“There were rumors of downsizing in our company but my supervisor told me my job was safe. Of course I believed her, I trusted her and besides, I wanted to believe her. Then one day she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Then I heard about a meeting, after the fact, that I usually was a part of. I thought it was strange at the time, but I kept hearing my supervisor’s words in my head, “You have nothing to worry about…”

This story has been shared with me by numerous clients over the years. Sure enough, within days, the employee is terminated. You can almost take the lowered head, no eye contact to the bank as a sure sign you are soon to be let go.

How can someone be so wrong? Didn’t they see the signs, you ask? We communicate three different ways; with words, with tone, and with body language. Words account for 7% of much communication, tone accounts for 38%, and body language, the most underused and under trusted method, accounts for a whopping 55%.

I digress. Let me tell you a truism. If your supervisor tells you that your job is safe and there are rumblings of change in your company, get your resume tuned up. They are not lying per se; they just don’t know. Now managers, directors, VP’s, they may know, but supervisors are usually the last to be informed.

So how can you prepare? Read peoples’ body language if you really want to know what is being communicated. Listen to the tone of their voice, it can reveal as much as the words themselves. This is why it is so important to communicate in person whenever possible. Voice mail at least conveys 45% of a message, but email messages often lead to miscommunications because they have no body language and no tone at all.

When a friendly, self-professed team player type supervisor goes from “how’s it going Joe?” to not looking you in the eye and ignoring your requests for another assignment, changes are in the wind. Change is not always a bad thing, but it is change all the same. It can be scary when the status quo is no longer the way you’ve known it to be.

One’s facial expressions can often contradict what a person is saying. If you notice the inconsistency, ask the person about it. “While you’re saying that everything is fine, it really looks like you have some concerns. Can you share any details with me? Perhaps there is something I can do to help.” At which point, a discussion might ensue that could uncover a whole new outlook, a bright idea, or a conflict – but at least you’ll have gotten to the heart of the matter.

Slow down when you are speaking and look around you. Look into peoples’ eyes, are they clear or squinty? Look at their brow, is it furrowed or relaxed? Where are their hands? If on the hips, look out, here comes a disagreement. Crossed arms over the chest does not necessarily mean someone is not open to your comments or that they don’t like what you are saying, it might just be a comfy place to hang their arms, for now. If quick, sharp movements are made, it is more than likely that body language is at work. Slow movement is often just moving around.

Not making eye contact screams negativity – but it is often just a symptom of shyness. When you are unsure whether someone is using body language to communicate, take into account the tone and verbiage as well as physical cues to help you make an accurate assessment.

When people lean into you they are interested, when they slouch back, they’re not. When they return phone calls they are interested, when they don’t, they aren’t. Start being more aware, you’ll be surprised what you’ll uncover. How do you think fortune tellers get it right? Attention to the details and subtle clues offered by body language.


Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer


Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group