Don’t Wreck Your Career Growth With These 3 Body Language Mistakes

Posted: January 24, 2018

Are these body language mistakes you make giving people an entirely wrong impression of your skills and abilities? Here’s how to stop making them!

Whether it’s at an interview, a presentation or simply coffee with the team, your body language may decide how others perceive you. Yet most people don’t realize that posture, or the way you place your hands, can even set you back at work. If your non-verbal behaviour is timid and weak, even the strongest performance review may not translate into a promotion.

This holds particularly true for women. A 2015 study by Melissa J. Williams (PDF), Assistant Professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, found that unlike what happens when they assert themselves verbally, women aren’t penalized for assertive behaviour expressed through non-verbal means such as hand gestures.




Unknowingly, however, many women keep making three mistakes that can cost them.

Becoming small

When we first see someone in a professional environment, we try to assess if they look like a winner or loser. We like being around winners, learning from them and being friends with them. But women, often conditioned to appear ‘lady-like’, do not project themselves as winners through their body language.

This can affect their ability to project confidence at work. It’s important to have the body language of a winner—and you can practise it, though it tends to be innate rather than a learned gesture, according to a 2008 study by Jessica Tracy, a University of British Columbia, Canada, researcher (PDF).

She investigated congenitally blind athletes in the Paralympics and observed their non-verbal behaviour, specifically during victory and defeat. The study found that when blind athletes won, they would raise their hands to the sky in the classic expression of pride. When they lost, they would roll their body into the foetal position, the usual expression of disappointment. This, when these athletes had never seen someone win or lose a race.

You should try to avoid slouching or shrinking your physical form. Pull your chin up, draw your shoulders back, uncross your arms and plant your feet on the ground.

Tactical tip: Headed to an important meeting? Carry all your stuff in one smart bag. If you’re used to carrying a laptop bag, purse and tiffin bag, that’s too much load on your shoulders to maintain a confident posture.

Always keep your phone at eye level so that you’re not unknowingly putting yourself in a foetal pose.

Hiding your hands

Women often tend to keep their hands under the table, between their thighs or crossed; all these moves lower credibility. Here’s why: Our hands are our trust indicators.

As a survival mechanism, our brains needed to quickly know whether someone was friend or foe. Our ancestors made survival decisions based solely on visual information; when someone approached with hands out of view, it was a clear signal of potential danger. This is deeply ingrained in our subconscious.

So when you’re sitting across someone in a meeting, keep your hands above the table and clear of any obstruction like a glass, bag or folder.

Tactical tip: When sitting in a boardroom, ensure that your hands are resting loosely above the table. If there is no table, keep your hands comfortable on the chair handles. Now that winter is here, ensure that you’re warm enough before you enter an important meeting—this will ensure you don’t feel the need to cross your arms. Always keep your dominant hand free of bags or folders for a comfortable handshake.

Using self-soothing gestures

Do you constantly stroke your hair or play with your necklace? These are called pacifying or self-soothing gestures that provide comfort in uncomfortable situations. Basically, your brain sends a message to your body to pacify it and your hands respond with this gesture that stimulates nerve endings, releasing endorphins, which are calming hormones. A more discreet version of sucking your thumb (some of you may have done this to calm yourself as a child), it includes stroking your hair, pulling at your collar, rubbing your arms, touching your face, tapping your foot, playing with an object, touching the back of your neck or holding your upper arm in a self-hug.

While you have every right to comfort yourself, these gestures can project an image of someone tentative, unprepared or low on confidence.

Tactical tip: If you’re at a networking event and want to calm your nerves, hold a glass of water. It will help you to avoid self-soothing behaviour. Or, if you’re presenting, hold a clicker in your hand. Make sure your lips are well hydrated with a good lip balm. You might be licking your dry lips for moisture but, to the other person, it’s likely to come across as a self-soothing signal.

In short, remember the 3s’s—stand tall, show hands and avoid self-soothing behaviour.

First published here.

Image via Unsplash

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2 Comments


  1. Nicely written! Thank you for these useful tips Khyati 🙂

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