Body language is key in any situation where you’re trying to make an impression. It’s not just about posture, but also includes details like your handshake, how you walk, and even what you do with your feet when sitting at a table. For many of us, learning proper body language can be challenging. But perfecting it is truly an art form. Though you may have taken public speaking in college and honed a few tips, there’s still a lot of body language skills you need for just basic daily career situations. We talked with renowned body language expert Carol Goman about some of her most essential body language tips for new grads entering the workforce.
1. Improve your posture.
Goman says that expanding your body and taking up space is essential for your first job. She cites research from Harvard and Columbia Business Schools that show that simply holding your body in an expansive, “high-power” pose (like the Wonder Woman, which Amy Cuddy first mentioned in her famous TED Talk) for as little as two minutes can stimulate higher levels of testosterone—the hormone linked to power and dominance—and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. “Try this when you’re feeling tentative, but want to appear more confident. In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, these poses lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk.” Your posture doesn’t only affect how other people see you, but also how you feel about yourself. A study found that when people sat up straight, they were more likely to believe the positive statements they wrote about their qualifications for a job. In contrast, those slumped over their desks were less confident in their own abilities.
2. Open up.
By uncrossing your arms and legs, you convey confidence rather than appearing defensive. Women often make themselves appear smaller by crossing their limbs, which also has the effect of decreasing testosterone levels and raising cortisone levels.
3. Hold a ball in your left hand and squeeze it.
Goman says that another hack that works well for athletes is squeezing a ball in their left hand. Apparently, when “seasoned” athletes do poorly, it might be because they’re overthinking their movements (which would be controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain if they are right-handed) rather than trusting the automatic motor skills they’ve developed through years and years of practice (left hemisphere function). The research found that those athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand did better under pressure. And this is something you can do easily while sitting at your desk!
4. Back, back, back it up.
According to Goman, stepping backward literally will help you. Research done at Radboud University in the Netherlands showed how backward motion is an effective way of enhancing cognitive control. The researchers discovered that when people come across a difficult situation, having them take a step back boosts their confidence and ability to cope with the problem better.
5. A little touch.
If you’re not the type of person who naturally touches people more, works on it. Goman points out that even the briefest touch on the arm, hand, or shoulder – as little as 1/40 of a second – creates a human bond. In business settings, physical touch and warmth are commonly established through shaking hands, which leaves a lasting positive impression. The act of shaking hands with someone makes a lasting impression and also increases the likelihood that they will remember you, according to recent studies. In addition, people tend to react more positively towards those who take the time to shake their hands – something that can definitely help boost your confidence levels!
According to Goman, smiling authentically and often not only improves your mood but also makes those around you more likely to see you as approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy. “A genuine smile comes on slowly, crinkles the eyes, lights up the face, and fades away slowly. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way,” she says.
7. Hand jive.
If you want to think more clearly, get your hands moving! Gesturing with our hands while we talk activates Broca’s area in the brain, which helps us produce speech. This means that using your hands when you talk can actually help you form clearer thoughts, according to Goman.
8. Keep it down.
According to Goman, before an important phone call or interview, make the sounds “um hum, um hum, um hum” with your lips together. Also, practice speaking so that your sentences end on a lower pitch–this is especially important for women. Be confident and try to speak like Johnny Cash by keeping your voice low.