Workplace Behaviour: how to get ahead
It is well-established that your behaviour and body language can make or break a job interview; a firm handshake, good posture, eye contact and so on. You do everything right and you land the job – happy days. But what next? The way you carry yourself physically and professionally continues to say a lot about you and can either help or hinder your career progression. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your non-verbal communication.
Body language, behaviour, and office politics are very closely linked. Curling up into the foetal position whenever your boss walks in will definitely send the wrong non-verbal cues to your colleagues. Similarly, standing on your desk beating your chest like a silverback gorilla whenever you get a sale probably won’t do you any favours either. Learning how to use non-verbal cues and positive behaviours to advance in the workplace is an important skill in any modern environment.
Everyone knows that a handshake is an important part of the first impression you’ll make with any potential colleague. If you go in too hard, you’ll be seen as a bully with something to prove, but if you go too far in the other direction you’ll be seen as weak. Try to strike a happy medium between the two – and make sure your hands are dry! If you’re at a networking event or party keep your drink in your left hand so that your shaking hand won’t be cold or have any condensation/moisture on it.
It's not strictly body language, but when you’re introduced to someone make a point of saying their name back to them. Not only does this show you were listening, but it will also help you remember their name in the future. While you’re doing this, make plenty of eye contact. It makes you look engaged, trustworthy, and invested in the other person; all of which are important in making sure the interaction ends with a favourable opinion of you.
Your posture says a lot about you and can affect how others perceive you. While you’re sitting at your desk pay attention to what shape your body is making; if your shoulders are slumped or you’re leaning on your elbows you can look stressed, or even bored, which isn’t a good look in the workplace (here are some tips about how to reduce stress at work).
When you’re talking to a colleague make sure you:
- maintain eye contact to show you’re interested in what they’re saying
- keep your arms unfolded to avoid looking confrontational
- stand up straight and put equal weight on both feet to avoid slouching.
There’s a balance to be struck between a posture that is good for your health and one that allows you to be comfortable and relaxed. Your employer is obligated to ensure your work environment is comfortable and safe, so if there’s something you need to improve your wellbeing in work you should talk to your HR department.
If you need help or advice do not hesitate to ask a colleague. There’s an interesting psychological quirk called the “Benjamin Franklin Effect” – Person A tends to think more favourably about Person B after Person B asks Person A for a favour. It makes Person A feel valued, knowledgeable, and useful. We won’t delve into the psychology of this here, but it’s a very useful thing to bear in mind if you’re ever hesitant about approaching a colleague for advice.
Meetings can be boring. You don’t need a blog to tell you that. Learning to deal with boring meetings, however, is an important life skill for any professional. You should look alert and like a productive member of the team. Always ensure you go into any meeting prepared with notes and an agenda – being prepared means you’ll find it significantly easier to contribute positively and make a good impression on your colleagues. If you’re feeling sleepy – another common symptom of meetings – try drinking ice cold water rather than coffee. That should perk you up quicker than waiting for caffeine to take effect.
Socialising with your colleague is important for a happy workplace, cooperation, and can be potentially career-advancing under the right circumstances. This is one arena where behaviour is exceptionally important – the lines between work and ‘real life’ are blurred and the consequences of crossing these lines can be disastrous. Rule number one of social workplace interactions – don’t get drunk. Rule number two is don’t get drunk. As tempting as it may be, whether it’s from pressure to fit in or to ease your anxiety, being drunk around your colleagues is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Know your limits and drink plenty of water between any alcoholic beverages. Remember; work-based social occasions are not the forum to discuss workplace grievances, money, or inter-office politics. Keep your conversations light, casual, and fun.
The workplace can be a difficult place to navigate socially and professionally, but a general rule of thumb to remember is the Golden Rule; treat others as you wish to be treated. Do this and you’ll never go too far wrong. For more advice check out our blogs on happiness in the workplace, how to manage stress, and managing your time.