The Role Body Language Plays in Professional Settings
A co-worker cradles his face in his hands after a computer crash. The sales manager raises her arms above her head in a double first pump after hanging up the phone. The CEO yawns and looks at their watch during the marketing team’s presentation.
You’ve probably seen these and countless other displays of workplace body language. Body language can convey subtle and powerful messages. It also can be a complex language to understand. But with research showing that as much as 65% of interpersonal communication is conveyed nonverbally,1 learning about workplace body language may help strengthen your leadership style.
“Body-language savvy is becoming part of an executive’s personal brand,” executive coach and author Carol Kinsey Goman writes in Forbes. “Great leaders sit, stand, walk, and gesture in ways that exude confidence, competence, and status.”2
Here are some of the key means of nonverbal communication to consider as you explore your own workplace body language.
Body Language: Facial Expressions
Paul Ekman, who began studying facial expression in 1954,3 found that faces express emotion in ways that are both “universal and culturally specific.”4
“His findings showed that while there may be different guidelines (display rules) taught to each of us for how and when to show our emotions, we all share a common set of universal facial expressions for these seven emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise, and happiness,” according to the Paul Ekman Group website.4
At work, employees pay attention to their leaders’ facial expressions and give them meaning. Their assessments may be right, but there is always the potential for misinterpretation. Increase your awareness of the expressions you’re making and what sort of messages you may be transmitting. In the workplace, you may not need a poker face, but you probably don’t want your face to be an open book either.
Body Language: Posture and Poses
Standing and sitting are other powerful forms of nonverbal communication. Research shows that expansive postures telegraph confidence and power. “High-power poses” can also trigger hormonal changes that can help you feel more powerful and perform more effectively, researchers found.5
Visualize a person sitting with their chest open, hands laced behind their head. Then, visualize a person sitting with their shoulders slumped, hands balled up in their lap. Both may be equally talented employees, but slouching may send the message that “you’re … not as competent,” Lillian Glass, body language expert and communications consultant, told Time.6
So, stand or sit tall, keep your body open, and claim your space—and make sure not to crowd others.
Body Language: Our Hands
Hands also contribute to the nonverbal communication conversation. You may use them for emphasis, or to demonstrate or illustrate a point. Perhaps you’re a fidgeter, which some people may read as boredom or inattentiveness. What story are your hands telling others in a professional setting?
As with other parts of the body, they may be saying more than you think. For instance, research found that politicians tend to gesture more with their dominant hand when sharing positive information.7 It might be interesting to see if you do, too. It may not be important to your leadership style, but it’s another opportunity to tune in to your workplace body language to see how you can use your hands to enhance communication.
Since hand gestures can be culturally specific, and their meanings can change over time, it may be best to avoid using them.
Develop Leadership Skills in an MBA Program
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Walden offers its online MBA without a GMAT, which means admission requirements are based on your professional and academic experience. And Walden’s flexible online learning format means you can earn a degree while staying fully engaged in your personal and professional activities.
If you want to launch a business career, you can build knowledge and skills in Walden’s online BS in Business Administration degree program, which is also ACBSP-accredited.
Walden’s MBA and BS in Business Administration are offered in two completion options so you can tailor your online business degree program to your learning style:
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Earning an MBA, BS in Business Administration, or another online business degree can help prepare you for growth and advancement in rewarding job roles. Get started by choosing the online learning path that’s right for you.
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