Body Language in a Business World
By Chelse Benham
“The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who
don’t have it.” – George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
What we say and what we do can have totally different meanings, so which one
is more honest? The author, Joy Davidson, writes that understanding body
language in the workplace isn’t just a game – it’s a career necessity. “Body talk”
matters more than the spoken word. The nonverbal cues are more immediate,
instinctive and uncontrollable than verbal expression by bringing genuine
attitudes and feelings into the open.
“We offer an interviewing skills workshop where we go over body language and
how it impacts students in the interview process,” said Lourdes Servantes,
placement specialist at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Career
Placement Services Office. “Body language has more to do with hiring than many
students ever realize. We’re here to help equal the playing field and increase the
student’s chances at getting the job.”
According to John Millner, police chief of Elmhurst, Illinois and one of the nation’s
foremost experts in forensic uses of body language, “Liars don’t give themselves
away with large gestures, but with “micro-expressions.”
The title of “liar” maybe a little harsh, but concealing intentions, reactions and
truths is an everyday practice in the workplace, perhaps for no other reason than
maneuvering through office politics or practicing diplomacy in tough situations.
Learning and recognizing certain behaviors can make a huge and virtually instant
improvement in your business-communication skills. Don’t just listen – watch. Joy
Davidson listed many behaviors and their meanings in a July 1998 article in
Men’s Fitness magazine titled “Office Tics”:
• Open palms: sincerity, openness, receptivity
• Leaning away: discomfort with the facts being presented or the person
• Nodding: interest, agreement and understanding
• A relaxed posture: openness to communication
• Gesturing warmly or talking with hands: interest and involvement in the
• Hand to cheek: evaluating, considering
• Hands clasped behind back: anger, frustration
• Sitting with hands clasped behind head: arrogance, superiority (except in
• Tapping or drumming fingers: impatience, annoyance
• Steepling fingers: closing off, creating a barrier
• Fidgeting: boredom, nervousness or impatience
• Hand over mouth: generally negative; often denotes disapproval or
reluctance to speak openly
• Clutching objects tightly: anxiety, nervous anticipation
According to Davidson, it isn't enough just to understand other people's body
language - controlling your own nonverbal signals can improve your image and
increase your success. If you want to appear confident, open and in control,
Davidson suggests practicing these moves until they're second nature:
• Walk with a brisk, easy stride, eyes forward.
• Stand evenly on both feet. Keep your arms relaxed and casual.
• Look at others straight-on. Meet their eyes, but avoid staring.
• Avoid "commando" postures such as hands on your hips or clasped
behind your head. Also avoid "barrier" language, such as turning your
body away or keeping your arms folded.
• Avoid fidgeting with your hands or bringing your hands to your face.
• Move slightly closer to others if you want to "warm up" the relationship.
“Students need to keep eye contact,” Servantes said. “Eye contact and leaning in
illustrates engagement on the part of the student and indicates a positive attitude
to the employer.”
Judi James, author of “Body Talk At Work,” writes, “Knowing how to give the right
body language signals and knowing how to read those around you can actually
boost your career.” James discusses how to get ahead in the workplace by
decoding the hidden signals and messages of colleagues and superiors. She
also offers some advice on how to present yourself to your best advantage and
sets out ‘ten tips to get to the top':
• Use high-status body signals: eye contact, open gestures, finger-steepling
and so on.
• Clean up your act. Create visual symmetry and harmony, which will
convey confidence and mental clarity. Tidy your desk. Simplify your
• Clear out the visual clutter. Stop giggling or playing with loose change in
• Improve your entrances. Remember that you only have three seconds to
make a positive impression on anyone you meet. Use eye contact. Move
with energy and enthusiasm.
• Use 'intentional' gestures to get your point across. People who are
listened to have non-verbal ways of announcing that they want to speak.
• Be congruent in your communications.
• Position yourself well. Networking means being seen in the right place at
the right time, doing the right thing.
• Move quickly. Successful people never amble or hover.
• Don't fiddle.
• Press the flesh. Become charismatic. Learn how to give a good
"The handshake is the best non-verbal communication we have in America's
business world," said independent image consultant Yvette Austin.
"The perfect handshake is strong and firm--it shows confidence," she explains.
She states the hand should be offered with the thumb up and fingers together.
Hands should always be clean; avoid perspiration by keeping a handkerchief or
handi-wipes with you at all times.
Handshake don'ts according to Austin:
The "Dead Fish" handshake – This is the limp, clammy, "prissy" handshake. A
definite "do not" in the professional arena.
The "Bone-Crusher" handshake - "This one happens a lot in the workplace,"
Austin says. "It's the intimidating handshake." If you know someone who delivers
one of these squeezing and painful handshakes, Austin has this solution: when
shaking, press your thumb down hard on the area between their thumb and
fingers. Their grip will immediately loosen.
The "One-Finger" handshake - Some people offer just one finger as a handshake
this is a definite taboo. It’s viewed as “creepy.”
The "Pump" handshake - This is when the hand-shaker gets a little too
enthusiastic and pumps up and down continuously. "Very phony," Austin says.
The "Sandwich" handshake - This is when you take the offered hand in one
hand, turn it so it is palm-down, and then put your other hand over it. "This type
of handshake is very condescending," Austin said. "It is completely inappropriate
in a professional setting."
In conclusion, communication could be seen as the culmination of all the senses
used to clarify meaning between people through verbal and non-verbal
interaction. Relying on just half of that interchange shortchanges the opportunity
to gain more honest communication and truthful meaning.
“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command
the attention of the world.” – George Washington Carver, (1864-1943) Carver
was a Chemurgist; a specialist is chemurgy -- a branch of chemistry that deals
with industrial application of organic raw materials especially from farm products
(as in the use of soybean oil for paints and varnishes and of southern pine for