Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell coined the term ‘body language’ in 1952 when he studied how
non-verbal cues like body movements, gestures, and posture communicated things as
effectively as words. Not only does what you say matters, but also how you say it. Your body
language affects the way you carry yourself and the impression you leave on others within
seconds of meeting them. The role body language plays in communication within meetings and
professional settings is crucial. Hand gestures in presentations, posture in meetings, and eye
contact in conversations all lay the foundation for how you are perceived as a coworker or
Dr Albert Mehrabian states that in the elements of personal communication, what sends a
message is 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. If you’ve heard
the statement “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”, you’d understand the power of the
message that body language delivers. So what are the do’s and don’ts of body language that we
should pay attention to in the workplace?
Aspects of Body Language:
1- Facial Expressions
Meetings: It’s important to avoid frowning or staring at the person leading the meeting because
this can take the conversation in a different direction. You can make an effort to remain neutral
or give a response by slightly smiling because this reassures the speaker. Nodding and moving
our eyebrows is also a good way to show the speaker that we are onboard with what they are
Presentations: your facial expressions deliver your enthusiasm over the topic you are exploring.
If our face remains emotionless, it can be difficult to convince the audience that you yourself are
convinced with what you’re saying. For that reason it’s important to be expressive with your face
because it shows the audience that you stand for and believe in your message.
Group Setting: Make it a statement to smile at others when greeting them. Not smiling can make
you seem cold and unapproachable, whereas smiling at others encourages others to initiate
2- Eye contact
Meetings: Phone addictions have now minimized eye contact in conversations, but in meetings
it can send the wrong message. It’s important to avoid multitasking or checking our phones
since it can come off as rude, and it can also discourage the speaker. Maintaining direct eye
contact with the person speaking shows that you are present and actively listening to what
Presentations: Fixing your eyes on your notes or on the floor can be awkward. People will find it
easy to look away as you speak if you’re not looking at them. Not only is it disengaging, but it
also shows lack of confidence. A way to keep people involved and intrigued is to maintain eye
contact with different people in the room.
Group setting: Not maintaining eye contact with a person can either send a message of
disinterest, or a lack of confidence. If someone is speaking to you and you are looking around
the room, it can look like you’re scanning the room to find someone else to talk to. On the other
hand, maintaining eye contact for longer than three seconds shows that you are enjoying the
conversation and it also strengthens the bond.
Meetings: Do not be afraid to take up space. Shrinking and making yourself as small as possible
shows intimidation and insecurity. Not only does slouching indicate low self-esteem, but it also
shows apathy. On the other hand, expanding oneself displays confidence. Sitting upright will
make you look and feel confident. Avoid crossing your arms as it shows that there is
disagreeability and resistance.
Presentations: Being stiff and rigid in presentations can make you seem unrelaxed and
unnatural. This can affect the connection that you build with your audience, which can impact
the way they receive the content you’re presenting. Make an effort to be dynamic in terms of
hand gestures and movement because it grabs the attention of the audience.
Group setting: Leaning in during conversations with loved ones in a social setting is encouraged
because it shows interest, but in a work setting it’s essential that you respect other coworkers’
personal space. Make sure that you’re close to others enough to hear them but not close
enough to be invading their personal space.
It’s important that our verbal and non verbal cues are aligned in order to build trust and deliver
the same message. If our words say one thing but our facial expressions and gestures say
another, this can leave people confused and uncertain about our statements. It’s time to be
intentional in understanding our body language and using it to communicate our thoughts
- Do I communicate confidence with my body language?
- Do I find it easy to maintain eye contact?
- How approachable am I to others?