What a difference a smile makes. And yet even smiles come in different shapes and sizes, from signalling agreement or friendship, to the smug grin that gives quite the opposite impression. In this post, we look at the importance of body language in the workplace, and how the smallest movements (or lack thereof) can make or break a situation.
Handshakes are for before and after
Unless the situation clearly doesn’t call for it, a handshake is the perfect way to both begin and end a meeting, even a brief one. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a bad handshake before, from the bone-crusher to the wet flannel, and the shoulder-jerker to the one that lasts three or four shakes too long, so make sure that yours is well-timed, firm and sincere.
Listen with your eyes as wells as your ears
Showing that you’re taking on board what someone has to say is an essential component of any conversation. Whether you agree or disagree, understand every word or have a few questions, know the subject matter like the back of your hand or are discovering entirely new territory, what’s essential is that you demonstrate that you’re listening. Some people think that the best way to achieve this is with positive fragments (such as “I absolutely agree” and “we’re on the same page”), yet this can often disrupt the speaker’s flow. Instead, offer more subtle yet clear signs of assimilation, such as gentle nods of the head and small guttural signs of understanding. It’s amazing how effective a simple “mm-hmm” can be.
When things get tough, smile
If you’re delivering news that might be unwelcome or difficult for others to swallow, do so with an encouraging smile. This will help to create a mood of empowerment and success, rather than place a dark cloud over the office. However, you also need to ensure that you don’t come across as unresponsive to queries and qualms, so answer questions, calm nerves, and offer peace of mind wherever possible. Ultimately, help your audience to accept the news as a challenge rather than a weight on their shoulders.
Take control of your position
Many professional situations can become not so professional due to disagreements and heated debates. Whilst it’s easy to adopt body language that’s defensive (crossed arms, averted gaze) or even offensive (squaring the shoulders, leaning towards people, pointing fingers), it’s crucial that you keep a level head and promote an air of civility. It’s true that this may not dissuade others from using poor body language, but if you can maintain your own, you remain in control of the situation.
Make meetings more open
Whilst some people show visible resistance to becoming engrossed in a discussion or meeting, others do very little to hide their disconnection or even boredom. You can help them to get involved and snap out of their daze by offering physical prompts for interaction. Examples are handing out printed data or designs, asking direct questions, or changing the atmosphere with a joke or anecdote. Whatever you do, don’t name and shame, as this will do nothing more than agitate and embarrass the individual and make the group feel awkward.
This can be a tricky one. When giving a speech, pep talk or presentation, standing or sitting perfectly still will do very little to engage your audience. Meanwhile, pacing back and forth or gesticulating wildly will steal all the attention and leave very little for your words and content. The key is to find a balance by moving smoothly and using gestures to aid your points, rather than concealing them with unnecessary flapping and stomping.
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