Have you ever wanted to read the body language of your boss, colleagues or clients? Although body language is not mind reading, it can give you a fascinating glimpse into the hidden emotions of the people you work with.
Research has found that between 60 and 93% of communication is conveyed through our body language, facial expressions and voice tone.
There are many universal body language expressions, but in this post I will talk about the most common body language moves seen in work environments and that come up at the office:
1. The Lip Purse
Lip pursing is when people push or mash together their lips in a hard line. We purse our lips when we want to say something, but are either being interrupted or think we shouldn’t say what’s really on our minds. People subconsciously do this when they are holding something back. You’ll often see this in the office when someone sees or hears something they don’t approve of or are afraid of stating their true thoughts.
Tip: Be sure to allow the person a safe space to share their thoughts. Take note that you might not be getting all of the information available and keep pursuing the truth.
2. Confrontation Clues
Inevitably there is usually some kind of confrontation that happens in the workplace, especially under tight deadlines or with big projects. There are two nonverbal clues to know when confrontation is coming and to block it from erupting into a fight:
- Chin jut – this is a strong sign the person doing it is angry
- Battle stance with hands on your hips and feet widely planted. This shows the person is preparing to defend themselves.
Tip: If a tense subject comes up and you see a chin jut or someone goes into battle stance, it is time to change the subject, go into reassurance mode or take a break.
Mimicry is when you subtly mimic or copy the body language of the person you are speaking with. Anytime you want something to go more smoothly you can mimic them to build rapport. People also subconciously mimic people they like so, if you notice someone mimicking you, it is a good indicator that they feel like they are on the same page as you.
Tip: If you need to calm someone down, show respect or get on the same page, subtly mirror their posture or speaking speed. If you want to know how someone feels about you pay attention to if they copy your seating behavior or hand gestures.
4. How to Know When Someone Is Lying
Lie detection is a complex science with 7 steps, but a classic clue that should raise a red flag is when someone says something negative (“no”) but nods their head up and down (a “yes” response). Keep an eye out for these physical inconsistencies and be sure to verify the information. For example, if you ask a colleague if she likes working with a new client, she might say, “Yes, I love it,” while unconsciously shaking her head side to side—a “no” response.
Tip: If this happens, keep asking questions until you learn more.
Steepling is when someone brings their hands up towards their chest or face and presses the tips of their fingers together. It is a gesture of confidence and self-assuredness. You can easily use steepling to inspire confidence in yourself and others during a meeting or interview. This gesture is a great for females in particular since it is seen as assertive, not aggressive. You might also notice your boss do this move without even realizing its power!
Tip: Not sure where to rest your hands during the meeting? Try the steeple!
Contrary to popular belief, smiling is actually seen as a sign of submission. Submissive people tend to smile more at leaders to show they are agreeable and non-threatening to their power. Alphas or leaders in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Females in particular need to limit their smiling in the workplace because it makes them be perceived as weak and submissive. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters, while men only smile 67 percent of the time.
Tip: Rather than smiling constantly, only smile when you have a reason to be genuinely happy.
7. Business Handshake
In business, you have to know how to shake hands. The best handshakes are firm, but not domineering. An aggressive handshake is when a dominant person has their hand ‘on top’ of the clasp. The weaker person will often take the bottom part of the handshake by exposing the underside of their wrist–which is a physically weaker position. You often see politicians jockey for the dominant handshake position when meeting in front of cameras. Two equals should just shake hands up and down, completely vertically, with no one on the top or bottom.
Tip: Whenever you shake hands with someone, make sure that you and the other person are shaking as equals.
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