It is well understood that we communicate with much more than just our words. Our nonverbal communication, or body language, exhibits a large aspect of the message we send. This includes our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, and even our voice inflection. These are all critical for our message delivery and often says more than our words do. While face-to-face or over Zoom with a customer or client, we want to appear attentive, focused, and engaged. Here are six body movements to AVOID while engaging with others when trying to express interest in a conversation.
Slouching. When we appear to be sitting up straight, we are better perceived to be interested and paying attention. When we slouch, we are sure to send the opposite message and are letting our audience know that we don’t care much about what they have to say.
They may assume that you are bored, not focused, or worse yet—that they are not very important to you. Dale Carnegie’s 6th Human Relations principle is to Make the person feel important and do so sincerely. So sit up straight and save your slouching for after-hours!
Fidgeting or drumming your fingers. Not only are these irritating and obnoxious to witness, but they are also often interpreted by others as simply not wanting to be where you are. Unfortunately, these movements are sometimes unconscious habits that need to be addressed with a conscious effort not to present yourself in a negative or too carefree way.
Movements such as tapping your foot or drumming your fingers are distracting and give the impression of impatience.
Avoiding eye contact. One of the first rules of etiquette is to look a person in the eyes when you are talking to them, as it demonstrates respect and confidence. Avoiding eye contact often makes the other person feel uncomfortable. It gives the impression of untrustworthiness, unsureness, or having something to hide. Finding the right balance between staring too much and not looking at the person at all is essential to avoid awkward conversations.
Not facing your audience. An essential part to getting your audience’s full attention is remembering to face them. By doing so, you will demonstrate your active listening skills—and you will be able to assess your crowd’s non-verbal communication and adjust your presentation accordingly for maximum success. Not facing your audience can have detrimental consequences to the message you are trying to relay.
Checking your phone or email. One of the biggest pet peeves of prospects, clients, and colleagues is when a person is nose-down in their smartphone or laptop. Dale Carnegie’s 7th principle is to Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Paying undivided attention to the speaker demonstrates respect, and responding kindly shows empathy—reinforcing trust. In today’s highly and easily accessible online world, it is important to make a conscious effort to save this for times when you are not engaging with people directly.
Watching the clock. Checking the clock or your watch multiple times during a meeting says, “I cannot wait to get out of here,” to your contact. Dale Carnegie’s 4th Human Relations principle is to Become genuinely interested in other people. If you are so concerned with the time, your audience naturally surmises that you would rather be somewhere else, with someone else. Resist the urge to check the time until you are sure no one is watching.
Your nonverbal communication cues—the way you listen, look, move, and react—tell the person you’re communicating with whether or not you care, if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening. When your nonverbal signals match your words, it increases trust, clarity, and rapport. When your actions and words don’t correlate, they can generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.
If you want to become a better communicator, it’s important to become more sensitive not only to the body language and nonverbal cues of others but also to your own.