Non-Verbal Cues, Soft Skills, Communication, Interpersonal Skills, First Impressions, Body Language
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 14 December 2016
Non-Verbal Cues: Don't Let Any-body Ruin Your Success
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Michael Olson

Non-verbal cues are a lot more important than you think!  Yes, you have to look for the typical body language like folding your arms, but what about everything else?  This could include distance, timing, touch, or even the frequency of your blinking.  Let’s be real, we just want to know how to not screw up an interview, company dinner, or even meeting your SO’s parents. 


First thing: Pay Attention!

You’re never going to know how to react or what went wrong if you don’t catch the nonverbal cues in the first place.  You have to be watching and listening at all times.  Pretend you’re a secret agent infiltrating the enemy’s inner circle and you have to learn as much as you can.  

If you’re going to interview for a position, there is a lot you can do in preparation so that your nonverbals don’t betray you and so that you’re ready to capitalize on the interviewer’s nonverbals as well.   

  1. Dress wellLook good, feel good, play good.  If it works in sports, it’ll work for you.
  2. Don’t fidget or try to comfort yourself.  Clasping your hands together, patting your legs, touching your face, and wrapping your legs around the chair.  These are all signs you are uncomfortable and unconfident.  Body Language is just as important as what you say! 
  3. Practice!  If it’s an interview or company dinner, you can practice.  Keep track of your hand gestures, how close you lean in when talking to someone, and how quickly you respond to people.  
  4. Research! Who is interviewing you?  What does that company do and how long have they been in business?  What genuine questions do you have about that company or individual?

All these preparations will make you more confident (read more here about confidence!) and self-assured.  This will help you impress everyone and help you notice others’ nonverbals because you’ve been practicing yours! Want more examples of non-verbal cues? Here is a list of 10 non-verbal cues that will help you convey confidence at work

Every situation is different, you might carry yourself differently in an interview than running into your boss in the bathroom (or elevator).  Don’t ever be nervous!  Any contact is an opportunity to impress!  Things to watch for in their nonverbals:


  1. Are they interested in you? Is the person you’re communicating with focused solely on you or are they trying to multitask at the same time?  This is a hard one to fix but you want them to be paying attention to only you. During an interview, they’ll be good at focusing on you but during other interactions, they could be distracted.  People are busy!  Be prepared with something relevant and interesting to say or do to bring back their focus, and always give them your undivided attention!
  2. Watch their facial expressions.  Almost anyone can tell if someone is tired or annoyed just by looking at them.  In a professional setting, most people are practiced at being upbeat and positive, but even your boss has bad days and gets frustrated with people at work.  Be aware of this and quickly deduce their mood based on tone of voice and expression.  If they are happy, take advantage and tell them about something good you’ve been working on, or a success you’ve recently had.  This relates their happy mood with you.  If they are in a negative mood, you need to tread carefully.  Remember that your superior doesn’t need your help solving problems without an invitation.  Give them a smile and double your work for the rest of the day.  They will notice!
  3. How are they positioned, postured?  Watching how someone leans can tell you more than their biography sometimes. Leaning in means they are interested while leaning back means they are likely bored or uninterested.  How a person leans can also be a response to the person and not the topic, people tend to lean away from those they dislike and lean towards those they enjoy.  The typical advice here is to mimic the other person’s posture.  Lean in when they do, and relax when they do.  After you mimic them for a while, they will start to lean and relax as you do, giving you the upper hand!  Be careful not to completely copy-cat someone.  If you reflect their exact movements they’ll notice and get creeped out real quick.  Take on their posture generally and it’ll help you connect with them better.  
  4. Hand gestures!  This is the one you can read endless articles on.  Most professionals have good control over what they use their hands for, but watch out for folded arms and waving hands while you are interacting.  You want people to feel relaxed and confident in your presence. Make a great first impression with a positive and engaging handshake. Folded arms and waving off comments are negative gestures.   


Remember that humans - that’s us -  can create over 5,000 distinct hand gestures, 250,000 facial expressions, and 1,000 different postures.  You’re not going to become an expert overnight and you don’t have to! Just be aware and pay attention, most people starting their careers aren’t even doing that.  You’ll do great!  

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