Successful People Ignore the "Rules of Body Language"

white goat sticking out tongue

Do you know the “rules” of body language? Maintain eye contact but not for too long (otherwise, creepy). Shoulders back, chin up, no slouching. Do not fold your arms — that reveals discomfort or boredom. Keep your face composed in a perfect mask. Never let ’em see you sweat.

And the number one rule: Whatever your true feelings are, make sure that no one knows. Conceal, conceal, conceal. Emotions are the enemy.

I am not sure who decided that we must follow these rules. Body language is a complex, vital part of communication. In fact, there is evidence that we are born with a body language instinct that allows us to pick up on nonverbal behavior.

I can understand wanting to show your best self. And there are occasions in life that call for a certain level of decorum. But I think it is a mistake to always strictly control your reactions and physical cues.

That is because even if you do try to keep a lid on your true feelings, they will find their way out — one way or another. Not only is it unhealthy to stuff your emotions, doing so creates more barriers to communication. Clamping down on your natural expressiveness makes it even harder to build lasting relationships (and it may even make us less likable.)

At Aha! we live by open communication. Our success depends on it. As a remote team, we rely on video meetings rather than phone calls to communicate.  I think it is important that we see each other’s faces and show how we feel.

It is part of building a team environment that fosters responsiveness and honesty. Trying to decipher someone’s mixed signals will only slow you down.

Body language helps you pick up vital clues. A quizzical look or a tilt of the head may be a sign of unanswered questions. The tell-tale shoulder slump of disappointment is a natural and expected reaction to bad news. These signals can help you be a better leader and strengthen team spirit.

Now I am not saying we should encourage rude nonverbal behavior, such as eye-rolling or a passive-aggressive sigh. Kindness still matters.

But when we can be real with each other, I see that as a healthy sign of trust. And it starts with the leaders in an organization. If you never show your emotions, then the team will not either. People need to see you grinning with joy, throwing your head back in laughter, or even displaying genuine sadness or frustration. 

Outdated workplace myths that force us to cultivate an image of perfect control hurt everyone. Work is hardly perfect or always rational. Our heartfelt reactions and emotions matter.

So let down your guard, and allow your body language to speak the truth of who you are and what you are feeling. Be human. Be yourself. Be excited. Be disappointed. Be caring.

Because life is too short to waste time being someone you are not. And the truth makes us far more interesting people.

How do you see body language play out at work?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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