Is your body language helping you or hurting you?


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.

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout 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.


10 thoughts on “Is your body language helping you or hurting you?”

  1. It was very important information, even though I already knew about it, because in my country Brazil, we also should have this same behavior in interviews especially. It’s always nice to remember.
    But I also think that in everyday life some of these body languages are valid for relationships, for example I don’t particularly like when I talk to a person and she/he avoids looking into my eyes, I become suspicious about that person.
    In a interview we have to be very careful with what we say, what we show with our gestures. I would like to add some tips, such as plant your feet on the ground, It will avoid you shake your legs. Breath deeply before start the interview and trying to keep it properly, avoid breathing breathlessly while talking.
    I’m trying to train speaking english looking in the eyes, I realized that when I want to remember a word, I look to the side and down. I don’t think it’s positive, especially if the employer needs that the employee speaks English fluently.
    (Andrea CLB 7)

  2. This article helps me think about my attitude to others. I think I should more conscientiously try to behave nicely by making eye contact, smiling, leaning forward a little and not fidgeting while listening. These body languages are much easier for me to do than English. Also, they are universal so that anyone could feel mostly the same. It means they would work for the most people that I know. How wonderful, easy, and effective way of being nice to other people they are! If it works, you’ll get several benefit from it such as more friends, feeling so much better, and often getting a job or raising salary. Thank you for sharing this great information!

  3. This article helps me to understand how body language will have me look professional or even worst in the interview.
    First sign is very important on your interview job. Try your best to look professional and confidence. Even you were not interviewed yet, but how you look like its already judged. Make direct eye contact, do not look around or even staring. People might think you do not pay attention or rude. Moreover don’t clicking pen or moving pen around during interview or even in class. Not only annoying, in the same way disturb people around you.
    As a result, good body language can help you to communicate your capabilities on the interview.

  4. I agree to the comment of “75% of a message is what we see”. Even if you say whatever you impress the interviewer, if you don’t dress properly or you look very weak and unhealthy, interviewer cannot trust your words even if they wanted to. Eye contact is very important in both western culture and eastern culture, but a little different. We don’t look into the eyes but instead, when we talk to a boss or elderly person, we learned to look around their tie or neck to be polite. I also learned that western culture accept people to be more aggressive than shy. Especially, my ability of expressing myself with words is not as good as native English speaker, I have to learn how to speak up and show off my strength to the interviewer with positive body language.

  5. It’s not only when you are interviewed for a job, even in everyday conversation, you somehow aware of how your attitude is.

    Therefore, especially during a job interview, we make direct eye contact, lean forward a little while listening. The reason we do these poses because we want to impress interviewer that you are earnest, diligent and a worthwhile person to the company.

    It was important to be seen that you are humble, trainable and flexible in Japan. However, it’s a bit outdated. This entry’s suggestion, body language strategies definitely can be applied in Japan too.

  6. In my opinion based of what I’ve seen from my county or in Asia to Western country people specially works in big company are very careful to carry their actions. In addition well mannered and high educated person too.
    Body lunguage is important like in my country gestures is sign of respect and respect is one thing in team work. So here in Canada eye contact is means a lot , direct contact can tells that person ability and so for appropriate way.

  7. In East Asia, if a person is well-educated, he/she must be very care about his/her image, language(incl. body language)etc.,
    In what ways make the main differences between Western and Eastern people is Western people are more active, direct and enthusiastic. On the contract, we eastern think look straight ahead to others is not polite. That’s different.

    Body languages are more and more important and similiar all over the world. Especially in big companies, peoples who work together maybe comes from everywhere. Using the same language(incl. body language) is an easy way to communicate with each other.

  8. I believe that an eye contact during an interview is the most important thing you can do. It is also seems that you are having an absolutely interesting conversation and you are sharing your knowledge and getting additional information from the company you are applying for.
    If you have butterflies in you stomach during the interview, indeed you are not prepared or studied enough and the interviewer will see quickly. Otherwise, if you are confident, well groomed and know the companies numbers, strategies and values you will be more comfortable to present yourself and how you can fit on the related position.

  9. It’s always good to be reminded that body language matters and the basics of this language.
    Nevertheless I’m surprised nothing is said about the importance of smiling. Furthermore, it’s good to be able to adapt its own body language to the body language of the interviewer. What if he doesn’t accept direct eye contact for example ? Or lean backward when we start to lean forward ? I wouldn’t try to insist if it happens.

  10. Generally speaking, the tips ahead apply to interviews both in western and eastern countries. These rules are what I exactly obeyed when I was in China.

    Keeping eye contact is the key point. It is not polite to avoid direct eye contact during an interview as well as those less important face-to-face conversations. But as English is my second language, sometimes I feel it a little hard to concentrate on the eye contact when I am trying to find the appropriate words to express myself. In this case, it is possible that I looks absentmindedly. I am fully aware of that, and I am try to overcome it.

    In terms of positive body language, What I am going to share is smile. Smile is the effective weapon that can ease the intense atmosphere and give your potential employer good impression. What you need to remind of is that smile is enough and do not laugh, especially laugh loudly, which will be regarded as not professional.

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