People, unlike other species, mostly favour their sense of sight.
We are visual; we trust our eyes and rely on what our brain deciphers from the information it receives through vision.
For that reason, communication instructors often mention well-worn statistic about a high percentage of communication being what we see rather than what we hear.
Sometimes it’s 75% of a message is what we see; sometimes as much as 95% is what we see. Regardless of the exact number, we can all agree that we mainly trust what we see, rather than words we hear.
For instance, if I approach a job interview with a bowed head and lowered shoulders, a Canadian interviewer will probably see me as being tired or beaten, even if my words say that I am confident and ready for a challenge. She might want to believe my words, but the image I present forces her to trust what she sees.
Cultural forces are at work here. If I present such body language in an interview in Asia, the interpretation of my interviewer might be more generous: he/she may see me as humble and trainable with lots of potential for future growth.
Because of the huge reliance we humans have on sight and because of our cultural filters on what we perceive, your body language will impact your job search. Here are five well-known ways to make a good body language impression in Canada.
- Make direct eye contact: You have probably heard this before. Look into the eyes of an interview/supervisor as he/she talks to you. You can look away occasionally, but then look back. Many people look down at their hands briefly, then move back up to the eyes. In North American culture, direct eye contact translates to honesty. Without direct eye contact, we fear that something is being hidden and we can’t stop ourselves from getting nervous. Windows are the eyes to the soul, the saying suggests. Open up those windows.
- Lean forward a little while listening: This is one of the components of active listening. North Americans interpret this behaviour as a signal that they are being heard. An occasional nod also helps to show that you are following the topic and in agreement.
- Keep your posture straight, shoulders back: North Americans interpret this body language as a signal of confidence, which is highly valued. It also suggests good health and strength.
- Eliminate distracting body language: Clicking your pen because you’re nervous? That doesn’t help you. If you find yourself doing this, put the pen down or hold it in a different way. Preparing as much as you can before an interview or meeting will be the best defense against nerves.
- Keep your handshake firm: Once again, this will not be a news flash to most of you and this body language isn’t about sight. Yet, I’m always amazed at the number of times I encounter a weak, floppy handshake. The intention might be to communicate gentleness and flexibility, but unfortunately, North Americans don’t reach that conclusion. Instead, they interpret weakness and feel a sense of distrust. Is this logical? No, of course not. But cultural filters come into play quickly and participate in the creation of your impression. Strengthen your handshake to communicate a sense of capability and confidence.
Body language can help you or hurt you in interpersonal circumstances such as interviews and meetings with supervisors or co-workers. Knowing a little about the cultural interpretations of body language helps you to communicate your capabilities in a way that North Americans can understand and perceive positively.
About the Author: Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.