you give off the impression that you don’t believe in yourself. It’s a submissive behavior that makes you seem passive and unable to be confident about anything. And if you’re not confident in yourself, why should anyone else be?
You’ll be the last person they want to trust with anything important.
If looking people in the eyes gives you anxiety, take a baby step by practicing looking someone in the eye for 1 minute while you talk to them. When you get comfortable with that, move on to looking them in the eye as you speak and make them look away first.
Make a commitment to dutifully practice each step until you’re comfortable – give yourself a week for each, but extend it if you need to. This may seem like a drastic, over-the-top step, but it will force you to face your fear, making you overcome it.
After you lose your fear of eye contact, consciously use it in every conversation, no matter how casual. You don’t have to stare them down and never look away, just make sure to use your eyes to show you’re listening and giving them your full attention. A couple of seconds at a time is all you need. You’ll find that they more you engage using your eyes, the bolder and more confident you’ll become.
#2: Boring Facial Expressions
Let’s say it’s Friday night, you’re off work and totally psyched – you just found out the position you want is open and you have a chance to apply! You come home and, with an animated voice, tell your significant other how this job never opens up, this is a major opportunity for you, and you know just what to do for your presentational interview.
But your elation and hope is met with a blank face. No real expressions of joy, amazement or admiration, let alone interest. After you finish, all you get is “huh, that’s really cool. Btw, wanna order pizza tonight?”
How would you react? “Hello! Did you even listen to me!?” You’d feel written off and devalued – two things that don’t help a relationship to thrive.
It’s the same in your career.
Your face needs to be just as engaged in your conversation as your words are. When you stare blankly at someone as they speak, it makes them feel like you think they’re boring and don’t care about what they have to say. Failing to use a range of expressions (interested, happy, surprised, empathetic, etc) gives the impression that you’re not really listening.
Your face needs to reflect that you’re truly processing their words. This shows them you’re tracking, demonstrating that you value them and what they have to share.
When having a conversation, whether a corporate meeting or chatting with a friend, practice matching your facial expressions to the emotions behind the words being used, both by yourself and your conversation partner.
Be intentional and pay attention to their face. When you use your facial gestures to engage, do they respond? Maybe they become more animated and excited, or maybe they open up, sharing more with you.
These are all signs that your facial expressions are showing them you care, and that will trigger genuine connection.
#3: Physical Avoidance
It’s wedding season and your old college roommate is getting hitched. You find yourself seated at the “college table” with a bunch of people you sort of remember. But there’s free food and booze, and the music’s hot. This should be fun.
After introducing yourself to the gal next to you, the two of you start chatting about how you know the bride and groom and what you each do for work. But instead of facing you during your conversation, her body is turned away and she’s looking at other people. She’s leaning slightly away, and while her eyes are on you for the most part, her face has drifted away so she’s almost looking at you out of the corner of her eye.
Your table mate may think she’s paying attention to you, but her entire body is screaming the opposite. What a terrible way to start an acquaintance!
Behavior like this is career suicide, yet so many people make this blunder and don’t have a clue. Not facing the person or leaning in the opposite direction gives the impression you’re trying to get away – you can’t stand being in their presence. You look uncomfortable and appear guarded. They pick up on that and it makes them highly uncomfortable.
Your behavior is saying “you’re fine, but I’m on the lookout for something better, and when it comes, I’m out of here.” People with body language like this will not be remembered fondly.
Body language in conversation is all about putting the other person at ease and making them feel valued. The orientation of your body should reflect where your attention and priorities are. At the very least, your face should be aimed at the person you’re speaking too. This allows for eye contact and animated facial expressions, both of which deeply enrich conversation and connection. Turn your body towards them if you can – this shows that you’re all in and committed to what they have to say.
#4: Poor Physical Hygiene
You’re finally on a date. After weeks of complaining you never meet good guys, your girlfriends made you an online dating profile and set up a date for you. It was a surprise, but you figure at least you get a nice dinner out of it, so you agree to go.
