Consider the posture of these participants in several of my recent seminars:
• The woman who did not raise the seat of her chair and, as a result, sat significantly lower than the individuals on either side of her. It looked like her older siblings had brought her to the meeting.
• The manager who crossed her arms and perched her reading glasses on the tip of her nose. She gave the appearance of looking down at others in the meeting.
• The boss who leaned way back in his chair and seemed to be sleeping. His employees thought he wasn’t interested in their input.
Your posture when you are seated at a meeting sends a message about you. You want that message to be professional. Here are some suggestions for ensuring that your seated posture conveys confidence – whether you are one of 20 sitting around a large table, or meeting one-on-one with your boss.
1. Stay still. Don’t swivel in your chair or tap your foot. Such actions become a distraction to others, and can give them the impression that you are nervous. Also, don’t lean back and balance on just two legs of the chair. Not only does this convey the impression that you are uninterested or bored, it is potentially dangerous. If the chair tipped over, causing you to fall, you would certainly look foolish, and you might even be injured.
2. Adjust seat levels. You want to be on the same level as the other members of the group. If this means your feet don’t touch the ground, raise the chair seat as high as you comfortably can, or rest your feet on something, such as a large dictionary or a short stool. My office manager, Joyce Hoff, is 4-feet-11 and I am 5-feet-8. We always adjust our chairs when we confer at the same table.
3. Don’t slump or look sloppy. Sit up tall, and leave a little space between your lower back and the back of the chair. Of course, you may lean back slightly in your chair at times. Avoid folding your hands on the table (you are not in school), or crossing your arms (you appear defensive). Spread out, but don’t encroach on someone else’s space. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg referenced a posture study in the professional journal Psychological Science:
–“When people assumed a high-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.”
4. Pay attention to your lower half. Depending on the type of table at which you are seated, your legs may be visible to others. Keep both feet on the floor, although you may cross your ankles. Try not to cross your legs – it’s bad for your circulation, among other things. (More information on crossing your legs can be found in Chapter 23 – “If Crossing Your Legs Turns Women into Ladies, What Does It Do to Matt Lauer?” – in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.)
Also pay attention to your clothing. One man wore black slacks, black shoes and white socks, which everyone noticed when he crossed one knee over the other. And be aware that if you are wearing a short skirt, it will hike up and expose a lot of your legs when you are seated.
5. Make sure you take a seat at the table. Do not sit on one of those chairs that are often arranged against the wall. You want to be part of the discussion, not an observer.
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