Body language is a breeze to figure out. Right? If someone is crossing their arms, they are probably closed off to the conversation and have no interest in continuing to talk. If someone is leaning in close to you while sitting beside you, they probably have romantic interest in you. While how to understand body language has been a topic of interest for eons, you may still be making assumptions when it comes to reading people. And those mistakes could be standing in the way of your success.
Successful People Know How Body Language Can Affect Their Success So They Never Make These 8 Mistakes
Depending on the study, non-verbal communication (i.e. body language) counts between 75% and 90% of our communication. That’s a huge percentage. So even if you think you know the basics, you could be making non-verbal mistakes on a daily basis that are detrimental to your career success.
When you have a professional conversation with a coworker or boss, how close are you to them, physically? If you put your hand out in front of you, would you touch them? If so, you’re standing too close. That would mean you’re probably about .0 to 18 inches apart, and that should only be used for an intimate relationship in which it would be normal to embrace, touch and even whisper. So when speaking to a coworker, keep 4 to 12 feet in between you.
2. Inappropriate Eye Contact
Eye contact is so important, but getting it right can be challenging. In the US, the appropriate amount of eye contact comes in at about 60%. So, if you’re listening to someone talk, you’re looking into their eyes 60% of the time and looking away (at your notes or a presentation) the rest of the time. Anything more than that is intimidating, so unless you’re in law enforcement, stick to 60%.
But where you look matters. If you’re boring holes into the other person’s pupils, that can be a bit much. Proper eye contact at work is made in the upside down triangular area on someone’s face (eyebrow to eyebrow to the nose and back to the eyebrows).
3. Handshakes without the upper hand
While I am a strong believer in a firm handshake, there are still right and wrong ways to do it. Have you ever been introduced to someone, either personally or professionally, who shook hands with you by sandwiching your hand between both of theirs? It’s awkward, and they literally have the upper hand. So if you do this, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re sending a message to that person that you have the upper hand.
4. Too-obvious mirroring
We have always been drawn to people who resemble us, either in physically appearance or lifestyle. If you’re hoping to gain acceptance from someone like a potential boss, you can mirror their body language, posture or tone of voice to subtly create rapport. But like eye contact, this trick requires some knowledge. If you are too obvious about what you’re doing, it comes off phony and pretty bizarre. A good rule of thumb is to create about a three second delay before you start mirroring the other person.
5. Leaning back/Slouching
I used to work with someone who constantly slouched back in their chair and occasionally seemed ready to melt into the floor below them. It was an interesting choice, since it basically announced to the world, “I don’t care about what I’m doing here. I have no interest in my work!” While it’s also pretty awful for your spine, leaning back in your chair, especially when speaking to someone, comes off as dismissive and distracted.
Slouching is just as bad. You look weak and tired/lazy. Sit with your back and shoulders straight. You’ll look better and more capable, and you’ll also feel better! 
6. Exaggerated Gestures
I talk with my hands. What about you? Being an animated talker is part of what keeps people interested in what I have to say, but there’s a fine line between being animated and being over-the-top. When you gesture dramatically and get carried away, you come off obnoxious and semi-arrogant. If you aren’t sure if you’re coming off as passionate or annoying, tell your friend to record you the next time you meet for coffee. If watching it makes you cringe, you should probably work on toning it down.
7. Arm Crossing
Even though this is one of the most commonly discussed body language actions, it’s important to stay aware of it. Sometimes I cross my arms because I start thinking about the top I’m wearing and if I look bad. Other times, I do it because the office is absolutely freezing and I’m trying to keep warm. While we don’t always cross our arms because we are defensive or closed off, that’s still how it comes across. Practice letting your arms stay by your sides, or even stick one of your hands in your back pocket while listening to someone. The more opened your shoulders are, the more interested and inviting you seem.
Fidgeting (playing with your hair, tapping your foot or pens, adjusting and readjusting your clothes) is irritating to those around you, but it also makes you look unprepared and anxious. I get really distracted really easily, so when I’m in meetings, I take copious notes or even doodle subtly while I listen. It helps me feel like I’m not just sitting there being still while still focusing my attention properly.
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