It is an undeniable fact that what you say when navigating the treacherous seas of the professional world is of great consequence. People practice elevator pitches until they are blue in the face and wrack their brains for the perfect follow-up questions in interviews, and who could blame them? Words are powerful and should not be slung about without careful consideration. However, when searching for those perfect words, people often forget to think about how they will look when delivering their flawless speech.
And that is where they fail.
Nonverbal communication is just as, if not monumentally more, important as what you say. Here are five things to consider trying out the next time you venture out into the waters of professionalism:
1) Stand up Straight
Remember when your parents used to chastise you for slouching and slumping? Well, they had a point. Good posture can make you appear powerful and confident, and who doesn’t want some of that? Next time you are standing or sitting in a professional context, pay attention to how you are holding yourself. If your posture is not erect, and your shoulders are not back, fix it!
2) Lean In
Sheryl Sandberg has pretty much got this one covered, but I’ll go ahead and mention it anyway. Leaning in and tossing the occasional head nod towards someone who is speaking conveys a message of “I’m listening to you and taking your words seriously.” This is extremely important, as people generally do not like feeling ignored.
3) Eye Contact
If the eyes are windows to the soul, then anyone who refuses to maintain eye contact obviously has no soul and cannot be trusted. At least that is what people in the working world will think if you don’t look at them during a conversation. Well maybe not that exactly, but the impression you give certainly won’t be a good one. It’s okay to blink and move your gaze occasionally, but make an effort to maintain eye contact for a majority of the time. Speaking to a group? Move your gaze around your audience and make everyone feel included.
4) Keep it open
Sliding your hands into your pockets and crossing your arms are two surefire ways of broadcasting to the world that you do not want to interact. The moment your hands enter your pockets everything starts to go wrong; your shoulders cave in, you start to slump, and you look like a turtle retreating into its shell. Similarly, when you cross your arms, you appear defensive and closed-off. Both of these behaviors signal to people that you are not enjoying the conversation, do not feel comfortable speaking to them, and would probably rather be anywhere else at the moment. If you find yourself doing any of these reprehensible behaviors, take a moment and strongly consider the message you are sending.
Who doesn’t love a good smile? When you look happy, you feel happy, and so does everyone around you. Smiling puts people at ease and makes you seem much more approachable. Use those facial muscles and pearly whites to craft a positive impression, because, after all, isn’t that the goal of all this body language talk?
Good luck out there!
Andrew Austin, Baker PCA