When you arrive, the hostess escorts you to your table, which is a nice, intimate little spot in the corner. Total date material. The guy isn’t here yet, so you sit down, sip on your water and nibble at the bread sticks. So far so good.
In walks your date. At first glance, he seems put together, but as he gets closer, it’s a whole different story.
His hair is mussed. Not the sexy kind, the kind like he just woke up from sleeping in a greasy barn. As he sits down, you notice an odor wafting from him – musty mixed with sour B.O. and a touch of bad breath. Mmm, sexy.
First impressions? Umm, yeah, that date is totally ending after dessert (you’re sticking around for the chocolate cake, you’re not an idiot). It doesn’t matter how nice the guy is, you can hardly stand to be around him, let alone get up close and personal.
Before he’s even said a word, he’s already ruined his chances.
Your career is no different. Neglecting your body or appearance communicates that you have low self-esteem, lack confidence and aren’t considerate of those around you. Sloppiness and bad hygiene are both incredibly distracting and hard for people to see past, no matter how amazing a person you are. No one wants to work with someone like this, let alone promote them!
On the other hand, caring for yourself shows you place a high value on who you are and what you can do. Your body and appearance are your “packaging” – a way for you to brand yourself. That “packaging” holds massive influence on how others view you and your worth.
If you come across as one who values and cares for themselves, has confidence and is thoughtful of others, people will take notice.
Take a physical self-inventory and, if you’re currently not doing all of the following daily, implement them right away:
- Applying deodorant
- Washing/combing your hair
- Brushing/flossing your teeth
- Regularly washing your clothes so they smell fresh (vs musty and sour)
These hygiene practices are crucial and essential to social interactions, so make sure they are part of your daily routines.
#5: Inappropriate Vocal Patterns
Sunday brunch with the family – a chance to chill, catch up, and drink your weight in mimosas.
As you arrive, you learn your brother brought his new lady friend, and she ends up seated next to you. Being the good big sister you are, you start to chat her up, but you soon find this a painful chore.
Her mumbling replies are indecipherable and she speaks so fast you’d think she was a character on Scandal. After a few minutes of trying to be polite, you finally end the convo, turn away and get on with brunch. Talk about a train wreck.
The sad thing is, situations like this happen far too often, especially in business. Vocal faux pas range from speaking too softly or too loudly for the situation, mumbling, not enunciating, or spewing words at rapid speed. It’s hard to talk to, understand, or feel confident in conversation with you if you can’t gauge what’s appropriate.
Patterns like these make conversation extremely difficult, and people will dread having to interact with you. This leads to lack of connection and disastrous career consequences.
Speak clearly and enunciate your words. If you’re unsure about what might be appropriate for the situation or environment, listen to the people around you and take cues from them. How loudly are they talking, and is the topic of conversation serious or relaxed?
The speed of speech varies with each group and location. For example, my girlfriends and I chatter at high speeds, but we all can keep up and participate, so it’s ok. However, when I’m speaking to a client, a large group, or I’m being interviewed, I slow my speech down a bit so as not to hinder my communication or effectiveness.
If you’re having trouble gauging what’s appropriate, take your cues from those around you. Once you start paying attention, it’s a lot easier than you think.
Wrapping It Up
Your body and appearance are powerful tools that indicate how you value yourself and how you expect others to interact with and value you.
Lack of eye contact, facial expressions that don’t match the conversation, physical avoidance, poor physical hygiene and inappropriate vocal patterns will sabotage the best of intentions, preventing you from achieving your goals.
For some, this may be a great reminder, but if these concepts are new to you and feel overwhelming, don’t stress! Taking baby steps and implementing these action steps a few at a time will help you transform from someone people avoid into one who is socially welcomed.
Remember – what you say matters, but what you do with your body is crucial to validating your words. Master them both and you’ll be headed for your dream career at top speed.