Professional Development

21 Body Language Tips for the Workplace

body language tips
Written by Peter Jones

Body language can be an incredibly valuable tool to hone over the course of your career. But it can also backfire. We take in body cues at rates much faster than we process language. So be careful how you use yours! Here are some body language tips for the workplace you can utilize to maintain a professional image.

1. Don’t lean back

Leaning back can signify that you’re bored or done with a conversation. If you want to convey interest, lean in slightly or at very least sit straight in your chair.

2. Don’t cross your arms

This gesture can look defiant at worst, closed off at best. People will assume you’re disinterested or awkward. Neither assumption would do you any favors.

3. Don’t avoid eye contact

If you don’t look someone in the eye, they will assume you have something to hide. Don’t get a reputation for being shady or dishonest. Remember, in the business world: eye contact = honesty.

4. Don’t stare

It is possible to make too much eye contact. This can come off as strange or even aggressive. Try to strike a comfortable, easy-going balance. Try not to hold someone’s gaze for more than, say three seconds.

5. Don’t clench your hands

People who are stressed have a tendency to do this. The stress becomes visible to whomever you are talking to. Relax and hold your hands loosely at your side.

6. Don’t hide your hands

It might be comfortable for you to put your hands behind your back, or to shove them in your pockets, but it can be seen as a signal that you might have something to hide.

7. Don’t chop

You have something important to say, so you’re gesturing emphatically. Try to avoid chopping the air with your hands—it seems violent and dismissive to the person you are talking with.

8. Don’t touch your face

This is another one that is often misinterpreted as a sign of dishonesty. Best to avoid.

9. Don’t nod too much

You’re eager to convey your attention and your agreement, but you might end up freaking someone out. You might seem weak and submissive—or, on the flip side, indifferent.

10. Don’t fidget

It makes you look a little crazy and it can also raise the stress level of the person watching you do the fidgeting. You could also come across as bored or impatient.

11. Don’t hunch

You’ll come off as depressed or lazy or too tired to function. Shoulders back, smile on your face! Project confidence with your body, not just your brain.

12. Don’t tangle up in your chair

If you wrap your feet or legs around your chair legs, it’s the same as clenching your hands together. You’ll look a little ill at ease and put your fellow converser off.

13. Don’t make yourself small

Try not to shrink. It will convey a lack of confidence. Try expanding where you might normally contract and see what effect this can have.

14. Don’t go too big

Try not to gesture so wildly or be so expansive that you seem like you’re on stage. This can have the opposite effect you want. And it might frighten people.

15. Don’t point your feet at weird angles

This might seem like a small, weird thing, but if your feet are pointing the wrong way, some people will take note.

16. Don’t pat yourself

Even if you find it comforting to pat your legs, your coworkers or boss won’t. They’ll just see you as very uncomfortable, and that will make them uncomfortable too.

17. Don’t look at your watch (or phone!)

Just don’t. It’s incredibly rude. Keep your attention on the conversation unless you absolutely have to check the time or an important phone call.

18. Don’t touch people with your fingertip

If you’re at the stage with someone where it would be appropriate to build trust or ease by touching them briefly, do it with your whole hand, not your finger tip. You’re not E.T.

19. Don’t ignore cues

When in doubt, mimic your interlocutor’s body language. If they gesture, you can gesture. If they are standing straight on their feet and projecting confidence, do the same.

20. Don’t invade the bubble

When in a work context, do not invade anyone’s personal space. Give them room.

21. Don’t ignore where you are

Do your research when visiting different parts of the world, or even different parts of the country. Customs differ everywhere you go–take the time to make sure you don’t accidentally do anything offensive.

About the author

Peter Jones