Did you know that no matter how carefully you choose your words or clothing, there are small behaviors that can sabotage your professional communication? No matter how many times you tweak that PowerPoint presentation to perfection, you can kill the positive message you are trying to convey with bad body language. Here are five ways you may be distracting from the confident, professional image you want to convey, and how to fix each.
1. Avoiding eye contact
Avoiding eye contact can send the message that you lack confidence or have low self-esteem.
If you are looking instead at your phone or laptop while engaged in conversation, you are basically telling others that they are not important.
How to fix it:
When speaking with others, don’t look down at your phone. Close the apps and texts that can distract you. Look at the person you are speaking with and make eye contact, but don’t stare. If it feels awkward or you are staring too intensely, break eye contact every few seconds and look away slightly to the side before shifting back to eye contact. Also, if you are speaking to a group of people, don’t look at one person only. Shift your focus from one person to another throughout your presentation. This will keep everyone engaged. If you feel a bit shy, try looking at the bridge of their nose. It can look like you are looking into their eyes but may be easier for you.
2. Excessive fidgeting
Fidgeting during a conversation or during a meeting can be very distracting for others. Even if you are not aware you’re doing it, it is likely that others in the room are picking up on it.
Some people claim that slight fidgeting during meetings helps them focus better. However, excessive fidgeting, such as shaking your legs or feet so much that others can hear it across the room is different. It can seem that you are agitated or bored. It also might say that you are not comfortable with the conversation and have strong feelings that you are not sharing.
How to fix it:
If you are guilty of excessive fidgeting during meetings, check yourself periodically.
If you find you are fidgeting a lot during a meeting, interrupt the behavior by doing something else instead. If you are fidgeting excessively with your hands (rapping the table with your fingers, for example), clasp your hands together. If you are shaking your legs under the table, cross your legs. It can also help to breathe deeply to relax.
3. Crossing your arms
I am guilty of this one and have heard mixed reviews on this behavior. Some say it makes people seem closed off, while others say it is simply a comfortable position.
Leigh Espy, PMP, SPC, CSM, is the author of “Bad Meetings Happen to Good People: How to Run Meetings That Are Effective, Focused, and Produce Results.” She has over 15 years of project management experience with a primary focus on IT project management and has led multimillion dollar international projects and corporate strategy initiatives. Leigh also coaches and mentors project managers and those making a move to a project management career. You can find out more about Leigh at ProjectBliss and LeighEspy.com. Leigh writes about communication and project methodologies.