Work Smarter//

What Your Digital Body Language Says About You

From your posture to your facial expressions, the way you show up on your virtual calls can make a difference.

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All of us get up on the wrong side of the bed once in a while, dreading the workday ahead. Even if you’re like most people working from home, some days can be hard just getting out of your warm, cozy bed after a long weekend or a late night, especially when it’s cold, gray and rainy. Those “start-of-workday” moods stay with us all day long and affect job performance and productivity, according to research. Call center customer service representatives who started each day happy or calm usually stayed that way throughout the day. Those who started the day in a terrible mood didn’t climb out of it, either, and felt even worse by the end of the day—even after interacting with positive customers.

When we start the day with dread, it can make getting through job demands and deadlines more difficult. With the advent of the pandemic, along with the rise of mental health challenges, smiling and optimism don’t come easily nowadays. In the midst of these challenges, however, there’s one question to keep in mind. Do you give off the vibe you’re ready for success?

What Your Body Gestures Reveal To Colleagues

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Clothes don’t make the man,” which is at odds with the mission, “Dress for success.” According to research, the latter wins out. Although you can’t judge someone’s character based on clothing and appearance, we do it all the time in the workplace. One fact psychologists agree on with the magician, The Great Houdini is, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” We’re not always aware of this fact, but the link between how we feel and how we appear influences how clients, co-workers and company honchos perceive us. Facial expressions, small gestures and body posture can spell impending career success or doom—revealing whether we’re cooperative or oppositional, confident or insecure, mild-mannered or hostile or optimistic or pessimistic. The image we project, in turn, plays a significant role in the our career trajectory.

When we smile, co-workers and clients perceive and respond to us in a more positive manner. Smiling also causes colleagues to perceive us as younger than our actual age whereas frowns make us look older. People who smile—versus frown—have lower heart rate and blood pressure and live an average of seven years longer than those who frown. If facial muscles say we’re happy, we’re more likely to experience our jobs and co-workers in a more positive light. And we’re more likely to stand out from the crowd and be chosen for special projects, promotions and pay raises.

Even if you’re wearing a Covid-19 mask, you can’t always hide a bad mood. When Shakespeare said, “Eyes are windows to the soul,” he was on to something, and research bears out that colleagues can read your emotions by interpreting your eye expressions that reveal how you’re feeling. Even your work space gives off information about your potential for career success, according to organizing guru Marie Kondo in a recent Forbes.com interview with me, “a very cluttered work space causes more stress with people, and it tends to lower an employee’s evaluation in the eyes of their peers or bosses. It gives off an image that they can’t handle work tasks as well as a colleague who is much more organized.”

Working ‘As If’ Projects Confidence And Success Potential

The age-old strategy of “acting as if” is a simple, yet powerful tool that says you can lift your workday mood by acting as if you already feel better than you actually do. Here’s how it works. You give yourself to a certain performance as if it’s how you already feel. When you “act as if,” the mood you pretend becomes a reality. Suppose you’re angry toward someone on your team but want to be forgiving. You can start to feel forgiving by acting as if you are forgiving. Perhaps you feel envious of a co-worker’s promotion but want to be happy for her. You can be happy by acting as if you are happy. When you’re down-in-the dumps or have a sour attitude, it’s possible to jump-start a feel-good workday by putting on a happy face and changing your body posture, breathing patterns, muscle tension, gestures, movements, words or vocal tonality.

It may sound too simple to be true, but science backs it up. Groundbreaking research confirms that we feel bad not just because frowning, facial expressions and body posture reflect how we feel, but they contribute to how we feel, making us feel worse and projecting a negative image to fellow professionals. But if you fake it to start, you convince yourself that facing the workday is a piece of cake, act as if it’s true, then feel better and more productive. The act of smiling can trick your mind into happiness and well-being simply by how you move your facial muscles. Research shows when people whose ability to frown is inhibited by cosmetic Botox injections, they’re happier than people who can frown. Another study tested the “pen-in-the-teeth” technique, which forces a smile.The sheer activity of forcing facial muscles to form a smile generated positive emotions and raised moods, plus it caused participants to interpret the facial muscles and body movements of others as more positive.

The same holds true for body posture. Studies at the University of Rochester found when faced with a difficult task, people who sat up straight and crossed their arms persevered at tasks for almost twice as long as the others. Standing tall with shoulders back makes you look confident, plus it makes you feel more confident. Training your body to position itself the way you want to think and feel about yourself before an important interview or meeting adjusts your thoughts and feelings to the way you want them to be. Making body adjustments—pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting up straight, walking in a more expansive way—can pull you out of self-doubt, disappointment or dread and prepare you for almost any workplace challenge.

The Mind-Body Connection

The reason working “as if” works is because of the mind-body connection, which is always revealing to others what you think and feel. When you work “as if,” the rest of you follows suit. Facial expressions influence our emotions by triggering specific neurotransmitters—the brain’s chemical messengers. When we force a smile, it stimulates the amygdala—the emotional brain center, which in turn releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state. When our facial muscles say we’re happy, it tricks the brain into believing it, uplifting us and boosting our mental health.

The body also carries the burden of our emotions. The cells of our body constantly eavesdrop on our thoughts and feelings from the wings of the mind. When we’re doubtful or disappointed about a work challenge, our body goes with the downturn of the feelings and dumps a cocktail of neuropeptides into our bloodstream, making us feel worse in a matter of seconds. As we focus on the negative feeling, we might not realize that we hunch our head or slump when we walk. This body posture not only reflects how we feel but also contributes to how we feel by releasing a chemical surge that creates an internal state, making us come across in a negative way.

A Final Word

Colleagues draw conclusions about us from how we appear. If you want to send a signal that you’re on top of your game and up to the task, you don’t have to walk around with a pen between your teeth. The next time you feel blue or have a sour attitude before a stressful workday or big professional event, facial and body adjustments can jump-start a positive mood. Slumping your body or frowning isn’t an image that says, “I’m confident and up to the task.” Even if you have to fake it to start, pull your shoulders back, hold your body erect, head high and smile. Then notice the difference in how you feel and the image your makeover projects. Acting as if isn’t being phony or fake. It’s about internalizing an emotion that makes you feel good so you can put your best foot forward and project a confident image that benefits your professional career.

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