Friday, December 15, 2006

Body language issues

The way you sit communicates a great deal about a whole range of
issues, including how important you think the interview is, how
nervous (or confident) you are, and your understanding of the
underlying power relations. Some people’s sitting position exudes
over-familiarity and even arrogance, whereas others communicate
a serious lack of self-belief.
The golden rules in sitting are: avoid anything that will distract
the interviewer from concentrating upon the content of your answers;
and avoid making the interviewer feel uncomfortable. Interviewers
generally do not feel comfortable if you sit in an aggressive way
(leaning forward too much) or in an overly passive way (leaning
back and crossing your legs at the thighs). In short, good sitting
goes unnoticed by the interviewer. Here are some tips on what you
should avoid:
• Leaning back. Gives the impression that you’re not taking the
interview seriously.
• Crossing your legs at the thighs. Too familiar, especially at the
beginning of an interview.
• Sitting with your legs wide apart. Far too familiar for an interview
situation, and can be both distracting and uncomfortable for the
• Leaning forward too much. May make some interviewers feel
uncomfortable, especially if you’re physically big and talk loudly.
• Slouching. Gives the impression that you’re not taking the inter-
view seriously and will likely slouch in your duties.
Tips on good sitting practice include:
• Straight and upright body. This is a neutral sitting position that
interviewers expect to see.
• Male legs. Males can keep their upper legs facing straight forward
and adopt what is commonly referred to as the starters posi-
tion—that is, the dominant foot flat on the ground with the
other foot having only the front part touching the ground.
• Female legs. Females can cross their legs at the ankles and posi-
tion the legs slightly to one side.
Facial expressions and eye contact
Facial expressions are extremely powerful communicators. If you’re
sitting correctly, the interviewer should spend most of the interview
looking at your face and eyes. The two golden rules of sitting also
apply here: do not do anything that will distract interviewers or
make them feel uncomfortable. Anything that is overdone will almost
certainly give the interviewer pause for concern, whether it be too
much smiling, nodding or eye contact.
During the course of an interview, it is very important to control
your facial expressions, especially if you feel the interview is not
progressing to your satisfaction or you’re hearing something you
don’t like—otherwise you may be communicating unwanted
information to the interviewer.
Failure to control your facial expressions will undermine your
credibility by sending conflicting signals to the interviewer. For
example, say the interviewer suddenly tells you that the job will
include a new and important duty that was not mentioned in the
job ad and your immediate gut feeling reaction is, ‘Oh no I didn’t
prepare for this new duty, and what the hell are they doing changing
the job at this late stage and I know nothing about this new bloody
duty!’ But you say (or try to say), ‘New duty, that’s fine. I’m used
to taking on new duties. I’m a fast learner and enjoy the challenge.’
In this situation there’s a good chance that the terror registered on
your face will undermine your words and leave the interviewer
unconvinced despite a reasonable answer.
Controlling one’s expressions is harder to do than many people
realise. Often our faces work independently of our wishes. And
usually they communicate our deepest (darkest) feelings, which it
may not be in our best interests to reveal. But with a bit of knowledge
and practice we can go a long way towards controlling what our
faces say.
Becoming aware of the communicative power of facial expressions
represents a good start to controlling unwanted communication.
Next time you feel that your face may be communicating something
that you don’t want it to, stop and force yourself to change it. You’ll
probably find it a little awkward at first, but with a bit of perseverance
you should be able to control it at will. With enough practice, it
will become second nature.
If you were standing outside a room seconds away from being invited
in for an interview and I happened to be passing by and you grabbed
me with a desperate look in your eye asking me for one piece of
advice, I would say, ‘Don’t forget to smile’.
Smiling is a highly effective communicator and sends all the
right signals to the interviewer, especially for building rapport.
A smile can often achieve what the best of answers cannot—softening
the interviewer. Very importantly, when you smile at people it usually
makes them feel better, which tends to draw out their better nature—
exactly what you want to be doing at an interview. It also signals
to the interviewer that you have well-developed social skills, are a
nice person and do not suffer from anti-social tendencies. Here are
some tips about smiling:
• Be genuine. Avoid grinning or putting on a forced smile. There’s
nothing worse than someone trying to smile but only succeeding
in demonstrating the art of teeth clenching.
• Don’t overdo it. Overdoing it may run you the risk of appearing
Avoid mimicking the grim-faced interviewer
It is not uncommon to mimic others’ facial expressions (and body
language), even though we often don’t realise we’re doing it. If you
encounter the grim-faced interviewer, try not to fall into the trap
of being grim-faced yourself. This is not as easy as it may sound
because human beings, being what we are, usually require positive
feedback in order to continue behaving in certain ways. In other
words, if you smile and the other person refuses to smile back, there’s
a good chance you will stop smiling. So: do not allow a dour
interviewer to put you off. Stick to your guns and produce your
warmest smiles, no matter what!
Nodding your head
Nodding of the head represents another extremely powerful
communicator. When you nod your head at something, people say
you are telling them that you agree with them, and you do so
without interrupting, which is an ideal rapport-building technique
when the interviewer decides to expound on a topic. But be careful:
as in smiling, the danger with nodding your head is overdoing it.
Eye contact
The key to successful eye contact is avoiding extremes. Overdoing
it can put people off, as can making hardly any eye contact at all.
Staring will almost certainly raise a big question mark about your
social skills. Even worse, it may frighten the interviewer. Not making
enough eye contact will more than likely signal that you lack
confidence and perhaps suffer from low self-esteem issues. Bear in
mind that interviews are largely about imparting impressions. You
may in reality be a confident and outgoing person who enjoys a
great social life, but if you fail to make enough eye contact with the
interviewer, you will probably fail to communicate that reality.
Like so many of the non-verbal communicators, appropriate
levels of eye contact during an interview differ between cultures. It
is important that you ascertain the cultural norm before walking
into an interview.

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