Body Language in the Workplace

Please enjoy this post from staff writer, Mitchell Pauly.  Mitchell blogs over at SnarkFinance.com.

Non-verbal communication in the workplace is paramount to any successful career.  Pending on your desired career, this could mean a lot of things.  For example, the body language required of Blackzilla is very different indeed to that required by Tyron the accountant[1].  Since there is an 80% chance you are reading this blog post at work, I am going to assume you’re a cubicle gopher working somewhere as exciting as listening to Ben Stein read the phone book.  The body language required for success in an office setting is subtle, deliberate and timed—like a good pick up line or a good ol’ fashioned surprise trouser dropping[2].   Unfortunately, that also makes body language in the office place among the most difficult to master.  Fortunately you have social savants like me to teach you.

Pull a Roger Rabbit and Get Animated

Consider communication like good sex: it requires multiple movements at once[3].  Complex body movements reflect complex thinking.  Think both hands above the waste moving in a direct, succinct manner in time with the important points you are obviously going to be making.  Be wary of overly aggressive movements like pointing, or gestures which infer mental instability like fist pumping as if you’re an audience member of the Arsenio Hall show.  Movement doesn’t simply start and stop at the hands like some masturbatory fever dream either.  If appropriate, don’t hesitate to utilize the space you are in and move through it.  If you are limited to a chair be sure to sit straight and lean slightly forward, which infers interest in the topic at hand.

Eyes on the Audience

I knew a guy in California who made strong eye contact with those he communicated with; at first I was pretty sure he was hitting on me, but then I remembered that I am irresistible to gay men and the mere fact he hadn’t made his move meant he was just super good at making me feel special—and then I felt a little disappointed and then a little confused about myself.  We can all take a lesson out of his playbook though.  Eye contact is the most important non-verbal communicative device we can use.  If giving a presentation, break the room down into sections and address each section periodically by making eye contact with one or two people.  This is one of the most effective ways to engage the audience.  For those who use their literacy as a crutch (reading off slides), eye contact will force you to memorize information which has the added benefit of making you truly competent.

Talk to Yourself, or Strangers

The best way to learn body language is to practice using it correctly.  If you think it is weird to talk to yourself in front of a mirror then you’re right, it is weird, but it is incredibly effective practice because most people think that speaking in front of others is weird.  You will always be your own worst critic, so learn to pass the “guy in the mirror test” and you should do fine in front of those non-refracted light particles.  Do you talk to strangers?  You should.  Not only will it get you laid more often and expand the number of friends you have, but it will teach you to calibrate your body language to the reactions of others.  I talk to strangers all the time and at first they always find me to be a little strange; I rate myself based upon how many I win over.  I test new ways of framing ideas and body language.  These days, I win over more than I lose.  If I can do that with people who might stab me, do you think a boardroom scares me?


[1] Is that racist?  White version: Peter North to Jim the accountant.  Happy?

[2] Only gotten me arrested once.

[3] If that is a new fact for you, please get off the internet.

Do you talk to strangers for practice?  Do you believe that the use of nonverbal communication can advance your career?

About Mitchell Pauly

Mitchell Pauly is the main writer at Snarkfinance and a staff writer for Club Thrifty. He is a successful professional investor and financial analyst for Fortune 500 companies and enjoys nothing more than a cringe worthy joke. You can follow him on Twitter @snarkfinance.

Comments

  1. Nice tips there Mitchell. Here’s a ninja trick for you:

    To build instant rapport with someone, MIMIC their body language exactly. If their legs are crossed, cross yours. If they’re propping up their chin with a hand, do the same.

    It takes skill and subtlety to pull this off without looking like a lunatic, but it builds a solid connection that leaves the other person attentive and open to what you’re saying.

  2. I had never thought about the fact that talking to strangers is good social skills practice. I confess to not talking much to strangers typically, but I may have to try that out!

  3. As an IT guy I have a “leg up” on most, because people don’t expect IT people to be normal. I come across to most as engaging and easy to talk with because they expect a nerd!

  4. I’ve heard the suggestion to talk to strangers before. I have to admit that I usually avoid it because of the awkwardness, unless there’s something easily available for us to both relate to. Probably something worth practicing though.

  5. I learned from an actress that the best way to learn effective body language is by studying how others interact. What body language do effective speakers portray? What do they not portray? It was an interesting idea (studying human interaction and movement), but I think it makes sense.

  6. I think communicating effectively is very important. I’m in Toastmasters which is teaching me how to be a better speaker. Crazy what you notice. Now when I listen to people speak I count their umms and any other crutch words. It, also, forces me to delete my umms and crutch words when I speak.

  7. I totally believe body language goes a long way… and it’s something I need to work on for sure!

  8. I tend to take cues of what I learned as a theater major- the more expressive your hands, the more distracting you are. The more you fidget, the less confident you seem. The more you move your eyes- the less focus you appear.

    I had an acting coach who made me sit on my hands and read several dramatic monologues. It really did make me think about how effective and not effective my body language can be.

  9. I think the talking to strangers tactic can be a great tactic at improving communication on many levels. Of course, this is also assuming you’re not a close talker akin to Judge Reinhold on Seinfeld. ;)

  10. Great article and I see you are expanding on the snarkness as you write more. (Is that a word?) Obviously body language says a lot; with practice you can master it.

  11. I hate when people are bad at making eye contact. Creeps me out.

  12. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been forcing myself to network a lot more at events, and I can’t tell you how much these sorts of tips have helped foster connections. I’m naturally terrible at small talk, so anything I can do that doesn’t require words helps.

  13. I’ve been working on not crossing my arms. Also sitting in relaxed positions to show I am not intimidated and in control.

  14. I took tend to talk to strangers — except on my morning subway commute. I believe it’s quite time and give death glares to anyone getting chatty in the morning.

    Body language is certainly important as are facial expressions. I have a bit of an issue with “FixYourFaceSyndrom” in which everything I’m thinking will flicker across my face before I have a chance to adjust it. When I think someone is dumb, it tends to get reflected rather quickly. I’ve probably calibrated too far in the other direction and just keep all my feelings inside at work — which has apparently made me come off as rather “unemotional.” I’d rather take that than by the office cry baby.

  15. I am a magnet for weirdos. I guess I give off a vibe of “hey that guy looks like he wants to talk.” I hear the strangest things from the strangest people.

  16. For me, it is much easier to take notice of others’ body language. I have several coworkers who make it very clear how they are doing mentally by the way they hold themselves. I also try to work towards inviting body language and I think it is often underrated. For me, my current attitude often translates to my body language.

  17. I’m really not a big fan of talking to strangers just because I have a more introverted personallity. That said, I understand your point that it is a good thing to push your own limits and personal bubble. It forces you to learn new skills and will prove beneficial in the long run.

  18. I can be pretty animated, which is a fact that I didn’t realize about myself until I was having a Skype interview with a potential employer. I kept seeing myself in the little corner that showed my video, and wanted to tone it down a bit, haha.

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