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Campus to Career Blog Series: Body Language in the Workplace

People are genetically programmed to look for facial and behavioral cues and quickly interpret their meaning. If someone makes a certain movement or gesture, we automatically make a judgment about the intention of that gesture and act accordingly. This happens in your social life, and it takes on a whole different meaning in the professional world. Part of the essential business skills that some recent college grads should be prepared for is controlling their body language in the workplace.

According to the best-selling book Built to Be a CEO: A Woman’s Journey to the Top, by Sabrina Ghouse, conveying and interpreting body language is lost by the younger generation.

“Whether it is a business or personal interaction, multiple studies show that as much as 50% to 90% of communication is non-verbal. This means the ‘text-or-email-only’ method relays less than half of the intended message which, in turn, causes misunderstandings. Yet the world sends over eight billion texts per day, and businesses encourage chat or text-only work environments as Gen-Y enters the workforce. The concern should not merely be misinterpretation; it is the loss of our ability to understand and use body language to our advantage, especially in the workplace.”

What is your body language saying?

According to Owen Smith, interim dean and director of career services for Northshore Technical Community College, “Body language is an important element when it comes to navigating the workplace. Some facial expressions and body movements can be perceived as negative. Nonverbal communication often easily offends people. Rolling your eyes, sighing or even simply folding your arms can be interpreted negatively and possibly lead to workplace conflict.”

Self Awareness is the Key to Controlling Body Language

“You must have self-awareness. Having self-awareness and having the ability to control your emotions, facial expressions and body movements can alleviate misinterpretations of intent in the workplace,” Smith says.

“It is important to study one’s body language and become aware of what you may be doing and how that might be interpreted” says René Cintrón, chief education and training officer for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. “Be mindful of your own body language and know when you’re doing certain things. Look at yourself in the mirror or on the phone. Find someone you trust and respect in the organization to critique you. On the converse side, sometimes it’s worth having deliberate body language in order to actually communicate a message. If you want to convey interest and awareness, provide eye contact and lean forward so you convey this interest.”

Adapting to other’s body language

Sandy Summers, technology recruiting manager for the Workforce Talent Initiative at Southeastern Louisiana University, says “Body language interpretation is important. Conversely, you need to realize that everyone is not necessarily like you. Some body language can be misconstrued.” Summers says, “Having consideration for the other person and their situation is important. Just remember, body cues may not always be one hundred percent valid.”

Learning to control your body language, using certain cues to communicate and interpreting other’s body semantics are essential business skills that will serve you well as you adapt to your new career.

Louisiana Economic Development is working with colleges around the state to implement a Campus to Career program targeting the tech industry to help these students combine the proficiencies mastered in college with the essential business skills needed to navigate the workplace. This blog is being produced in conjunction with the debut of the Campus to Career program to share tips and insight from experts on ways to enhance soft skills before entering the workforce. Check out our earlier posts here, here and here and follow along with us in this series for more tips.

Stay tuned for more tips! In the meantime, don’t forget to use Louisiana Job Connection to find that new career, whether you’re a recent college grad or seasoned professional. Apply for jobs today on Louisiana Job Connection!