Using body language to your advantage

Mention “body language” and there is a tendency to assume it is about reading what others do, but the information you transmit about yourself through your own body language is equally important.

Being aware of your own non-verbal signals can have a significant impact on your success at work. So when you are chatting to a colleague, asking your headteacher for a promotion or explaining something to a pupil, what you do may be far packed with more information than what you say.

Top tips

  • One of the most important things is to come across as friendly and easy to work with. You can do that by smiling, keeping eye contact and being a good listener.
  • When chatting to colleagues, nod to show understanding or approval and to reflect their emotions. If they laugh, try to at least raise a smile. If they express sadness, let your expression become serious.
  • Light contact, such as a touch on the arm, can also show understanding and interest, but obviously you’d need to exercise caution with students.
  • Body mirroring is another way to form positive relationships at work. In any two-way conversation, body mirroring, or subtly mirroring the body position and mannerisms of the other party, can help put people at ease and foster a relaxed atmosphere,” says psychologist Honey Langcaster-James. “If you understand this subtle technique, you can use it to help others feel comfortable and you’ll come across as approachable and pleasant.”
  • Appearing confident is crucial for professional success. When you enter a room, enter with purpose, not sheepishly. When you’re standing, give out a balanced body language by standing straight, feet slightly apart with your weight balanced evenly. Pull the shoulders back and try not to fold your arms, as this is quite a defensive posture.
  • Gestures can be used to make points, but avoid big, wide, gestures, as these can make you seem out of control. Eye contact should be clear, with the head held facing forward, possibly tilted back slightly, but not too much, as this could suggest arrogance.
  • When sitting down don’t hunch up or hug your legs, as this can appear defensive. Men should avoid sitting with their legs apart, as this could be interpreted as rude.

Interview techniques

At an interview you can employ many of the techniques you would use within the school context. Sit straight and avoid crossing legs as this can give the impression of awkward posture.

Fidgeting is a standard sign of nervousness and can be avoided by keeping the hands together in your lap.

That is not to say you can’t use your hands to make gestures, as you become more relaxed - and you don’t want to appear characterless - but be aware that this can slow down your fluency rate and verbal clarity.

Expressing approval by nodding and keeping friendly eye contact are also associated with interview success, as this can help create a rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee.