We've all heard different interpretations of body language—how someone's unconscious movements can offer a glimpse into the way they are feeling or interacting with you. I recently came across a list, prepared by the American Career Counseling Center of New York City, that gives many of the most common gestures and body movements and what they can mean in a job interview. I thought some of them were questionable but most, in my opinion, were right on the money. Here's the list (with my comments after each item):
- Crossed arms - means that the person is in a defensive and reserved mood. [Sometimes I do this just because I don't know what to do with arms.]
- Crossed arms and legs - means that the person feels very reserved and suspicious. [Or is practicing to be The Human Pretzel the next time the circus comes to town.]
- Open arms and hands - means that the person is open and receptive. [Or is being held at gunpoint.]
- Standing before you with his hands inside the pockets - means he is not sure or feels suspicious. [I have to agree with this one. Nothing says "unprofessional and insecure" better than hands in the pockets when you're in an important conversation.]
- Standing before you with his hands on his hips - means he is receptive and ready to help you out. [I find this to be the case most of the time, except in two instances: 1. You're four, you've just flushed a Lego down the toilet, and your mom's the one standing there with her hands on her hips, and 2. You've playing Yul Brynner's part in your community theater's production of The King and I.]
- Sitting in a chair shaking one of the legs - means he feels nervous and uncomfortable. [Or that Grande Triple Espresso he just had is eviscerating his nervous system.]
- If his eyes are downcast and face turned away - means he is not interested in what you are saying. [Duh!]
- With the palm of the hand holding or stroking his chin - means he is in an evaluating position and being critical. [Or his beard itches.]
- Rubbing or touching his nose when answering a question - means he is not telling the complete truth. [Or his nose itches.]
- Leaning back in his chair with both hands clasped behind his head - means he is in an analytical mood, but it is also a gesture of superiority. [A big Oh Yeah! on this one. One of the most insufferably arrogant people I've ever known adopted this position on a regular basis.]
- If he maintains good eye contact and he smiles in a relaxed and happy way - means he is definitely receptive to you. [True—yay for the for the smiling person who maintains eye contact!]
- Rubbing the back of his head or rubbing or touching the back of his neck - means the conversation is not really interesting. [I am SO guilty of this!]
- If he moves his body and sits with his feet and body pointing towards a door - means he wants to end the conservation and leave the room. [That and if he picks up the phone and says, "I'll be right there!" and the phone didn't even ring.]
I kid the list, but seriously, you might want to pay attention to these types of gestures. You may be able to adjust your own communication style through them.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.