Get Ahead in Your Career by Avoiding These Body Language Mistakes

Working your way up the career ladder can be difficult at the best of times. In some cases, no matter how hard you try you just can’t seem to get ahead. Have you ever thought that finding success goes beyond how much work you do?

The way you carry yourself can give off a multitude of non-verbal signals in the office. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Get out your notepad and prepare to pay attention, as we take you through the body language do’s and don’ts. With our help and guidance, you’ll be running the place in no time.

You won’t believe how common some of these faux pas are.

Crossing Your Arms

Carles Puigdemont


This one sounds kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to do without realizing. You might be prone to doing it while you’re thinking about a serious email you’re about to send, or even while you’re talking to your boss – but think again.

This seemingly innocent gesture actually gives off signals that say “Don’t talk to me, don’t approach me. I’m not in the mood.” While that might be the case (hey, who doesn’t have those days at work) doing it isn’t likely to get you that much-longed for promotion.

Rolling Your Eyes


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Rolling your eyes is one of the worst things you can do while interacting with any human being, anywhere, unless you know them on a deeply personal level and they get your razor-sharp wit and sarcasm.

Rolling your eyes in the office during a meeting or while you’re talking to a co-worker and you’ve basically signed your own death warrant. Jokingly rolling your eyes is one thing, but doing so because you’re annoyed is letting the other person know that frankly, you think they’re a joke. Before you know it, they’ll be gum on your chair.


George Bush

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Hey, we get it – office chairs aren’t the most comfortable things around, especially when you have to sit in one for eight hours a day. They rarely offer the right back support and can cause long-term issues, but despite that, there’s one thing you must never do: Slouch.

You might be really getting into the swing of things, working on that report as if there’s no tomorrow, but your posture at your desk speaks volumes. If you’re sitting in a less-than-professional way that’s more akin to a teenager browsing Facebook, you can bet it’s going to be talked about at your next review.

Not Mirroring Co-Workers

Will Smith and Jessica Chastain

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What does personal grooming have to do with it, you ask? Not that kind of mirroring. This one is pretty basic and if followed, can get you far in life both in and out of your career. Did your mother ever teach you the phrase, “Do to others as others do unto you?” Well, that’s kind of what we’re talking about.

If a co-worker approaches you in a bright and bubbly manner, it’s in your best interest to respond with the same attitude. Similarly, if they want to talk about a serious matter, get your straight-laced face on. If you don’t mirror their attitude, then you’re less likely to connect on the same level. This goes for body language too.

Getting Too Close

Mr Smith Goes to Washington

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We’ve all been there. We’ve asked for help from a colleague or a boss, and before you know it they’re leaning over our shoulders, close enough for us to smell what they’ve had for breakfast. It’s not pleasant for anyone.

Personal space is something we all value. Unless it’s your partner or someone you know on a personal level, getting too close can make others really uncomfortable. If you need to help someone, be respectful of their bubble. Instead of leaning over them, pull up a chair – and ask first. It makes the world of difference.

Watch That Handshake

Donald and Justin

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This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. It’s no secret that your handshake says a lot about your work persona. If you go into an interview and start out with a shake like a wet fish, it’ll be remembered, make no mistake.

Instead, a firm grip can go a long way, stating “I’m here to do my job powerfully and efficiently.” Instead of, “I’m here to do my job and cry in the bathroom at every opportunity.” The secret? Go in for a full grasp, but not a grab – and don’t wipe your hand beforehand. That’s gross.

No Eye Contact

David Cameron

Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Eye contact can be tricky. Looking directly at someone you don’t know that well can feel quite awkward for those of us that are less confident, but progressing in your career is all about having a can-do attitude. No one is going to think you can do what they’re asking when you can’t even look them in the eye.

By making eye contact with someone, you’re letting them know that you’re engaged, ready to listen and mean what you say. You’re confident enough to be challenged and to challenge others. Honestly, it’s a must.

Looking Bored


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Maybe you keep stealing glances at the clock, or quietly scribbling some pictures of your dog on your notepad. Whatever it is, stop it. It’s not big and it’s not clever – and it doesn’t look good.

It’s work, we’re all bored. We all want to be somewhere else, doing something we love rather than something we tolerate but have to. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Even for those of us lucky enough to actually like our jobs, we still have our moments. But, keep it secret, keep it safe.

Sneaking Into A Room

Board Meeting

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Being a couple of minutes late for a meeting isn’t that big of a deal. It happens. You can’t get off the phone or you were stuck in traffic. While it may seem like the least disruptive thing to do is to sneak into the back of the room, it can be damaging.

Instead, make yourself known. We’re not saying you need to break into a rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”, but a simple, “Hello. Sorry, I’m a little late,” goes a long way to showing respect to your bosses and co-workers. Never underestimate the power of language.

“The Fig Leaf”

Fig Leaf.jpg

Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Yeah, we’re not talking about actual figs here, unfortunately. While crossing your arms is a bad move, so is crossing your hands over your groin while casually standing. “Who does that?!” you cry. Quite a lot of us, actually.

