Body language is a powerful means of communication, but many people get it all wrong without realizing it. At work, these body language bungles could be sending people the wrong message and hurting your chances of advancement.
Here are six ways your body language could be hurting your career.
1. You’re always wearing your poker face.
“Watch out for an absence of facial expression,” says Tina Gilbertson. “If you try too hard to hide your feelings all the time, you create a body-language vacuum.” When others don’t have any idea what you are thinking or feeling, it can make people feel uncomfortable.
“At work, the rewards go to those who not only perform, but who can connect with others on a human level,” Gilbertson says. “We connect through emotions, so go ahead and show a little -- especially enthusiasm, gratitude and appreciation.”
2. You’re making awkward or inappropriate motions.
Body language errors can be unconscious, and you might need someone else to tell you about them.
“As a career coach, I was working with a client who had a distracting habit of adjusting his crotch during conversations with colleagues and friends,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “He was completely unaware of the gesture and to add insult to injury, no one was comfortable enough to address his hand action. He was smart, attractive, well-dressed, and well groomed, but his restless hands were blocking any serious consideration for more senior-level management responsibility.”
Cohen says a mirror and a session of career coaching showed his client this awkward habit. If you feel like something is holding you back in your career, consider asking a trusted friend to watch how you speak or interact with others.
3. You look bored.
People can make snap decisions about what you’re thinking and feeling based on your body language, and that can mean you’re not getting plum assignments.
“Managers give new, interesting projects to people who they feel will be passionate about completing projects,” says Jacqueline Twillie. “Slumping in your chair at work expresses that you are not energetic and not excited about the work you are doing.”
Instead, look alert. Be aware of your posture and the underlying meaning it conveys to others, Twillie says.
4. You’re playing with your hair.
“I work with a lot of women in their 20’s and 30’s, and find that a lot of them can't stop playing with their hair,” says Lauren Milligan, career coach with ResuMAYDAY. “This is definitely a coaching issue because it makes the person doing it come off as distracted, immature or even flirty in front of the wrong people.”
5. You’re “stingy with the pen.”
If you’re taking notes on a whiteboard or flipchart in a meeting, you may feel like you’re showing you’re in charge and driving the discussion. Not so fast, says career coach Kimberlee Williams.
“People who work the pen often run a ‘stingy pen’ and translate others’ comments into their own,” she says. “This subliminally communicates to others that the notetaker’s ideas are superior. Often this is accompanied by turning their back toward the audience or ‘shielding’ the area while writing. The result? Lack of buy-in, suspicion, difficulty gaining team agreement, and power struggles.”
Instead, Williams recommends using an open posture and quickly capturing the essence of comments that accurately reflect what was said.
6. You’re jittery.
Chances are, you know someone who’s a leg-shaker or foot-tapper. Image consultant Jennifer Goh says these actions show “restlessness, fidgety, anxiety and impatience of a person. And from an etiquette perspective, it’s rude.”
Make sure you’re not bothering others by shaking your legs or tapping a foot rhythmically during a meeting or when others are around.