Nick Cucci

Nick Cucci

July 10, 2023

Body language in business: Part 1 - the basics

Success in business is often attributed to hard work and business politics, but there is actually more going on under the surface. More experts are focusing on the benefits of soft skills - with 85 percent of career success being attributed to them (see). Being able to understand and manage body language is one skill that can have a huge impact on your professional career. Whether you are looking to land that next big promotion or you just want to get invited to work on more projects, body language can help. This three-part series will take a look at body language and how it influences workspaces all around the world.

Grasping the importance of body language

Body language is a form of language that is built entirely around your physical presence. It is the communication signals that your body gives off when you are in a room with someone—even if that room is actually a digital Zoom meeting space. Every part of your body can play a role in body language. From the way you hold a person's gaze to your posture in a room, body language tells a story–and it holds an influential space in our communications, whether we want it to or not. When you learn the impression that certain physical motions give, you might be surprised to learn what kind of messages you have been sending!

Professional interactions are often a key component when it comes to professional success. In fact, 71 percent of employees who feel productive at work cite communication and connection with colleagues as the reasons (see).

Positive interactions reflect positively, and negative interactions can have the opposite effect. If you are unaware of these subconscious signals and how they are interpreted, you might find yourself conveying something that isn't in line with what you want to share. Let's discuss how body language can influence professional interactions throughout the average work week.

Creating open communication

Our bodies can be open and inviting or shut off and dismissive. How we hold ourselves will convey this information to the people we interact with. In order to create open communication, it is important to focus on being visibly open. An inviting smile, angling your body in someone's direction, and relaxed shoulders can all help to create open communication.

Showing active listening

Attention is one of the greatest gifts we give others, but our bodies can sometimes undermine us–even when we are listening.

Making direct eye contact and leaning in, for example, can clearly tell someone that we are interested. Nodding along as someone speaks is another common way to show engagement. However, wandering eyes or turning away can tell someone that we are not interested and not listening in the slightest.

Listening in a meeting isn't always easy, and most people know this. During a long meeting, it is common for our shoulders to slouch, our eyes to wander, or for us to become visibly out of focus. Unfortunately, this is very easy to see for the speaker–and it can have a lasting negative impression on how they perceive you.

Building or de-escalating tension

Tension in the workplace is never easy, and it is very delicate. When tension builds, it can lead to disastrously negative communication. However, when we de-escalate tension, we gain the ability to turn a negative conversation into something more controlled. Being able to do this is important whether you are an analyst, a customer service representative, or someone in leadership.

When we experience tension, it is almost always visible. We carry it in our jaws, shoulders, and our hands. If a conversation leads you to be visibly tense, the other person is likely to pick up on it. This can make them uncomfortable or even lead them to become upset. Relaxing your body and taking slow and soothing breaths can help to relieve the tension in your body. Avoiding sudden movements can minimize aggression and help the room feel more calm.

Demonstrating excitement, support, warmth

Enthusiasm holds a prized spot in the workplace. When someone shares news, the way you respond can really impact how they feel about you, themselves, and their ideas. To demonstrate excitement, most of us will show signs of joy–a wide smile, excitable gestures like clapping, and approving nods. However, if your response is flat and calm, someone might get the wrong idea, even if you genuinely are excited.

The ability to create a warm and welcoming presence on demand is a skill that people in sales and other customer service roles have used for a very long time. It is a series of steps that can make you seem approachable and like you are in a person's corner. The best part is that anyone can do this.If you want to create a warming presence, it is crucial to have the right body language in place. People who are welcoming are more likely to smile, will often maintain gentle eye contact, and will open themselves up to convey that they are interested and want to learn more. Smiling can even be heard over a phone call!

Sending the right message

The most important thing that body language does in business is helping us to convey the right message. In the workplace, being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills a person can have–and body language plays a large role in that. From demonstrating confidence to showing compassion, our bodies allow us to show others what we want to say, often more effectively than words can.

Having a mastery of body language is an effective way to always send the right message in any room. When our words and our bodies align, we build trust, show character, and help others to perceive us the way that we want to be perceived. A well-timed smile or playful shrug can help us to build stronger bonds with our peers and superiors than words ever can alone. In part two of this series, we will focus on reading body.