Clasping your hands there as your arms make a V is more common than you think, but it looks awkward and defensive. You’re not in a classical painting, so don’t act like one. Really, the idea here is that crossing anything is a bad idea – so don’t do it – unless you’re trying to stay at entry level forever.


Man Leaning

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Hands up if you like a casual lean? Yep, we see you. Leaning on a wall, a chair or a bookshelf might be the done thing when you’re chatting with your friends at the coffee shop or on the phone at home, but doing it at work looks scruffy and uncouth.

By leaning on things you’re saying that you don’t respect your work environment or the person that you’re talking to. The likelihood is that you actually do, but your body language is giving off an entirely different vibe. Stand up tall and hold your ground like the only way is up.

Chewing Your Pen/Biting Your Nails

Queen Elizabeth

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Millions of people the world over bite their nails on a regular basis, whether they’re nervous or simply bored. Any kind of habit that involves putting things into your mouth, like pen chewing, for example, is one of the biggest social faux pas.

For a start, it’s unhygienic and we all know it. Secondly, it says, “I’m nervous, I can’t cope.” Before you know it, people are calling you Nervous Nancy from accounts and people will actively avoid sharing stationary with you. Do yourself a favor and ditch the bad habits now.

Not Smiling

Sharon Osbourne.jpg

Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

You might be run ragged, bouncing from task to task like you’re a rubber ball, stretched so thin that you can actually feel yourself breaking, but ya still gotta smile and show those pearly whites. Yes, it’s tough, but smiling has been scientifically proven to boost your mood.

Not only will it make you happier, but people will be more likely to have a better opinion of you and feel they can ask you for help or approach you if needed. We’re not saying you have to be Little Miss Sunshine 24/7 but believe us when we say that smiling will make your work environment a better place.

Yawning Loudly


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The thing about yawning is that we don’t really know why we do it. Science hasn’t been able to come up with a definitive answer for those long intakes of breath. One thing that has been proven is that yawning is contagious.

You might have a pretty close relationship with those in your office, close enough for you to tilt your head back and give an exaggerated yawn and let them know how late you stayed up last night, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the whole team will be yawning soon. Before you know it, you’ve killed your productivity rate before it has even hit 11 am.

Using Elaborate Hand Gestures

Donald Trump

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We know, you’re sick of what you should and shouldn’t do with your hands, but this is vital information here. Stick with us, kid. While an enthusiastic thumbs up might be your first instinct when your boss gives you an assignment, don’t do it.

Using overly exaggerated gestures like that can come across as childish, indicating that you don’t have a lot of confidence or finesse. It’s all about faking it until you make it in this game, so reel in the goofy thumbs and grins. Save that for your social circle. You’ll thank us when you don’t become a meme.

Looking At Your Watch

Mike Russell Minister

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Sometimes, the most obvious ones are the ones that need pointing out the most. Looking at the time often is something we’re all guilty of, but if you’re constantly eyeing up the time – especially when talking to a co-worker – it can come across as rude.

After all, who wants to be talking to someone when you feel like they’re just waiting to log off for the day, not really interested in a single word you’re saying? That’s the kind of behavior that will get you uninvited to the Christmas drinks, aka a prime networking opportunity.

Hiding Your Hands

Hand Hiding

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There’s a reason why cops scream “Hands up!” when they’re making an arrest. Hands are a powerful tool, not least because of what you could be holding in them. If we can’t see a person’s hands when we’re talking to them, then we automatically feel like they’re hiding something.

Trust is a vital part of any work relationship, so make sure to have your hands on full display when you’re talking. If you don’t, then you’re giving off a signal that you can’t be depended upon. Does anyone want someone like that on their team? The answer is no.

Facing The Opposite Way


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Just like how you carry yourself is important, so is the direction that you face. If you’re sitting at a table with a colleague having a conversation, but your body is pointing away from them, that’s all kinds of wrong. Let us enlighten you.

Having your feet or whole body point away from anyone who is trying to talk to you is deemed plain rude. When someone is taking the time to engage with you, they want full attention. By turning your chair to face them, you’re being respectful of them and of the topic. Do it.

Using Your Phone

Phone User

Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Getty Images

Sure, this is a difficult one, considering that most of us are totally addicted to our smartphones. After all, they do so much for us. While phones can be a brilliant workplace resource, they’re also a hindrance, making us plugged into our emails 24/7.

You might be in the middle of an important chat with a co-worker and hear your email ping, and before you know it you’re looking at your phone instead of the individual, halfheartedly having a conversation while reading the latest report. If you absolutely must grab your phone, excuse yourself first.

Not Nodding or Being Receptive

Jessica Alba

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

When you’re having a serious brainstorming session and all you can think about is how long it is until your lunch break, it can easily show. If one colleague is giving the project their all, then the least you can do is give plentiful nods and encouraging smiles.

It may sound simple, but by simply doing these two things you’re letting the other person know that you’re present and willing to work. If you just sit there in silence and listen, they won’t be truly sure that you’re taking it all in. Be receptive and present. Now go get that promotion!