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What Is Your Body Language Saying—Or Not Saying?

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
February 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 5


Credit: Shutterstock
Projecting confidence is a critical communication skill.
A group of business people.
Credit: Shutterstock
Projecting confidence is a critical communication skill.

WE ALL KNOW that good communication skills are crucial for success. In the work world, one of your most important forms of communication is your résumé. But it offers only a glimpse of who you really are. It’s that next step, the interview, that actually determines whether or not you get the job. Face-to-face communication can bring another dimension to your image by adding such things as your physical appearance, the inflections in your voice, and your body language. Research shows that even small changes in your body language can make for more effective communication and relationship building.

SMILE! It doesn’t cost you anything, but it can make a world of difference. Research shows that smiling promotes trust among strangers, and smiling faces are actually easier to remember. So the next time you meet someone new, make sure to smile.

SLOUCHING MAKES YOU SAD. Body posture is important for multiple reasons. Not only do others assume things about you from your posture, but your posture can also affect both your mood and your energy level. For example, slouching makes you look less important to others, and it can increase your feelings of depression. Whether you’re sitting down or walking, keep your chin held high and bring your shoulders back. Those small changes will improve your look and your mood, as well as increase your energy level.

CONFIDENCE IS CONTAGIOUS. It’s important to project competence and confidence in your own abilities, and a recent study suggests there’s no need to worry about appearing too confident. In fact, by projecting confidence, you can actually increase your social status. People who are highly confident speak more often and more confidently, provide more information and answers, and appear calmer and more relaxed when working with their peers. Displays of competence are sometimes given more weight than actual competence, so don’t be afraid to let your abilities shine through.

POWER & PRIDE. People with power, from either position or circumstances, tend to make themselves physically bigger and more expansive. Why do you think the speaker at an event stands on a raised platform? Why does the boss have a bigger desk? When you emulate the posture of power, you actually make yourself feel more powerful. For example, having people assume a high-power pose (standing up straight, hands on hips, chin up, and feet apart) for two minutes before going into a stressful situation can actually change their hormone levels and make them more risk tolerant, more likable, and more likely to be hired.

READ BODY LANGUAGE IN OTHERS. Finally, when making inferences about other people, make sure you are not misreading their body language. For example, is your coworker really angry with you, or is she crossing her arms because she is cold? Pay attention to the body language of others, and you’ll be able to ensure that your listeners understand your message.

By paying more attention to nonverbal cues, you can change the way you are perceived by others—and you can also change the way you perceive yourself.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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