For the past two months, you’ve had your eye on that promotion. It’s between you and your colleague, and you really want the job. So you put in crazy hours, deliver top-notch work, and take on extra projects to show your work. You don’t see any reason it shouldn’t go to you.
But then time comes for the promotion to be announced, it goes to your colleague instead. What could possibly have gone wrong?
Turns out, it may totally be unrelated to the quality and quantity of the work you churn out. Instead, it could be a factor of something far more subconscious: your body language.
Body language can have a big impact on the way you are perceived by others, especially in a professional setting. While it may seem like a silly, even unfair reason to be overlooked for opportunities at work, there are actually psychological reasons behind it that in the end make a lot of sense.
Next time you’re in the office, take a moment to stop and think about how you’re carrying and expressing yourself. Here are some red flags that may indicate your body language is becoming problematic, and ways to fix them.
1. Crossed Arms
Crossing your arms, which many of us do out of habit, is inherently a defensive position and indicates self-protection. To your boss, however, this may come off as cynical, distrustful, and even angry. Instead, you want to stand with your arms by your side, slightly out from your body, which shows openness and confidence. To help you break the habit of automatically crossing your arms, try holding something such as a notebook during important face-to-face conversations to keep your hands occupied.
When we’re feeling intimidated or uncertain, we tend to “shrink” ourselves, slouching and hunching our shoulders which communicates to others fear, powerlessness, or even laziness and lack of motivation. (Not habits of highly promotable employees!) The next time you notice yourself doing this in a meeting or tough conversation, be sure to sit up straight, relax your shoulders back and down, and lean slightly forward. Not only will this make you appear more assured in high-pressure situations, but you’ll also begin to feel that way, too.
3. Seeming Disinterested
When we’re feeling friendly and comfortable with the people we’re interacting with, we tend to angle our bodies toward them and subtly match their movements. Check to make sure that you’re not angled toward the door when engaged in conversation with people, which shows disinterest and distraction, and instead subtly mirror or mimic their gestures. For example, without being too obvious, place your hands on the table if theirs are, or lean slightly back in your chair if they are doing the same. This expresses harmoniousness and alignment.
4. Nervous Gestures
This is the oldest one in the book, but it’s still so crucial. Leg jiggling, hair twirling, face touching—any other motion you do when nervous or bored—indicates insecurity, which could cost you the trust you’ve built with the higher-ups. If you’re prone to hand movements, find a place for them—such as on a table or your hips—to rest instead.
5. Eye Contact
Your boss can tell a lot about your emotional intelligence just by the way you look at people, including how much you respect, appreciate, and are interested in them and your work. A good formula for maintaining eye contact that’s confident and certain (read: not creepy) is to shoot for holding a person’s gaze for 50-60% of the time you’re interacting with him or her. Think about the last conversation you had: Can you remember the color of the person’s eyes? If not, it’s probably a sign that the eye contact wasn’t sufficient. Play a game with yourself and set a goal of noticing this the next time you’re speaking with someone face-to-face. If you can master this, chances are others will perceive you as confident and sure of yourself—and therefore a competent employee worthy of a promotion.
Plain and simple, smiling allows others to feel comfortable with us, and it’s much easier to get ahead when you’re surrounded by people who like and support you. Not only that, but studies have shown that even forcing a smile will improve your mood as well. Try starting and ending all your conversations with a smile on your face; the habit will grow from there.
The sense of touch is incredibly important for conveying rapport, and a strong handshake is one of the few ways to make use of appropriate touch in business. A good, confident handshake is neither too firm nor too light. A good rule of thumb (no pun intended) is to match the firmness of the other person’s grip. Particularly for women, don’t be afraid to shake hands often and with meaning.
In an age when face-to-face communication is becoming increasingly rare, making the most out of it is more important than ever. Understanding the value of body language—and that seemingly simple, subtle gestures can have a huge impact on how you are perceived—can make or break how you’re perceived in the workplace. And when big decisions like promotions are being evaluated, you want to be sure that you’re armed with every weapon in your professional arsenal. Start implementing these tips now for an extra boost to get to the next step.
Melody Wilding teaches human behavior at The City University of New York and is a nationally recognized Master Coach who distills psychological insights into actionable career advice. A licensed social worker trained at Columbia University, she’s helped thousands of ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs master their mindset and emotions for greater success. Melody has worked with CEOs and executives running top startups along with published authors and media personalities. Get free careers tools at melodywilding.com or book one-on-one coaching sessions on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author