Sometimes the biggest mistake you can make in a situation is so subtle and sneaky that you don’t notice you are doing it. But people around you sure do.
“The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn’t stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance,” according to Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov. “We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.”
Todorov’s research has found that snap judgments on character are often formed with inadequate time for rational thought. In other words, the little signals that your facial expressions and body language are sending are important, especially for first impressions.
So when you are meeting someone new, making a presentation, or trying to hold your own in a conflict, remember to be aware of your body language and avoid these common mistakes.
1. Rubbing your hands together
This says pretty clearly to anyone watching that you are anxious or uncomfortable, which can make other people uncomfortable as well. You want to do the opposite of that, and put those around you at ease.
Depending on the situation, rubbing the hands together can also look like you think you have just locked in an agreement and money is coming your way, oh boy! It can be make you look arrogant, greedy and insensitive.
You should allow your hands to come to rest naturally at your sides or on your lap, depending on if you are sitting or standing.
2. Arms Crossed
Be mindful of what you are doing with your arms. Crossed arms make you seem defensive and closed off, also that you are disinterested in what someone else is saying. Keep your arms open so that your chest area is not blocked off.
3. Excessive Head Nodding
Don’t be a bobble head, even if you agree with what’s being said. This makes the person you are talking with think you’re not really listening, and just want them to finish what they are on about so you can talk again. In other words, it says you’re not interested in what they have to say.
A single nod or two is good enough to shows that you are following them and in agreement.
4. Standing with your hands on your hips
Putting your hands on your hips, especially with elbows extended to the side, is an aggressive, defensive posture. It makes you appear to be puffing yourself up to look bigger and digging in your heels for a fight. Avoid, unless this is the attitude you wish to convey.
5. Checking wall clock, your phone or watch
Why not just hold up a big sign that says “I’m so Bored” in large letters? Sends a crystal clear message you want to be somewhere else. It’s rude and makes you seem arrogant as well.
Slouching, standing hunched over, or leaning back in your chair signals that you’re disinterested or lazy, a big mistake in a job interview. Even worse than crossing your arms for signaling defensiveness plus disinterestedness. A drooping back and shoulders conveys a message of weakness.
Try to keep a neutral position, sitting or standing tall as if an invisible string is pulling your head to the ceiling.
7. Leaning In Too Far Forward
Leaning in to a table or toward somebody in moderation is okay, if used effectively for emphasizing your point. Keep in mind, though, leaning in demonstrates aggressiveness so you need to be careful when you use it. Use it too much, and you risk coming off as overbearing and obnoxious.
8. Rubbing the Back of your Neck
Shows other people that you are in distress, feeling upset or discomfort. Literally sends the signal that “this is a pain in the neck”, or “I’m fed up” especially for men.
9. Fidgeting Hands
Any time you are clasping your hands, hiding them, or fidgeting with them you put your nervousness on display. Can also give the impression that you do not believe in or are insecure about what you’re saying.
Hands in pockets indicates that you are afraid, unsure, or not interested in what is being said to you, and looks rude to some. Even worse is cracking your knuckles, which looks like macho, attention seeking behavior.
Do use your hands in moderation when explain your point of view with concise, mindful movement.
10. Not Smiling
It may seem obvious to smile, but it is easy for forget. Not smiling makes people uncomfortable, they start to think you don’t really want to be there. Especially important when you are meeting someone for the first time. Try to keep a natural, unforced smile throughout your conversation.
People tend to respond to a smile by smiling back, and interaction is one of the keys to good communication
11- Pursed Lips or Lip Biting
As with not smiling, minor changes in the mouth can give off subtle signs of what you are feeling. Pursed lips may send a message of distaste, disapproval, or distrust. Biting the lips says you are worried, anxious, or stressed out. Chewing the bottom lip may indicate you are experiencing worry, fear, or insecurity.
12. Angling your Body Away From Others
Introducing subtle excess physical distance, angling the body away from the person you’re talking with or leaning away from a conversation shows that you are uncomfortable, distrustful or uninterested in the subject.
Photo credits, top to bottom: Cameron Russell, Mark Spearman, elisasizzle, zoë biggs, Nathan Jongewaard, Endlisnis, Daniela Vladimirova, Rikard Elofsson