As insignificant as it may seem, a weak handshake can send unfavorable signals, whereas people with a strong handshake are proven to be viewed more favorably. Martin West, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, emphasizes the importance of non-cognitive skills — like showing up on time and having a firm handshake — which employers often refer to as “soft skills.” He goes so far as to say that there’s nothing soft about them, and research by the University of Iowa confirms it.
According to Adrian Furnham, Ph.D, professor of psychology at University College London, eye contact is one of our most primitive and important means of communication and is a way of soliciting feedback. It also conveys confidence, leadership, and strength. “Closing your eyes while speaking may indicate that you feel bored or superior,” he says.
Smiling works two ways. It shows that you’re a pleasant person with confidence, openness, and energy — all positive things in the professional world. But your smile also sets off something called mirror neurons in the listener, triggering them to smile back and creating an overall positive interaction.
We’ve all done it at some point — played with our hair, tapped our fingers on the table, twirled our chairs from side to side. This kind of fidgeting usually signals that you’re anxious or disinterested, both of which are undesirable qualities in a work environment. CareerBuilder conducted a survey of 2,100 hiring managers, 29 percent of whom identified fidgeting as the biggest body language faux pas made by job seekers.
Getting too close
In the U.S., there are certain unspoken rules about personal space, and invading it can be a big mistake in professional situations. According to Psychology Today, invasion of space causes something called limbic hijacking, an unsettling of neural activity that, in extreme cases, can cause a fight-or-flight response. In most cases, though, it’s just distracting and something best to avoid at work. Etiquette says three to eight feet of distance between colleagues or casual acquaintances is best.
Bad posture can signal that you’re lazy or lacking energy, neither of which employers want to see on the job, no matter what your excuse is. Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, talks about how posture actually changes our hormone levels and that standing or sitting up straight literally makes you more powerful. Studies have even shown that people in powerful poses (i.e., standing tall) not only felt more powerful and in control but were actually 45 percent more likely to take greater risks.
Crossing your arms
Maybe you’re just feeling chilly, but going into a business meeting with crossed arms suggests that you’re on the defensive or not open to what the other person is saying. In some cases, the act of crossing your arms can even act as a physical barrier instead of putting colleagues or business partners at ease.