When we communicate with another person, our brain can process more than what's actually being spoken. Our brains are making a comprehensive assessment of the person in front of us, and interpreting the unspoken communication of body language is part of that assessment.
Likewise, the movements you make are automatically being processed by the people you interact with. Body language may be responsible for a large percentage of the overall impression we make. Unless you've made it a practice to control your unconscious movements when you're in the presence of other people, you may be doing things that could leave a negative impression.
Here are some body language mistakes you may be making around the office.
Avoiding Eye Contact
Not making eye contact can leave a bad impression. It may signal a lack of confidence, trustworthiness or knowledge about your subject matter—and it can be unprofessional. Making and maintaining direct eye contact for at least three seconds when making a point can connect you with your audience.
Maintaining Overly Strong Eye Contact
Just as avoiding eye contact can be perceived negatively, overly intense eye contact may give people the impression you're trying to control or even intimidate them. Consider breaking eye contact after three seconds by looking to the side of the person’s head (don't look down).
Rolling Your Eyes
This can put off anyone on the receiving end of it. If you're in the habit of doing this, you should stop now. It may show that you don’t value or agree with what's being said, but in a way that's rude and unprofessional. At the end of the day, it can do serious damage.
Crossing Your Arms
This is a defensive posture that can put a barrier between you and the people you're addressing. It can be perceived as not being open, thereby limiting interactions.
Watching the Clock
If you check the time regularly out of habit, take your watch off or cover it up if need be. This may be perceived as showing disinterest, wanting to leave, not valuing the people who are present and disregarding what's taking place at the moment.
Having Bad Posture
Bad posture can be interpreted in a variety of ways, most of them negative. You should stand or sit up straight with your head held high, particularly when you're addressing someone or someone is addressing you. Slouching with drooped neck and shoulders can signal a lack of confidence and weakness, and also come across as uninterested.
—Anita Campbell, CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
Having a Weak Handshake
A firm handshake can show confidence and that you're ready to engage the person, while a weak handshake can show lack of interest, confidence and enthusiasm.
Using Uncontrolled Gestures
If your hands are flying all over the place when you talk, they can become the center of attention. This body language may come across as desperate and also imply that things are not as they are. Controlled movements can place the attention squarely where it should be—on what you're saying.
Not Facing People
By not facing people, you may be signaling that you don’t value their input, which is disrespectful. Show respect by facing the person you're talking to, or who's talking to you.
Exaggerated Facial Expressions
Exaggerated facial expressions and nodding can be easily misinterpreted. Use words to agree or disagree with a person. If you have a point to make, say what you mean instead of nodding, shaking your head or shrugging your shoulders.
Tapping your feet, fingers, twirling your hair or just making repeated movements for no reason can signal anxiety. It may give the impression that you're uncomfortable with what's taking place or that you're in hurry to get out of there.
Checking Your Fingernails
This body language is a sign that you're bored and not interested in being there. Place your hands on your lap or at your side and put your undivided attention where it belongs.
A scowl can signal that you don’t agree and you're angry or upset. This could be your permanent resting expression, but if people don’t know this about you, it can be off-putting and make you appear disapproving of anything and everything. Smiling, on the other hand, can put people at ease and leave a positive impression.
Getting Too Close
This can be a clear violation of personal space. If you get closer than one and a half feet, it tends to make people very uncomfortable and can be seen as a sign of intimidation and aggression.
Holding Things in Front
Even when the item is essential to the conversation, you should limit the amount of time it comes between you and your audience. Either hold it to your side, or place it back where you got it. Having it in front of you can indicate you're not comfortable and that you're hiding.
Continually picking lint from your clothes is an action that can show indifference and a lack of respect. Whether it is a bad habit or your clothes need to be cleaned, you should avoid this.
Stroking Your Chin
Body language such as this, in most instances, can be perceived as being judgmental. Again, keep your hands out of the picture and firmly placed on your lap or at your side.
Narrowing Your Eyes
You might narrow your eyes when concentrating on something, but to the people around you, it can be misinterpreted as anger.
Having a Fake Smile
It can be easy to recognize a forced smile, which may be interpreted as being deceptive, inauthentic and not genuine. It's probably better to not smile at all instead of feigning and forcing a smile.
Scratching Your Head
This body language is an indicator of doubt, especially if it's done in conjunction with a facial expression. Once more, keep your hands on your lap or at your side.
Before you leave for work each day, make sure you're comfortable in your clothes. Continually adjusting your collar or clothing can indicate you're nervous and uncomfortable.
Blinking Too Much
Blinking too much is body language that can signal anxiety and nervousness. And since eye contact is an important part of effective communication, this can become noticeable and distracting to others and, in turn, make you self-conscious once you notice that they're distracted.
Sitting on the Edge of Your Seat
When you take a seat, sit all the way back in it and rest, so your posture is straight, relaxed and comfortable. This can show you're confident, while sitting on the edge of your seat tends to make others less comfortable.
Stepping back when waiting for a decision can show doubt and insecurity. By standing your ground, you can show confidence in what you're presenting.
While you don't have to smile, doing so can put everyone at ease. If you're someone who rarely smiles, you may be leaving room for negative interpretations and receive less engagement from others as a result.
Whether your body language is deliberate or out of habit, if you don’t know what it means, it can negatively impact communication, messages you're attempting to deliver and conversations you're attempting to have. Your attitude, the attitude of others toward you and even business opportunities can be negatively impacted as well.
Knowing the difference between positive body language versus body language mistakes leaves less to chance. If you catch yourself exhibiting any of the body language mistakes above, you can change them—all it takes is awareness and a bit of deliberate self-control.
Read more articles about leadership skills.
A version of this article was originally published on November 16, 2015.