You cannot avoid sending nonverbal messages to others; however, it is possible to train yourself to send the right ones. Here are ten nonverbal cues that convey confidence and credibility in the workplace.
Good eye contact. Eye contact is your primary tool for establishing nonverbal connections with others, Price says. “It communicates your level of involvement, interest and warmth. When speaking to others, ideally look directly into their eyes at least two to three seconds before looking away or moving to the next person. Merely glancing at someone for one second or less is known as eye dart and conveys insecurity, anxiety or evasion.” The next time you’re in a meeting or giving a speech, ask a friend to count how long you look at specific individuals and if you visually engage with everyone in the room.
A confident handshake. Communicating through touch is another important nonverbal behavior. “Always put your hand out to shake hands,” Wood says. “A classic good handshake is one with full palm to palm contact.”
In business, the handshake is often the only appropriate expression of touch so it’s critical to have a good one, Price adds. “A good handshake consists of a full and firm handclasp with palms embraced web to web. Shake up and down once or twice, coupled with a sincere smile and eye contact. Avoid the extremes of either a weak limp handshake or an aggressive bone-crushing one. Strike the right balance—firm enough to convey confidence yet matched to the strength of the other person. Treat men and women with equal respect when shaking hands. Gender makes no difference, and either may initiate the handshake.”
Effective gestures. A gesture is any physical movement that helps express an idea, opinion or emotion. “Strive to punctuate your words with movement that is natural, lively, purposeful and spontaneous,” Price says. “Be genuinely yourself and let your motions match your message. Avoid common distracting mannerisms such as finger-pointing, fidgeting, scratching, tapping, playing with hair, wringing hands, and twisting a ring.”
Dressing the part. Shakespeare asserts in Hamlet, “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” For men and women, clothing speaks volumes in the workplace, Price says. “Make sure ‘business casual’ is not ‘business careless.’ Choose high quality, well-tailored garments that convey professionalism. Depending on your corporate culture, wear a business suit or at least a jacket for important meetings and presentations, especially with senior leaders and customers. Avoid showy accessories, busy patterns, tight garments and revealing necklines.” Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If career advancement is your goal, convey a polished professional presence in the workplace.
To complement your business attire, take steps to control perspiration; avoid cologne or perfume due to others’ possible allergies and sensitivities to smell; ensure fresh breath; and keep nails and hands neatly manicured, Price suggests.
Authoritative posture and presence. “Take up space,” Wood says. Use the arms on the chair, or stand with your feet a bit apart. “A female leg stance in North America is with the feet typically 4 to 6 inches apart, and a male power stance starts with the feet more than 8 inches apart.”
Price adds, “When you stand up tall and straight, you send a message of self-assurance, authority and energy.” Whether standing or sitting, imagine a string gently pulling your head and spine toward the ceiling. Your weight is evenly balanced, feet solidly on the floor, arms and hands visible, relaxed and uncrossed. “Good posture creates a dynamic commanding presence and an attitude of leadership. Conversely, bad posture signals to others that you lack confidence and have low self-esteem or low energy levels.”
Appropriate facial expressions. “Each of the seven basic human emotions (anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise) has been scientifically proven to have a certain facial expression associated with it,” Price says. “Because your facial expressions are closely tied to emotion, they are often involuntary and unconscious.”
Imagine the mismatched message when a fearful pensive face describes the life-enriching benefits of a new healthcare product. “Become aware of what your face is revealing to observers, and choose the expression that matches your intended message,” she says. “For example, if you want to convey energy and enthusiasm, allow your face to become more animated. Practice in front of a mirror until it looks and feels natural. To show you’re paying attention while listening, hold a very slight smile, nod occasionally, and maintain good eye contact.”
Initiating interactions. “Be the first to make eye contact, offer your hand to shake, have an idea or solution, go into a room, and make the call,” Wood says. “You can only afford to wait and go last when you are in the C-suite and ready to retire.”
Appropriate voice tone. If your significant other has ever said to you, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” they were referring to your paralanguage, Price explains. “Separate from the actual words used, these nonverbal elements of your voice include voice tone, pacing, pausing, volume, inflection, pitch and articulation. Like facial expressions, choosing the appropriate paralanguage is critically important because it conveys emotional meaning, attitude and impact.” Consider recording your side of several conversations throughout the day. Listen to the recordings and identify what your voice tone communicates.
Giving your full attention. When speaking with a person, point your toes and square your shoulders toward them, Price says. “This conveys attentiveness and creates open body language.” Avoid angling your body away from them. Lean into the conversation; focus your eyes, ears and energy on them. “These nonverbal cues clearly convey you respect, honor and appreciate the opportunity to meet with them. Make sure your arms and legs are uncrossed. Also, avoid multi-tasking during the interaction. Don’t check e-mail, look at your phone, send a text, check the scores, or disengage in any way. It shows disinterest and disrespect.”
Responding to others’ nonverbal cues. When leading a meeting, speaking to a group, or interacting one-on-one, pay close attention to the other person’s body language and voice tone, Price says. “Listen with your eyes. Their nonverbal cues can tell you when they have a question, want to say something, agree or disagree, need a break, require more explanation, or have an emotional response.” By responding appropriately to others’ cues, you not only convey confidence in yourself, you show a high level of empathy, sensitivity and care for them which builds trust.