In these days of biometrics, social media armchair psychology and the ever-increasing use of surveillance across the nation, the study of body language has never been a hotter topic. Every individual person's body has its own language, and the way your body speaks to the world around you can often say more about you than the actual words which come out of your mouth.
Whenever you prepare for an important occasion such as a job interview, no doubt you carefully rehearse what you will say in response to questions which you may be asked. But how much attention do you pay to how you come across to your interviewers? Sure, you are careful to turn up to the interview looking well-groomed and smartly dressed, but do you also look beyond the surface to check what other, more subtle, messages your body might be conveying? Let’s take a look at how what you say non-verbally can influence the way people see you when you’re applying for a new job.
How Your Body Can Give You Away
Here are eight of the most common body language blunders which people make, and which could lose you the respect of your interviewers, not to mention lose you that all-important job offer:
1. A weak handshake. Often the very first thing we do on entering an interview room is to shake hands with the interviewer. A weak grasp implies a lack of confidence, even a lack of personality; on the other hand, a grip which is too strong can imply a need to dominate. Make sure your handshake is firm and confident - if you can, practice the right amount of pressure with a friend, if you can find one who will manage to keep a straight face.
2. Avoiding eye contact. Not maintaining eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking is another giveaway sign of self-consciousness and a lack of confidence. It can even make you appear shifty and untrustworthy. Your words will immediately lose their effect if you look down or away while you are speaking about how amazing you are. On the other hand, maintaining a comfortable eye contact (please note - never stare!) indicates that you have confidence, intelligence, honesty and strength.
3. Turning away. Turning your body away or sitting sideways when someone is speaking to you gives the impression that you lack interest or even trust in the speaker. To show that you are engaged in what they are saying, you should lean forwards - although not too much - and tilt your head just a little. This shows that you are paying attention and that you are completely focused on what they are saying.
4. Folding and crossing. One of the most negative things you can do during a conversation is to fold your arms. It creates a physical barrier which suggests that you're closing yourself off to the other person, and that you're not open and receptive to what they are saying. Even if you're responding positively, smiling and nodding, folded arms imply that you're shutting the other person out. To a lesser extent, crossing your legs give this impression as well. No matter how comfortable these positions feel, never adopt them during an important interview.
5. Poor posture. Slouching or slumping is not only bad for your spine, it gives an impression of boredom and lack of interest. On the other hand, if you stand or sit up straight, with your shoulders back and your head held high, you will radiate self-confidence and project an image of power. The more space you appear to take up, the more respect you will command; you will not only look more confident - you will feel it too.
6. Fidgeting. Not sitting still during an interview is not only distracting for the interviewer, it makes you appear nervous, restless and self-conscious, and might suggest that you have an over-concern with physical appearance. Long-ingrained habits such as fiddling with your hair, or twisting a ring on your finger, or tapping your foot, are usually instinctive and we're often not aware that we're doing them. So try to be on the alert for your own particular small foibles - maybe even ask a friend if they've noticed any minute but irritating habits of yours during conversations.
7. Clock watching. At all costs, avoid the temptation to look at any clock in the interview room, or to glance at your watch. No matter how much you are longing for the interview to be over, showing that you are aware of the time is a real sign of impatience and of disrespect. It implies that you are anxious to leave, that maybe you have better things to do than talk to the person or people that you are with.
8. Face versus speech. If your facial expressions don't tally with what you are saying, it can confuse your listeners or even make them distrust you. For example, you may disagree with a statement being made about you, or with a condition of a possible job offer, but if you smile nervously while you are disagreeing it can send a very mixed message. Or maybe you don't fully understand a question but are reluctant to admit it. It is far better to be completely frank, to ask for a question to be rephrased, than to give an answer with a puzzled expression on your face. Body language and facial expressions can be a far bigger giveaway than words.
"The Body Never Lies"
So said Martha Graham, the American choreographer and dancer who created a language of movement based on the expressive capacity of the human body. As all dancers understand, and their audiences appreciate, body language is a very powerful tool indeed, one which most of us tend to neglect, often at our peril.
One of the most frequently-quoted statistics on body language is that 93% of all daily communication is non-verbal. Really, though, the exact percentage is irrelevant - all we need to know is that non-verbal behavior is the most crucial, the most revealing, aspect of everyday communication.
As the social ecologist and writer Peter Drucker said, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."