The way we carry ourselves impacts every part of our lives. From facial expressions to how we sit and walk, we’re constantly judging and evaluating people based on visual cues. In the workplace, your body language can make or break how your coworkers and superiors view you. By now we’ve all heard about the firm handshake, but there are other ways that people judge us based on body language during internships, in summer jobs, and in school. We talked to Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, a body language expert, and Joe Navarro, an adjunct faculty member of nonverbal communication at Saint Leo University, for body language tips to use in the workplace.
1. Perfect the handshake
Yes, you’ve heard this advice before, but it’s worth reiterating as it’s probably the first thing you’ll do when you meet someone in a professional setting. According to Dr. Goman, limp, weak handshakes come across as delicate and incompetent.
So what makes the perfect shake? “Make it firm, palm-to-palm, and web-to-web (the skin between your thumb and index finger),” Dr. Goman says. “Stand, square your body to the other person's, smile, and look him/her in the eyes.” You’ll be seen as confident, outgoing, and warm.
2. Don’t fidget
Some collegiettes play with their hair or fingers when they’re nervous or bored. Others subconsciously rub their hands together or touch their necks. Dr. Goman advises collegiettes to stop fidgeting, because it could make you look much less powerful. “It's better to keep your hands on your lap or on the conference table where they can be seen and where you will be reminded to keep them still,” she says. If you find that you often fiddle with your clothes or hands (if you’re not sure, you can ask your parents or friends), try clasping your hands or putting them under the table so they’re not visible.
3. Show some palm
While you shouldn’t fiddle mindlessly, there is one must-do move with your hands: use your palms. “Showing your palms indicates openness and inclusiveness,” Dr. Goman says. Use this move when you’re talking to your boss or working with a group—briefly opening your hands so your palms are visible makes you look open and interested in the task at hand.
“‘Steepling’ (finger tips touching, palms separated) shows you are being precise,” Dr. Goman says.
Finally, try this move: “Turning your hands palms-down reinforces that you are absolutely sure of your position,” Dr. Goman says. At a meeting? Put your palms flat on the desk to indicate you’re sure of something. You’ll look competent and efficient.
4. Think big
As women, we’re constantly bombarded with the message that we should be thin, pretty, and delicate. But once you step into the office, it’s time to get over that! “Women tend to condense their bodies, keeping their elbows to their sides, tightly crossing their legs, and contracting their bodies to take up as little space as possible. In doing so, they make themselves appear less powerful,” Dr. Goman says.
According to Dr. Goman, research shows that when women assume a power position (think Wonder Woman, with your feet apart and your hands on your hips) for as little as two minutes, their testosterone level (the hormone linked to power) spikes, and cortisol, the stress hormone, decreases. Freaked out before a presentation or the start of an internship? Make like Wonder Woman (or Hillary Clinton, or Blair Waldorf, or any other powerful woman!) and stand proud with your hands on your hips for two minutes. Posing by itself will help your hormones make you feel confident and tall.
5. Lose the head tilt (most of the time)
Tilting your head when someone is speaking indicates interest, which is usually a good thing. But in the workplace, it can make you look a little too passive, which, according to Dr. Goman, can be read as submissive. When you want to convey power and authority, keep your head straight and look forward. There’s one exception, however: when you’re working with others and want to convey concern, tilt your head slightly. “Do use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team, or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying,” Dr. Goman says. People pick up on subtle head tilts and interpret them as a friendly, warm gesture.
6. Look ‘em in the eye
Navarro advises making eye contact when meeting with people. According to him, eye contact can speak much louder than your actual words. Especially when you first meet someone, look him or her straight in the eye and mirror his or her expression. This will convey confidence and eagerness. “It can be hard at first,” says Vanessa, a student at Johns Hopkins, “but I’ve noticed that if I’m with a group and I make eye contact with the speaker—that speaker will virtually talk to me for the rest of the discussion.” Solid, sustained eye contact will make you look like you’re really invested in what the other person is saying.
7. Dress the part
Nonverbal communication includes the way you dress yourself! Be sure to research the company or ask ahead about dress code. “Wear clothing that is appropriate and professional. Meet the standards of the organization,” Navarro says. The low-cut sundress won’t fly in the office, but, depending on your industry, you may not necessarily have to buy a pinstripe power suit either. But remember—dress for the job you want! People may consciously (or unconsciously) judge you and form a negative opinion of you if you’re wearing something inappropriate for the office.
8. Nod, nod, and nod some more
The easiest way to show someone that you’re listening? Nod your head. “Show eagerness,” Navarro says. “Be attentive.” When someone is talking to you, regardless of whether or not you agree, nod. It’ll show that you care about and are open to what they’re talking about. Even if it feels like you’re going overboard, nodding during every conversation is an easy way to show them (subconsciously!) that you’re on the same page. Here’s an easy rule: when you hear the speaker say something important, nod once or twice. You might feel like you’re nodding more than normal, but it will be interpreted as a sign of interest and support.
You may not be Super Intern on day one, but the best part about these tips is they are totally easy and doable, and they’ll make a huge difference in how others see you in the workplace!