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Your Body Language Matters

They say, "it's what you don't say that counts". But who are they and what do they know? We all know that when we use our voices our words have an impact, but many people forget how their body language can also have a direct impact within a conversation. I have sat in countless interviews and meetings, watched leaders and junior professionals, and I can tell you from experience that your posture does matter. Here's what it says to me:

1. You are bored
When you sit in a meeting hunched over with your elbows on your knees and your chin in your hands, it looks like you don't care. It could come across as if all of your energy is being used to simply be in the meeting, that there is none left to sit at eye level with your colleagues or be actively engaged in the conversation. Sit up straight, raise your head and place your hands in your lap.

2. You aren't confident
If you are speaking with your head down and shoulders rolled forward, it does not impart confidence that you know what you are talking about, even if you are considered an expert. If you are communicating a recommendation or solution for a problem, it is important that you speak from your diaphragm, look into the eyes of the people you are speaking with, and set your shoulders back. 

3. You aren't open
Arms crossed, legs crossed, sitting back in your chair... you might be giving off the impression that you are not open to the ideas being presented in the room. When your arms are resting on the chair or in your lap, this offers a willingness to listen to the other individual, to hear their ideas with an open mind.

4. You are impatient or nervous
Legs bouncing up and down or tapping your fingers on the table tells me one of two things: Either you need the person speaking to get to the point because they are rambling or you have somewhere more important to be. Or you are nervous about the outcome of a situation. If you are being interviewed and the interviewer is tapping his/her foot, it might be an indication that they want you to get to the point. If you are an interviewee who is bouncing their leg, stop. This shows the interviewer you are nervous and could be communicating lack of confidence, something you most certainly do not want to communicate in an interview.

5. You are demonstrating your authority

Standing up, hands on your hips, overly gesticulating - these are all signs that you are trying to exert your dominance either within the meeting or for a specific topic. This is a typical reaction if you feel attacked or need to impose your position within a team, but that doesn't mean it is right. You have to understand the implications of responding in this manner - will employees feel they can come to you afterwards to discuss the topic at hand openly? Most likely not. Will they fear speaking up because of how you might respond? Potentially.

Acting professionally in a meeting isn't just about your words, because your body language says just as much, if not more. If I feel like the situation is getting out of control or a person needs to be aware of their communication style then I call it out by saying things like, "Based on your body language, I get the impression that you are uncomfortable with this decision. Should we pull together a few data points that would support us moving forward with this decision?" or "While your data supports the point you are trying to make, you still don't seem confident that this should be our path forward.".  

Whether you are sitting on a Zoom call or physically in the meeting, never let your body language be the reason upper management doesn't listen to your recommendation because you come across as too aggressive or unconfident, or that employees don't feel they can come to you with an issue because you aren't open to new ideas. Just like we have to control the words that are coming out of our mouths, we also have to control our physical actions. Don't make the mistake of taking to the extremes just to get your voice heard. Sometimes less is more.

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