Sara, an admin at a utility company, complains that she is consistently overlooked for promotions. “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” she says. “I’m smart, enthusiastic and hard-working. I can’t figure out why people don’t warm up to me.”
Maybe she’s clueless about the reasons, but co-workers can explain why she gets passed over. In person, Sara’s eyes dart around, she makes choppy gestures with her hands and drums her fingers on desktops. What Sara perceives as enthusiasm and energy are construed by others as impatience and nervousness.
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“This is a common situation with body language,” says Carol Kinsey Goman, executive coach and author of The Nonverbal Advantage. “Often, your nonverbal signals don’t convey what you intended. You may slouch because you’re tired, but people read it as disinterest. You may be more comfortable standing with your arms folded across your chest (or you may be cold), but others see you as resistant and unapproachable.”
Goman’s advice: Next time you’re preparing for a moment in the spotlight—for example, leading a meeting—rehearse in front of a video camera. Then view the video, staying as objective as possible.
“People will judge you by your appearance and your body language. And they’ll do it quickly,” she says.
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Of course, your words will matter, too. But to gain the nonverbal advantage, send clear signals of trust and respect:
• Directly face the person who is speaking. “Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest,” says Goman, “and makes the speaker shut down.”
• Remove stacks of paper, phones or any other barriers between you and the other person.
• Lock in positive eye contact. “People will assume you are not listening (and not interested) if your eyes scan the room or if your gaze shifts to your BlackBerry or computer screen,” Goman says.
• Show your hands and use palm-up hand gestures when speaking. Open palms send messages of candor and openness.
• Use head nods. “This signal encourages people to continue speaking and ‘says’ that you appreciate their comments.”
And remember: To change your body language, you must first be aware of what your body is saying.
Good Manners = Good Business
They don’t teach good manners in business school. But if you need to succeed in a professional environment, then you’ll appreciate the tips, insights and practical, real-world help you’ll find in Emily Post’s Guide to Business Etiquette for the 21st Century.
Anna Post, Emily’s great-great-granddaughter, instructs on modern office manners … email and cell phone etiquette … the ins and outs of proper social networking … and the appropriate way to dress and talk in today’s increasingly casual business world.
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