How your gestures and expressions can keep you ahead
Summer is a tough time for business, so if you’re having difficulties getting a new job, scoring a promotion or boosting turnover, it may be your body language that’s letting you down. UAE body language expert Debra Tallis says that up to 60 per cent of our communication is non-verbal, so if you make sure your handshake, eye contact or posture are right for the workplace you’re in, you can leave an even more positive impression than just saying the right thing.
‘How to read and recognise body language is crucial, as is knowing how to make a positive first impression,’ says Debra. ‘You only get one chance, so if you’re going for an interview, or it’s your first day at a new job, you should think about how to present yourself, how to walk into a room, how to sit and how to dress.’
It’s particularly important for expats to be aware of their body language when working in a multicultural society, because what is seen as confident or modest in one culture could come across as aggressive or timid in another. ‘People who move to the Gulf need to realise there can be different connotations to their gestures and movements that they may not initially be aware of,’ explains Debra. For example, putting your hands in your pockets during a business meeting in the UAE is a big no-no. ‘This is regarded differently here to elsewhere in the Middle East and in Europe, and some people have told me it’s seen as a sign of disrespect. I wouldn’t like to go that far, but it certainly looks too casual and a little rude in a business meeting here.’
It’s just as important to be able to read the body language of those from other cultures correctly. Locals often use the ‘shwei shwei’ gesture, which means wait a moment. The palm is upright and all four fingers touch the thumb, with a pulling down motion. ‘Westerners perceive this gesture as being quite brusque, but really it’s not meant to be impolite at all. In fact, it’s seen as much more polite here than the equivalent western gesture of ‘stop’ with your palm facing the other person.’
An overly long or too vigorous handshake is also something to avoid, particularly if you’re a female in a business meeting with Emirati men, says Debra. ‘Lingering over the handshake, or using a vigorous, two-hand grip is a bad idea. Women should also consider the kind of eye contact they make. It’s natural that your eyes make a triangle, making eye contact with someone while they’re talking, then looking at the mouth and back at the eyes. I certainly wouldn’t avoid that, but I wouldn’t stare at one person for too long. Instead I’d make eye contact briefly, listen and nod and smile appropriately – a small smile, not a big grin – then look down, around the room, or at other people’
Body position and posture is also very important. Folding your arms is considered a closed gesture almost across the board, advises Debra. ‘Most people are aware of this these days. We all do it quite naturally, because it’s comforting, but it does have negative connotations. You should also avoid clenching your fist or turning your hands over; both of these are signs of nervousness.’
If you want to stop yourself giving the game away through these motions, she recommends trying some relaxation exercises before a big meeting or interview. ‘You can shake your hands out, then hold them together loosely in front of you. It helps if you have a folder to hold too.’
However, she says it’s not easy to fake good body language. ‘What you can do is learn it and practise it until it’s familiar to you. Then you’ll feel more confident as you assume the positive body language and will definitely get better results in how people react to you.’ Debra Tallis is a trainer at Spearhead Training. To find out more about personal development courses, including Brilliant Body Language, see www.spearhead-training.com
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Aziz Jul 08, 2011 08:15 pm
Well, firstly thanks for the informative article, i found it especially useful and interesting for me as im a fresh graduate (now holder of Bachelor degree in Aeronautical Engineering) and iam currently looking for a job. i feel the issue of body language is not being familiarized with people as much as it should be in this region, i dont know maybe there are things that i dont know about taking place, but in general i feel people lack information and awareness about it.. im happy to hear that there is related training at the institute mentioned in the article, and hope to always hear about more and more.. Anyway i wish everybody great luck finding a job or achieving something that will lead them to a promotion.