Professional Development

10 Body Language Tips for Success

Written by Kate Lopaze

You can talk a good game, but if you don’t back it up with body language that says, “I’m confident and know what I’m talking about,” there’s a good chance you won’t get the professional consideration you deserve. Think of body language as an extension of your work dress code.

These 10 tips will help you perfect that extra layer of confidence in interviews, meetings, or conversations with colleagues.

1. Don’t slouch.

Slumping is one of the biggest underminers of strong body language. It suggests you’re disinterested or unsure of yourself. So make sure you sit up straight, and keep those shoulders up and slightly back (not hunched around your ears).

2. Shake hands like a pro.

The best handshake is strong, but doesn’t crush. If you grip too tightly, it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression. If you barely grip at all, it suggests you’re timid or afraid of confrontation. Extend your right hand to the shake-ee with your palm flat and perpendicular to the ground (with your thumb straight up if you need a guide to help you remember the stance). Do 2-3 hearty pumps, be sure to make eye contact while you’re greeting the person, and then withdraw your hand. Don’t linger too long, or it can get a little awkward.

3. Unclench the fists.

If you find yourself clenching your fists while talking to someone, loosen up. Clenched fists suggest anger or being closed off to the conversation, even if you’re not doing it on purpose. Try to keep your hands loose. If you need something to occupy them, try taking notes, holding them casually in your lap, or keeping your arms relaxed at your sides. If you’re looking to join a brawl, be sure to put those dukes up. In a normal conversation, not so much.

4. Loosen those limbs.

Crossed arms are a great way to say “I don’t want to be here” or “I don’t want to hear what you’re saying.” They close you off from the person who’s talking. Instead of crossing your arms, try to hold them loosely at your sides, elbows slightly bent, or hold them gently in your lap.

5. The eyes have it.

The right level of eye contact can be a toughie, especially if you’re someone who has trouble with it due to shyness or whatever reason. Practice is really the key here. Spend time talking casually with a friend or family member and ask them questions about your level of eye contact. That way, you can find out what you may be doing unconsciously, and find a style that’s comfortable for you.

Blinking too much can indicate nervousness, while blinking too little can seem like an aggressive challenge to a staring contest. Try to find a middle ground—and while talking with others, be conscious of your blink rate and how the other person is responding.

6. Keep your emotions in check.

No matter how annoying or wrong your coworker’s statement may be, don’t roll your eyes or let a scowl show on your face. Try to stay neutral while you’re talking to the person. Vent later if you need to, but your facial expressions can show disrespect and sandbag your relationship with the person. It’s especially important to keep a neutral expression if you’re talking to a higher-up at work or an interviewer.

7. Don’t fidget.

Personally, I find this one the hardest—my hands just want to be doing something all the time, whether I’m hanging out and having a casual conversation or talking in a meeting. Moving your hands a lot or playing with your hair/watch/etc. can be distracting to the listener, and undermine what you’re trying to say. If you need to be doing something, try taking notes. If it helps to keep your hands still, fold them in your lap or on the table in front of you.

8. Don’t be a bobblehead.

Nodding too vigorously makes you look too anxious to agree or like you’re agreeing to something without really listening.

9. Face the music.

Try to face the person you’re talking to head-on. Turning away makes the person think you’re disinterested or trying to hide something. Facing the person with good listening posture shows you’re engaged in the conversation.

10. Don’t be a clockwatcher.

If your eyes keep drifting over to the clock, the person you’re talking to is likely to notice and feel either insulted or rushed—neither which makes for a productive discussion.

No matter what you’re saying, your body language can betray (or bolster) your words. If you ooze confidence, calm, and competence, your words will carry so much more weight.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.