If you're an introverted knowledge worker, the idea of meeting people to expand your career can seem intimidating or even impossible. But with a few simple tips and tricks, you'll be able to put your best foot forward in no time. In this article, we'll look at how body language and etiquette can help you establish credibility in the eyes of others—and make sure that they take you seriously. Knowing common signs to look for and what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do if you want your colleagues (or clients) to respect and trust you.
This body language infographic below from Swiss Canadian Capital outlines ways you can subtly change your body language to ensure your business etiquette never falters.
Using exaggerated gestures
You know the saying: "actions speak louder than words." Well, gestures are a form of action—and they can say a lot about you. Gestures are an important part of body language and nonverbal communication. The way you move your hands, arms and legs can influence how others perceive you.
As the infographic mentions, an exaggerated motion implies that you're stretching the truth—and may make people question what else is exaggerated about your message or presentation. If someone uses an over-the-top gesture while talking to you, it may make them seem like they're lying about facts or figures to get their point across or seem more confident.
In contrast, small controlled hand movements indicate leadership and confidence (think of the presidential thumb point). Open gestures such as spreading arms apart or showing palms communicate honesty and openness because there's nothing hidden behind them (think open palm political promises).
Too much eye contact or intense eye contact
Too much eye contact can make you appear aggressive or even threatening. Yet it's important to use eye contact to demonstrate interest and build rapport. For example, if someone is asking you a question and you stare at their forehead instead of looking directly into their eyes, it can come across as disrespectful.
Too little eye contact may also be interpreted as uninterested. If you’re having a conversation with someone and constantly looking away from them to other people or conversations, they will likely feel like they aren’t important to you.
Crossing your arms
Crossing your arms is a defensive posture that can be interpreted as distrust, anger and a closed mind. It’s also a sign of not being open to new ideas or suggestions.
If you are in a meeting where it is appropriate to cross your arms, do so only when you are listening (and not speaking). When it’s time for you to speak, uncross your arms and let them rest comfortably on the table in front of you so others can see your body language as open and welcoming.
Slouching during a conversation
Slouching during a conversation is an unspoken sign of disinterest. It gives the impression that you are bored, uninterested or disrespectful. If you slouch during an interview or business meeting, it can make your interviewer think that you have no desire to be there – even if this isn’t true.
Slouching also indicates that you lack confidence and are less than impressive (i.e. not very mature). Be sure you're sitting up straight while talking with someone else!
Lack of personal space
When it comes to space, you have a bubble around you that other people should not enter. The size of your personal bubble varies, but it's generally about 1.5 feet. When someone gets too close to you (as in leaning in), invades your body space with their own body or voice and doesn't back off when asked nicely, it feels like an invasion of privacy.
If you're doing business in other countries, be sure to look up the cultural norms for respectful physical distance.
Your hands are a big part of your body language. They can be used to attract attention, show support, and even to express anger or frustration. Clenched fists are a sign of defensiveness, argumentativeness and anxiety. Keep them in your lap if you’re not sure what to do with them!
Getting too close
Don’t invade someone’s space. This is a huge no-no in the business world, and can be considered rude or even disrespectful. Personal space is different for everyone, but 1.5 feet is standard—anything closer than that will make them uncomfortable, so keep your distance! (If you need to get close to someone for some reason, ask first.) Your body gives off an invisible bubble around it—the closer someone gets to touching that line, the more uncomfortable they will feel; if they cross it completely (by getting too close to you), then that person has likely crossed your own sense of personal boundaries too.*
A weak handshake is a sign of insecurity, lacking authority, and lacking confidence. A strong handshake will help you project an air of authority even if you're feeling insecure on the inside. The way to give a strong handshake without being too firm is to adapt your handshake to each individual situation. You'll probably want to exaggerate the strength of your grip when shaking hands with someone older than yourself or someone who's in a position of power or authority over you (i.e., your boss). But if you're shaking hands with someone younger than yourself or someone who has less status in an organization than you do, then it might be best not to squeeze too hard!
Texting during a conversation
A conversation is a two-way street, and when you're in the middle of one, your phone should be off the table. If you must check your phone during a conversation, put it in airplane mode, mute all notifications and turn your ringer on silent so that if someone texts or calls, they won't disturb the individual you're talking with.
If you scowl at others, they will likely think you are angry or displeased. The problem with scowling is that it makes others think you're judging them—and most of us don't want to be judged by others. So while a frown can be an appropriate expression on occasion (such as when someone has done something wrong), a permanent scowl can seem hostile and off-putting.
To avoid this unwanted body language blunder, remember that your face should never give the impression that you're unhappy or angry unless the situation warrants it. If someone does something worthy of your displeasure or anger, keep those feelings to yourself until after they've left the room.
Inconsistency between your language and your facial expression
It's important to be consistent in your message. If you are sharing something positive, make sure your facial expressions match that. If you're sharing something negative, make sure your facial expression is serious and tactful. Inconsistency between your language and face will signal deception—and no one likes being deceived.
Fidgeting too much or fixing your hair
This is a natural response to nervousness, but it can be interpreted as disinterest or lack of confidence. If you're squirming around a lot, try taking deep breaths and consciously slowing down your movements until they are calm and deliberate.
Keeping a positive attitude and maintaining good body language will help you keep your composure in any situation. If you use these tips, then you'll be able to avoid any potential pitfalls that may cause problems for yourself or others around you!