Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of Body Language in the Workplace.
Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of Body Language in the Workplace. Contributed

Impress for career success

COULD the secret to a successful career lay in the way you sit, the chair you choose and the way you hold your hands?

According to Sunshine Coast body language expert Allan Pease it most certainly does.

Other people form up to 90% of their opinion of you in the first four minutes, and 60-80% of the impact you make is non-verbal.

Your approach, your hand gestures, handshake, posture and overall body language will largely decide how well you do at an interview, in your job and determine whether you are promoted or not.

For the past four decades, Allan and his wife Barbara have written and talked about how body language can influence your life.

In their latest book they turn their attention to the workplace.

And it seems the key to getting ahead is more than just meeting deadlines.

Mr Pease explains further the two important factors to remember in the workplace.

“If you mess it up (the first four minutes), it’s very hard to recover from,” Mr Pease said.

This instant judging is hardwired in the brain from our ancestral past, where it was vital to sum up immediately if someone was going to be a threat or not.

“It’s a natural instinct. You might not be able to articulate it but you know instantly if you like someone or not,” he said.

The second thing is that the majority of what you say doesn’t matter, it’s what you do.

This can be a problem with work emails, as without the visual cues certain elements of tone cannot be conveyed.

“People can’t quite tell what you are thinking,” Mr Pease said.

So what does it take to ensure success in an interview or an important meeting?

“The key to winning people over is to be open and nothing about you can be threatening. You need to be well presented with open body language,” Mr Pease said.

One of the worst things you can do is fold your arms, which makes you look either bored and uninterested or defensive.

This behaviour is mimicked in monkeys where they cross their arms to protect their heart, lungs and genitals.

It’s a protection mechanism but it can more hinder than help in the workplace.

“People say ‘but it’s comfortable’. Of course it is, you’re feeling defensive. But in a group situation it makes you look unapproachable and not interested,” he said.

Mr Pease said in group situations, those with crossed arms were likely to be left out.

Whenever talking with your boss or colleagues, Mr Pease said it was important to have open hands and keep your palms up.

This is another mechanism used in the ape world to show they are not holding anything.

It is a slightly submissive gesture but it shows you are open and easy to communicate with.

In terms of how you should dress in an interview, and even in the office, Mr Pease said it was important to dress like you already had the job you want.

“You need to dress how the other person thinks you should dress, not how you think you should dress,” he said.

He recommends observing how those in the position or area you want to work dress, and basing your attire on them.

For women, Mr Pease said dressing was harder and could be fraught with many minefields.

“The less skin you show the better, unless you are in the fashion industry,” he said.

“The more frills you wear the less seriously you will be taken, but the more you will be asked to lunch.”

But he said it was still important to embrace your feminine side and wear make-up.

“In interviews, and at work, women should wear pale or muted lipstick,” Mr Pease writes in his book.

“Research demonstrates that women who wear no lipstick at all in business are seen as more serious about work than men, but lacking in personal skills, while women with muted or pastel colours are seen as career-oriented and businesslike.”

Even talking on the phone, it is important to keep in mind that it is not just what you are saying that counts.

“People who speak faster than you can listen are described as pushy,” he said.

Just like you mirror other’s body language in face-to-face interactions, it is important to match their speed of speech on the phone.”

When emailing, Mr Pease recommends restricting the use of emoticons, smiley faces and exclamation marks especially when emailing men.

“You will be taken less seriously and (it) can work against you.”