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Body languageSend the right message

Actionable Professional Body Language Tips

Do you remember the last time that someone changed your mind at work? What did the person say that convinced you to change your thoughts? Was it the words they said or how they said it to you?

In professional settings, the nonverbal messages people process consciously and subconsciously change the way they perceive messages. Are you a person that conveys positive and powerful non-verbal cues in your interactions with others? Body language plays a crucial role in how people respond to your words and retain the information you transmit.

What is the expression on your face?

Let’s start at the top and work our way down. It takes a human less than a second to understand another human’s emotions through their facial expressions. What countenance do you have when you are talking to someone? Are you smiling, smirking, frowning or straight-faced? What are your eyebrows doing? To communicate well, you should show the proper expression for the tone of the conversation while raising your eyebrows every once in a while, which signals that you’re listening to the other person or that the other person should listen to you more intently. If you are listening, you should be nodding your head slightly; either no head movement or too much nodding can indicate discomfort or hesitation to agree.

If it’s appropriate, smile during conversations and while listening in meetings. When you smile, you change your body chemistry to produce less cortisol (stress hormone), and you feel better. People also tend to smile when others are smiling, so you will bring positivity to others with your smile.

Are you embracing the situation with open arms?

Crossing your arms can send the message that you are not interested in what other people have to say or that you are nervous to talk to people. Crossed arms also creates a physical barrier between you and the other people in the room. Uncrossing your arms is difficult to do because you may be cold or unaware you are doing it. One way to ensure your arms are uncrossed is to use complementary hand gestures as you are talking. If you let your hands speak with you, your passion will be more evident.

What your mid-section is doing matters.

Your chest and back should be straight. If you are slouching, you will bring less oxygen into your body, which will make you more tired, out of breath and unfocused. Your core should be tight. Engaging core muscles helps lengthen your back. When you lengthen your back, your shoulders have a tendency to rise up with tension toward the neck. Exhale, and move your shoulders down to put them in the right position, which will help you retain energy, vocal power and a strong physical presence.

Mirroring others’ positive gestures is an excellent way to establish rapport with the person or group you are addressing. For example, if you are in a meeting and the other person puts their hands on the table, you can help build trust with that person if you do the same behavior.

If you demonstrate too aggressive or too passive of a behavior, the other person may behave the opposite way. For example, if you take up a large amount of space with your gestures – standing tall, hands on hips, wide eyes – then the person you are talking to may slouch, cross arms or look down. Be mindful of what your nonverbals are conveying, and adjust for the situation.

Where do your feet want to go?

You want your feet to be pointing toward the person or audience you are addressing. If you are listening to someone, be mindful of where your feet are. If you want to invite someone else into the conversation, turn your feet slightly toward that person to indicate it’s okay to join. If you want to demonstrate respect for another person, stand with your legs and feet together. If you want to portray power, stand with your legs and feet hip-distance apart.

When you walk into a room, if you walk slowly, you convey contemplation and calmness. If you walk quickly, you convey confidence and competence. Think about the tone of the meeting and adjust your gait.

How are you feeling?

The way you feel will affect your body language. If you are either nervous or confident, your micro-expressions will give you away in your face, body and voice. If you anticipate an important interaction (meeting, presentation, discussion, etc.), prepare your mind and body. One element that can help is music. If you need to calm down, listen to relaxing music, and if you need to build confidence within yourself, listen to anthems and upbeat songs. Find what works for you, and be aware of what you need to do to prepare for interactions with others.

Put it all together

Positive body language works because of the mirroring neurons in the premotor cortex of our brains. These neurons are activated when we see others perform behaviors, and we feel the same behavior in our brains. Implement positive body language from head to toe, and your charisma will make you a better interpersonal communicator.

Join Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner at EDGE Career Development at AICPA ENGAGE, June 12-14, 2018.

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA, CGMA, CITP


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