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Body Language in the Business World

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 15 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
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Many aspects of body language are integral to success in the business world. From the way you interact with co-workers to the way you interact with customers and beyond your body language is one of the most powerful and influential communication tools at your disposal. It’s reasonable, then, to learn all you can about enhancing your body language to enhance your success in the business world.

Body Language and Business Meetings
If you work in the business world, then you probably spend a fair amount of time in meetings. Staff meetings, sales meetings, planning meetings, project meetings, budget meetings, committee meetings, department meetings, group meetings – the list could go on and on.

Regardless of the type of meeting you’re in, quality communication is an integral part of your participation. That’s why it’s so important to consider your body language as part of your communication activities.

Your body language has a powerful influence on how you are perceived before, during, and after a meeting. Here are just a few of the ways in which your body language affects communication in meetings:

  • Where you sit
  • Whom you sit with
  • Whom you don’t sit with
  • How you sit
  • Whether you should even sit at all
  • What you do with your hands
  • What you do with your arms
  • What you do with your legs
  • Eye contact
  • Overall body position
Many people are surprised at just how many things are on this list and often discount some of the importance. Research clearly supports the idea, however, that body language is an important part of communication in meeting situations.

Seating Arrangements
Let’s start with something very basic – seating arrangements. Your choice of seat is important, both in terms of where you sit at the table and where you sit in relation to others. For instance, the person at the head of the table is generally perceived as the leader, so if your manager usually sits in that chair it’s probably not a good idea to take that seat for yourself.

With the leader seated at the head of the table, there is a progression of perceived power that’s related to how close each seat is to the leader’s set. The closer you sit to the leader, the more powerful and credible you are perceived to be. Some leaders make a conscious choice to sit along the side of the table rather than at the head of the table as a way to create a more relaxed atmosphere, but in general the seats closest to the leader are still perceived as being the most powerful.

What about others in the meeting? There’s that one person with whom you constantly disagree, or that other person who talks constantly and annoys you. How should you handle seating arrangements in these situations?

When you find yourself consistently disagreeing with or feeling annoyed by someone, it helps to take a seat that’s not directly across from that person. This head-on positioning is confrontational and sends a very aggressive message. Instead, try sitting diagonally from that person, or even right next to that person. Do this for several meetings and you may start to see some changes in the tone and nature of your interactions with that person.

Posture and Body Position in Meetings
Take a look around about halfway through your next staff meeting and take note of the different postures and body positions of others in the meeting. Chances are you’ll be able to ‘read’ their thoughts very clearly, such as their level of interest, their agreement/disagreement with the topic at hand, and the like. And of course, others can ‘read’ your body language as well.

So what should your posture and body position be? In general, your posture should be upright but not stiff. You don’t want to slouch, but you also don’t want to sit at what looks like military attention. Stay relaxed and even lean forward a bit, as long as you don’t lean so far forward that your arms are sprawled on the table itself.

It’s okay to keep your arms on the table without leaning on them, keeping an open body position and perhaps resting your fingers lightly together. If you have papers or anything else on the table in front of you, don’t play with them. Finally, if you gesture with your hands when talking keep them controlled and contained, preferably no higher than your chin level. If at any point you’re not sure about your own body language in meetings, recruit a trusted colleague to observe you and provide feedback. It might feel a bit awkward, but it’s worth it to make your body language as effective as possible.

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