Mixed messages: What your body language is really saying
Before an interview it’s common practice to prepare answers to standard questions. Everyone has delivered responses to the questions: What’s your biggest strength? What’s your biggest weakness? For the latter, who hasn’t answered that their biggest weakness is something along the lines of “I’m a perfectionist”, or “my friends tell me I work too hard”. Right?
Answers to these questions should demonstrate self-awareness.
But, what if your body language doesn’t match the answers you’re delivering?
How many people have thought about their body language during an interview? It’s never actually occurred to me as something I should consider or even work on before an interview. Recently I read a couple of articles that discuss what body language says about you, that made me think I should. Joe Navarro and Carol Kinsey Goman appear to be Forbes.com’s go-to experts on gestures and body language. What they both have to say is interesting and important, not only for interviews but also how you conduct yourself at the office.
One of Navarro’s recommendations for making sure your body language supports your words is to pay close attention to something he calls ‘curb appeal’. Essentially his message is: dress for success. Always take note of how upper management dress and follow suit (no pun intended). This seems a clear approach, however the actual gestures one makes with hands, feet, and head are not always as obvious, or studied.
Both authors appear to group common gestures into one of two categories:
- • Gestures above the belt and board table
- • Gestures below the belt and board table (I’m talking about the
Above the belt and board table
1. Head Tilting: A head tilt that reveals the neck, is a common point of discussion. According to Navarro, and Goman, a tilt of the head means “I am listening; I am comfortable; I am receptive”. However, Goman also suggests not to overdue it. While a head tilt can be welcoming it can also be “subconsciously processed as submission signals”. Not a sign you want to convey in an interview.
2. Active Hands: Most people use their hands to illustrate a point. How you use your hands can say a lot about how you feel. According to Goman open hands “tilted to a 45-degree angle signal candor and openness”. Both Narvarro and Goman, suggest hands that are steepled reveal confidence and comfort about a subject.
3. Don’t touch your neck: Navarro warns that if “you touch your neck or cover the dimple at the base of it, you’re saying you are uncomfortable, insecure or concerned”.
Below the belt and under the table:
1. Widen your stance: Goman points out that if you stand with your feet close together, you may “appear timid or hesitant”. But if you widen your stance you give the impression you’re “more solid and sure of yourself”.
2. Observe foot angles: When leaving an interview, you may have a bit of small talk to finish up, but make sure you’re not overstaying your welcome. One way to observe whether or not the interviewer is waiting for you to leave is to glance at the direction of their feet. Goman notes that “If the upper body is angled toward you but legs and feet have turned toward the door, realize that the conversation is over”. It is time to go.
3. Polish your shoes: A point of contention for Navarro is an unpolished shoe. The author states that he personally insists on polishing shoes. Unpolished shoes show you don’t pay attention to your footwear, don’t pay attention to detail, and you may “subvert the effort spent on the rest of [your] appearance”.
There are a number of communication strategies that can help you understand the interviewer and come across as confident and knowledgable in an interview. Make sure what you’re saying with your body mimics what’s coming out of your mouth.