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The Dos and Don’ts of Nonverbal Messages and Body Language

Feb 24, 2016, 07:31 AM by Kathleen Kontos

Nonverbal cues are behaviors, habits and forms that do not have a direct verbal translation, yet can still communicate a lot about us—examples range from eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, voice, and spatial positioning to the way we dress. Hiring managers list the biggest body language mistakes they notice in job seekers include fidgeting, bad posture, failure to smile and failure to make eye contact. Being aware of our body language is not only important in interviews, but during meetings and at networking events as well. People who you are meeting for the first time will take into account the nonverbal cues you send along with other considerations. It is in your best interest to give the people you are meeting a good impression. Here are a few suggestions to make sure that happens.


Make eye contact.

Establishing eye contact helps you concentrate, appear more confident and allows your recipient to feel engaged in the conversation and to listen. You can also gauge your audience’s response and adjust the flow the interaction. Eye contact shows that you are involved and interested in what you and your recipient is saying. However, do not dart your eyes. Quickly averting them may cause you to look anxious and insecure. When making eye contact, hold for a few seconds.

Have a firm handshake.

A good handshake demonstrates confidence in your abilities and transmits it to the person whose hand you are shaking. A handshake may be the only physical contact you have with your interviewer or the professional you are hoping to connect with, so give them your best handshake. Avoid a limp or aggressive grip. Go with a firm hold and one or two pumps. Also, do not shake with both hands.

Check your facial expression.

We read facial expressions to gauge emotions. To your audience your facial expressions will determine what they think you are feeling, despite what the truth may be. While the most commonly recognized emotions are anger, fear, happiness, sadness, contempt, disgust and surprise our facial expressions can still be interpreted differently. Before walking into an interview or a meeting and introducing yourself, loosen up your face with some exercises. Support the message that you want to convey and show confidence with an authentic smile.

Be natural with your gestures.

Make your gestures purposeful and spontaneous. Gestures should be used to help express or emphasize your message, but must not be excessive. Know your bad habits and avoid them, especially gestures such as pointing fingers, fidgeting, scratching, tapping, playing with hair or wringing hands. Another thing to keep in mind is that gestures are not universal. Take care that your gestures are not interpreted differently from what you want them to mean.

Maintain a receptive posture.

Our posture is also an indicator of our level of confidence and emotions. Your recipient will read your attitude and personality from the way you hold yourself. An open posture will show that you are ready to be actively engaged. When standing or sitting, keep your posture straight and tall. Maintain an evenly balanced weight and have both feet solidly on the floor. Have both your arms and legs visible, relaxed and uncrossed. A good posture can help you appear self-assured and energized.


Refrain from sending mismatched messages.

When you say one thing and do another you are sending a mismatched message and your recipient will believe the predominant nonverbal message over your verbal one. If you greet your interviewer with a frown while telling him or her how pleased you are to meet, most likely your interviewer will think it’s not true. In extreme cases, mixed messages may lead to the loss of trust and credibility. Having the person you are trying to communicate with doubt your message will impact your interactions. The smallest detail as in a smile or eye contact can be important. Make sure your body language and tone of voice matches what you want to convey.

Watch for actions that can be taken for defensiveness.

Defensive actions or reactions can impact the flow of a conversation. Minimal facial expressions, crossed arms or having your body physically turned away are just some examples of body language that can be taken as defensive. Whether it is you who are showing these signs or the person you are interacting with, notice and make adjustments accordingly. Indicate your receptiveness with eye contact and occasional nods. In a meeting or interview, showing that you are open to communication.

Don’t appear disengaged.

Body language showing disengagement includes a bowed head, glazed eyes, fiddling with pens, picking at clothes, doodling or sitting slumped in chairs. The disinterest of a coworker or audience can be daunting to any speaker. An interviewer will think that you do not want to be there. If you observe it in your recipients, do something to re-engage them. Ask a direct question. Also notice these cues in yourself and shift to signs that show you are actively listening. Nodding and eye contact are some examples of body language that demonstrates attentiveness.

Nonverbal cues reflect what’s inside us. Although it is impossible to control all of our unconscious habits and forms, we can also be aware of a few details that may impact our interactions with others. Other nonverbal cues to consider are voice, tone and spatial distance. Learn more about making a good first impression at an interview here.

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