Your boss’ opinion of you matters. And while your performance should make up the bulk of that opinion, whether he or she likes you as a person certainly plays a part.
Of course we’d never suggest batting your eyes at a higher-up, but you can win over your boss through nonverbal cues and body language—subtle signals that show you’re enthusiastic and interested at work. We consulted the pros to find out how best to build a strong relationship with your boss. Find out how.
1. Actively Listen
Show your boss you’re engaged in what he or she is saying during meetings and in your one-on-one interactions by making eye contact. “Also relax your face and upper body muscles so that you appear ready for orders or discussion,” says clinical psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Jeanette Raymond, who specializes in body language. “Avoid sighing, playing with gadgets, or fixing clothes,” which signal you’re disinterested.
Throughout the interaction, you want to remain attentive but not overly so, she explains. “Maintain an alert posture without overstretching the head and neck, which implies a wish to dominate or is a sign of condemnation.”
2. Mirror Your Company’s Communication Style
In some offices, co-workers greet each other with hugs. In others, this level of affection would be unheard of. “There is typically a prevailing approach to body language, body contact, signs of affection, and how enthusiasm is conveyed,” says New York-based career coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
Therefore, you want to be sure to follow your workplace’s cues in these areas, Cohen advises, especially when interacting with your boss and others above you on the company totem pole. There’s nothing more awkward than air-kissing your manager when she was expecting a handshake. (Unless you’re French. Everyone enjoys being air-kissed by a legit French person.)
3. Keep it Real
One of the most important components to building a relationship with your boss is being genuine, Cohen says. “If your goal is to score points with your boss, then by all means nod in agreement and smile when you believe he or she wants your unconditional regard and support,” he says. “But be careful not to nod or smile at everything or eventually you will be seen as indiscriminate in your judgement and every gesture will be discounted.”
It’s better to let you boss know that she’s getting through to you than to hide your true feelings, so let your face be “a true reflector of your emotional state,” Raymond says. “Authenticity is what impresses bosses. If you feel confused, frown; if you feel encouraged, let your eyes shine and your mouth smile. Above all, don’t be poker faced.”
4. But Fake it When Needed
Maybe you don’t care so much for your boss but you still want (need) to build a positive rapport. In that case, being genuine about your true feelings won’t score you any points. But don’t overcompensate: You don’t want to come off as fake or forceful when establishing a relationship. Stress management coach Cathy Dean advises pretending that your boss is a great friend you haven’t seen in a while. This makes you less tense around him or her and helps shift your mentality. “It has to start from within,” she says. “Then the body language that you make naturally shows up: a softening of the eyes, a slight smile on your face, excitement that this person is around, relaxed shoulders, and an easy, comfortable posture.” That’s the idea, anyway.
5. Command Your Nonverbal Communication, Too
Typically, touching at work is a big no-no, unless you’re comforting a co-worker in the wake of a serious crisis or giving a team member a spontaneous high-five. However, a light arm touch can be quite powerful—even persuasive—according to various studies (including one from 2007 finding that women were more likely to give a guy their phone numbers if he touched them on the arm before asking for their digits).
That said, physical touch should always be initiated by the higher-status person first, says Lena Hegi Welch, EdD, professor of communication studies at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. “After you get to know your boss better, it may be acceptable to touch him or her on the arm lightly, but until you’re sure, keep your hands to yourself,” she advises.
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