Can Body Language Be Learned?

Photo credit to Adamr

Photo credit to Adamr

Ten minutes after I meet with a coaching client for the first time, the client is facing my video camera for 60 to 90 seconds. Then we watch the video together. Differently from in real life and because we have modern technology, I can separate the impression—and the client’s image—from the spoken words. I simply turn the speakers off so I don’t get influenced by the video’s verbal content and context. This is a powerful experience, one that provides rich information. In most cases a client can use that information for improving job interview skills and then can apply the newly learned skills during a job interview. Most people are awestruck by their video experience. In less than two minutes, people can see for themselves how they’re perceived by others—something they couldn’t have known before.

Albert Mehrabian, currently UCLA professor emeritus of psychology, published his findings on inconsistent communication of feelings and attitudes and on the relative importance of verbal messages and nonverbal messages. He devised what’s known as the 55%-38%-7% rule. Professor Mehrabian’s basic tenet is that when we communicate with other people, we’re being judged to the extent of 55% by our nonverbal behavior such as body language and facial expression, 38% by our tone of voice, and only the remaining 7% by the actual words we speak and their context. Moreover, if the words we use are incongruent with our body language and tonality, then the other person tends to believe more in what he sees and hears and less in the meaning of the words.

When we interview, our body language says a lot about us and about our emotional state; and poor body language often sends the message that we’re stressed or fearful. But even before the interview interaction begins, the interviewer looks at your face, your hair, your clothes, and the image you’re projecting. Thus, he forms an opinion about you before you’ve even had a chance to formally meet.

The interviewer observes your body language and interprets it quickly, knowing at once whether you’re scared, passive, underqualified, or something else. If you say the wrong thing, the interviewer can forgive that, but if your body language says something different from what you actually say—for example, you say you’re a person who works well in stressful situations, but your body language betrays the fact that you’re indeed stressed; or, for another example, you say you’re confident, but your body language again betrays the fact that you’re not—well, those are things an interviewer knows you can’t change.

Following are a few body language mistakes to avoid during a job interview.

  • Crossing your arms, which suggests you’re either overconfident or uncomfortable

·       Lack of eye contact, especially while the interviewer is talking

·       Not smiling, which makes you appear nervous or unfriendly

·       Hiding your hands, because the interviewer will want to interpret how open and honest you are by looking at your hands.

The only way to improve correspondence between the words you say and what your body language says is to prepare for the interview and practice, practice, and practice some more. It’s best to practice interviewing with someone who can point out to you your areas of deficiency and can guide you in making improvements.

While on a job interview, you’re nothing other than an actor onstage. Just think about how much preparation it takes to perform on Broadway.

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