Sending the right signals with body language

June 8, 2020
Reinforce what you are saying and give a more significant impact on your statements.

Body language is essential in many situations. Some would argue that it is just as important as what you say.

When we are in stressful or uncomfortable situations, many of us have habits that can be distracting to other people. Certainly, biting one's nails or continuously fidgeting with one's hands could be distracting from what you are trying to say. These are examples of body language that can be harmful in an interviewing situation, for example. Used correctly, however, body language can reinforce what you are saying and give a more significant impact on your statements


The following are tips to help you give the right non-verbal clues.

1. The Greeting

Giving a "dead fish" handshake will not advance one's candidacy: neither will opposite extreme, the iron-man bone crusher grip.

The ideal handshake starts before the meeting actually occurs. Creating the right impression with the handshake is a three-step process. Be sure that:

  • Your hands are clean and adequately manicured.
  • Your hands are warm and reasonably free of perspiration. (There are a number of ways to ensure this, including washing hands in warm water at the interview site, holding one's hand close to the cheek for a few seconds, and even applying a little talcum powder.)
  • The handshake itself is executed professionally and politely, with a firm grip and a warm smile. Remember that if you initiate the handshake, you may send the message that you have a desire to dominate the conversation.
  • Use only one hand; always shake vertically. The right hand is international standard.

2. Facial Signals

We are using a set of stereotypes that enables us to make judgments -- consciously or unconsciously -- about a person's abilities and qualities. Those judgments may not be accurate, but they are usually difficult to reverse.

Tight smiles and tension in the facial muscles often bespeak an inability to handle stress; little eye contact can communicate a desire to hide something; pursed lips are often associated with a secretive nature; and frowning, looking sideways, or peering over one's glasses can send signals of haughtiness and arrogance.

3. The Eyes

Looking at someone means showing interest in that person, and showing interest is a giant step forward in making the right impression.

Your aim should be to stay with a calm, steady, and non-threatening gaze. Rather than looking the speaker straight-on at all times, create a mental triangle incorporating both eyes and the mouth; your eyes will follow a natural, continuous path along the three points. Maintain this approach for roughly three-quarters of the time; you can break your gaze to look at the interviewer's hands as points are emphasized, or to refer to your note pad.

4. The Head

Rapidly nodding your head can leave the impression that you are impatient and eager to add something to the conversation. Slower nodding, on the other hand, emphasizes interest, shows that you are validating the comments of your partner. Tilting the head slightly, when combined with eye contact and a natural smile, demonstrates friendliness and approachability.

5. The Mouth and Smile

One guiding principle of good body language is to turn upward rather than downward. Look at two boxers after a fight: the loser is slumped forward, brows knit and eyes downcast, while the winner's smiling face is thrust upward and outward. The victor's arms are raised high, his back is straight, his shoulders are square. In the first instance the signals we receive are those of anger, frustration, belligerence, and defeat; in the second, happiness, openness, warmth, and confidence.

Your smile is one of the most powerful positive body signals in your arsenal; it best exemplifies the up-is-best principle, as well. Offer an unforced, confident smile as frequently as opportunity and circumstances dictate. Avoid at all costs the technique that some applicants use: grinning idiotically for the length of the interview, no matter what. This will only communicate that you are either insincere or not quite on the right track.

6. The Hands

Proper use of the hands throughout the conversation will help to convey an above-board, "nothing-to-hide" message. Watch out for hands and fingers that take on a life of their own, fidgeting with themselves or other objects such as pens, paper, or your hair. Pen tapping is interpreted as the action of an impatient person; this is an example of an otherwise trivial habit that can take on immense significance in an interview situation.

7. The Moves

Here are general suggestions on good body language:

  • Walk slowly, deliberately, and tall upon entering the room.
  • Use mirroring techniques. In other words, make an effort to reproduce the positive signals your counterpart.
  • Do not hurry any movement.
  • Relax with every breath.


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