Can Body Language Improve Office Relationships?

Is your body language helping you or hurting you at the office? Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, shows you how to make sure it helps.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #321

Do you ever wonder how you’re perceived by your coworkers? Do you feel that you’re not as respected as you’d like to be? I’d like to go over a few common behaviors that you can adjust to improve the situation.

First, does your pitch rise at the end of your sentence, even when you aren’t asking a question? (Women tend to do this more than men.) This is called uptalk, and it's a habit that suggests to your listeners you’re not confident and perhaps maybe even a little ditzy. At the very least, it suggests that what you are stating is a question, rather than a statement, which then sometimes leads to an awkward pause becuase your listener isn't quite sure how to react (thinking, "Was that a question or not?")

To overcome this habit, it's important to first become aware of when you do it. Ask a friend or colleague to tell you every time your voice rises at the end of the sentence (that isn't a question). Or better yet, record yourself and listen back. Mark down every time you end a sentence or thought with an unwarranted uptick. Once you are able to hear it in your speech, it becomes much easier to correct. With a little practice, you will overcome this habit and soon sound much more confident. 

Next, watch what you’re doing with your hands. Many women twirl their hair or play with jewelry, while men often put their hands in their pockets. These can be perceived as a nervous habit or possibly even flirtatious or aloof. In most office situations, you wouldn’t want to send those messages.  

By the way, a woman’s hair and nails can also sometimes be a distraction at the office. A friend of mine was fresh out of college and working at a major firm. She had long, beautiful, blonde hair and long beautifully manicured nails. Though she usually kept her hair up, one day she wore it down and left on the red nail polish from the night before. An executive woman in the office pulled her aside and said, “A word of advice: keep your hair up and use clear nail polish. You don’t want to be known as ‘the girl with the hair and nails.” That was the only warning she needed.

Some gestures can be distracting, however, we naturally use gestures to support our thoughts and ideas, to strengthen our messages. It is important to be aware of common gestures that we may be unconsciously using to understand our impact on others (and ourselves). For example, our hand gestures communicate quite a bit of information. Specifically, if you want to appear open and honest—to have more influence—occasionally extend your hands and rotate your palms up at about a 45-degree angle (sometimes referred to as "the Jesus pose"). To show you're absolutely certain, turn your palms down. When you want to show you’re being precise, bring your fingertips together. These simple movements will help you have something to do with your hands while sending positive messages. Just be sure your gestures are natural and not forced. 


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.