Check Your Body Language Skills
Let’s put the manipulative coworker aside and focus on someone far more interesting: you. More specifically, how others see you. Are you successful in your peer groups or are you constantly passed over when it’s time for parties or promotions? Are you moving up in your career, being assigned projects that are at least on your level, or do you suspect someone thinks you’re not capable of more difficult (and career-building) projects even though your work has been more than adequate up to this point? At the same time, are you watching others shoot up that social or career ladder right past you, even though you’ve been around for longer and you think you deserve some recognition?
These situations often go beyond what you’re actually doing in your work or in your social situations—the trouble may be in how you’re presenting yourself. You might very well be the most loyal friend who ever lived … but do you show an actual interest in others, or are you something of a standoffish pal, someone who’s around but easily forgotten? Perhaps you should assess your body language skills with the following quiz:
1. In your office, several coworkers gather and chitchat every day in the kitchen. They’re friendly enough, and you’d like to get to know them better. When you see them getting together at lunch time, you:
a. Slip into the kitchen and smile at them, then linger, waiting for your chance to join the conversation
b. Stay seated at your desk, looking their way, hoping for an invitation
c. Frown and avoid looking at them. Why won’t they include you?!
Best Answer: “a.” That is, if you truly want to get to know these folks. An established group isn’t going to walk around recruiting new members, so you have to seize the opportunity to join in when you can. Get physically close and use every friendly gesture you have in your arsenal, especially a nice big smile. You’ll be able to tell by their response (do they smile and nod, encouraging more input from you, or do they look away and let your words hang in the air?) if they’re interested in having you hang with them.
2. When your boss addresses some of your recent work that he disapproves of but you feel is great, you:
a. Slump in your seat, staring at the work in front of you, without making eye contact with him
b. Sit up straight in your chair, looking directly at your boss with a rather neutral face
c. Stand up so you can be at eye level, flaring your nostrils and arching your eyebrows, ready to answer every complaint
Best Answer: “b.” Answer “a” makes you look like you don’t have the strength or interest to defend your work; “c” makes you look like a total hothead. When dealing with someone who is higher up than you are—and thus has control of whether or not you advance in the workplace—it’s best to keep your cool while maintaining eye contact. This shows you’re listening without getting overly steamed about what’s being said.
3. Your brother has asked you to borrow your car. There is no possible way that this is going to happen, but you have to make it very clear, or he will try to talk you into it. How can you let him know that you’re saying exactly what you mean?
a. Holding your hands out in front of you, palms toward your brother
b. Raised eyebrows
c. Nodding as you explain that he is irresponsible
Best Answer: Actually, all of these nonverbal cues work to underscore and emphasize what you are saying, so go ahead and use them in conjunction with each other!
4. You’ve run over your neighbor’s mailbox, and you don’t have the funds to repair it until payday. When you approach them, the best way to convince them that you intend to fix the damage is to:
a. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and your arms crossed
b. Put your hands in your pockets
c. Explain your situation with your hands in front of you, palms up
Best Answer: “c.” Answer “a” is an ultraconfident stance that could come off as aggressive in this situation; “b” implies that you’re hiding something. The palms-up gesture is a nonverbal way of saying, “I want to work with you, and I’m completely sincere.”
1. You’re presenting your work in a meeting at the end of a long week. People coming in the room just want to go home, but you’ve worked hard and you need to catch their attention. You:
a. Talk and move slowly and calmly, to work with the audience’s muted mood
b. Start off with a smile and some hand and upper-body gestures meant to be friendly and attention grabbing
c. Talk loudly while moving to speak to each and every person in the room
Best Answer: “b.” Tired crowds are tough, so you’re walking a fine line between putting them to sleep (“a”) and aggravating them (“c”). Do your best to come off as friendly and nonthreatening in this type of situation (“b”)—you’ll win over more people than you’ll alienate, which is sometimes the best you can hope for on a Friday at 4:00
6. You have an interview scheduled with a company you’re just dying to work for. When your interviewer greets you, he offers you his hand to shake with his palm down, forcing you to shake with your palm up. This one gesture tells you that he is an absolute dream to work for, and you’d be crazy not to take the job if it’s offered.
Best Answer: Sadly, “b.” People who shake like this are showing a sign of a domineering personality. He might be fine to work for, but he might also be a huge egomaniac, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the job; it just means you have to watch your back with this person.
7. You have been dating a guy for six months, and you suspect that there’s something about his ex that he’s not telling you—specifically that he is still involved with her. When you ask him about her, he:
a. Stares blankly
b. Takes your hands, looks directly into your eyes, and tells you that the ex is long gone
c. Gets very defensive, frowns, and refuses to answer
Best Answer, honesty-wise: “b.” A blank stare is different from a neutral look—blank stares are often a passive-aggressive way of saying, “This conversation is so dumb, I’m not engaging one ounce of energy in it.” Defensiveness is almost always a case of someone protesting too much to something that’s hit a nerve, so although he might not be involved with the ex, he might still have feelings for her. Answer “b” shows that he truly wants you to hear what he is saying and is willing to say it directly to you, and that is a very good sign.
8. You’re on the train and another passenger is making you a little nervous. What kind of body language should you use to show him that you are not an easy target?
a. Squared jaw
b. Flared nostrils
c. Straight posture
Best Answer: Again, all three will help you in this situation. When you feel threatened, it’s a good idea to make yourself seem as large as possible, a trick animals use to ward off predators. The hope is that an aggressor will take one look at your no-nonsense body language and decide to move on.
9. You come home to find your favorite picture frame in pieces. Oddly enough, your son knows nothing about this, even though he was the only one home at the time it was broken. What type of body language will convince you of his guilt?
a. Palms up as he claims innocence
b. Raised brows and wide-open eyes as he blames the cat
c. Averted eye contact as he blames his sister
Best Answer: “c.” Answers “a” and “b” are both signs that his spoken word is sincere. A lack of eye contact shows his fear of being exposed for the little fibber he is.
10. You have been pulled over for speeding. When the cop asks you why you’re in such a hurry, you tell him that you’ve had a call from your child’s school, and your son’s been hurt in gym class. You’re sure he’s heard similar stories from other speeders before, and you hope he believes you. What nonverbal cues would you hope to see him using?
a. Nodding his head
b. Shaking his head
c. Flaring his nostrils
Best Answer: “a.” Nodding is a great indication that someone is buying the story you’re selling. Obviously, shaking the head (“b”) is rarely a positive gesture, and flared nostrils are a sign of irritation and/or aggression.
How’d you do? Being in tune with body language can mean the difference between successful social interactions and complete isolation. But the ultimate outcome of these situations depends on how well you’re able to combine your spoken messages with your body language. Again, you want to make sure your body language is sending the message you intend.