Communicating Without Saying A Word

Whether you’re unemployed and looking for a job or employed, your non-verbal body language is sending out all kinds of information to those within eyesight. What message you’re sending is entirely up to you of course; but pay no attention to ensuring the message you’re sending is the one you want to communicate and your lack of attention to this could harm you in ways you haven’t considered.

Even noticed the difference in how people move when walking? If you’re looking for a low-key but profitable way to spend your lunch hour, sit down with your lunch in a public space and people watch. Follow several passersby’s with your eyes – not just the handsome or cute ones! – and as you do so, be aware of the assumptions you’re making. When you see someone ambling along at a leisurely pace, their hands in their pockets, how do you perceive them? They don’t seem in a hurry to be anywhere.

Contrast the above with the person you see enter your view who is moving at an accelerated pace compared to others around them. They are walking briskly with one arm swinging at their side and the other clutching something that could be a document folder. Their head is up as they walk, looking for the clearest path in front of them, their eyes focused on what’s ahead of them. Again, what’s your brain communicating to you about them with little else to go on?

Did you assign a gender to either of the two examples above? Did you picture the first one with hand in their pockets to be dressed down from the second one hustling from point A to point B? Did you see the first person as enjoying the sunshine, making the most of their personal time on their lunch hour? Of the second, did you picture them still on the clock, obviously not on their lunch even though you’re on yours? Did the brisk walker seem to move with purpose while the ambling, leisurely movement of the first suggest at the moment they were in control of their time and what to do with it?

How you move says a lot to others who likewise make inferences about what you’re doing, your level of activity, the urgency or lack of it in how you’re going about things at the moment.

Now earlier I’d said jokingly that you should look at all people not just the handsome or cute ones. Think on that now though; what is it about how people dress, the way they move, the attention or lack of it that they take to their personal grooming, their facial expressions, etc., that attracts us to them? When we find ourselves drawn to someone do we sometimes also give them positive attributes and think positively about them before they’ve even uttered a word? Similarly, if we find ourselves disinterested or even negatively affected by someone on first sight, do we likewise perceive them negatively before they’ve opened their mouth to speak?

Our body language communicates much about us. We can seem dominant, defiant, submissive, reclusive, introverted, outrageously confident and non-conformist etc. In the clothes we wear, the tattoos and body piercings we may or may not have on display, the attention we put into our makeup, hairstyles, shoes on our feet etc.; everything about us communicates to others.

So all of this is important to acknowledge and understand when it comes to those times in our lives when making impressions on others is important to us. The job interview, meeting the potential in-laws, the date on Saturday night, your appearance in court, your friend’s wedding, the prom, spiritual gatherings, lounging at the golf club or yoga studio; we never stop communicating to others and all of it non-verbal.

The good news of course is that with some thought and attention, we are largely in control of the non-verbal communication we send out, hopeful that it is received by others in the way that is consistent with our intended message. Are you going for, ‘confident’, ‘professional’, ‘casually comfortable and relaxed’? Sometimes of course you may be told in advance how to dress. An invitation to a party might say that formal wear is in or the person setting up the interview over the phone might tell you that business casual is expected.

The best time to put some thought into your clothing and the image you want to communicate to others through your body language is always the same – now! When you know the kind of work you are interested in, you can safely predict with a high degree of accuracy the kind of clothing you’d like for a future interview. Now might be the best time then to get out and get that clothing together while you’re relaxed and not distracted with the pressure and stress of preparing for an actual one in a couple of days.

Be it a skirt or dress, formal suit, shirt and tie, getting things now – or at the very least budgeting now to acquire these items as you can afford them, will pay off when you go to the closet and they are there at the ready.

Remember, you’re in full control of the messages you communicate to others simply by entering their visual proximity. Best to make sure you give some thought now to how you want to be perceived.



Pressure Of Being The Interviewer

Would you like a job where you got 67 resumes, had the time to only interview 7 once and 3 of those a second time, then had to pick the single best candidate and your job would depend on getting it right? Welcome to the life of the job interviewer.

A lot of people these days are quick to talk about the pressure a person is under when applying for work and going in for an interview. While it’s true of course that the applicant is under a certain amount of pressure, very few people talk about the person sitting across the table and the pressure they are under; for yes, the interviewer is under pressure too.

Now you might say that with all the pressure you yourself feel in an interview, the last thing you need is to be distracted thinking about the pressure he or she is feeling! Ah but pausing to think about their situation prior to going in for the interview can actually help you in yours.

First of all there is the overall pressure to pick THE one who is right for the position from all those who apply. You might think this not such a hard task since the people applying can be quickly sorted out as meeting the qualifications or not and then just choosing a winner from a group of winners. Not so. You see everybody is doing there best to LOOK and SOUND like the perfect candidate, so the interviewer is challenged to look beyond what they see and hear to find the right candidate. Hence all the questions they ask. It’s like trying to pick someone out of a police lineup on television  where the detectives always say, “Take your time Mrs. Smith. Make sure you pick the right person.”

To be honest, sometimes the interviewer has to look beyond looks. What I mean is a person may be extremely beautiful or handsome, come across as sweet and very kind, tempting the interviewer to almost want to give them the job so they can have them around. But this isn’t a ‘pick your date’ interview like you’d find in some speed dating service. Human nature being what it is though, looks do influence a person, and that’s why taking your time to look the part is so often given as good advice to applicants.

Good interviewers know that the people they are meeting are also on their best behaviour. Applicants may be biting their tongue and staying silent on some topics that once hired and past probation they will speak their mind on. They know some may have been coached and worse, some may have rehearsed their answers and won’t even answer truthfully but give answers someone has told them to give as the right ones.

So the interviewer is left to read body language in order to pick up on non-verbal cues. As the person answers a question, do they look off to the left and up or down suggesting that the words they are speaking right now are possibly not the entire truth or an outright lie? What about that bouncing left leg that is so distracting, it’s actually making it hard to concentrate on the answers the person is giving!

Feeling for an applicant makes is tough too. So suppose the person is obviously anxious and tells the interviewer that they perform poorly in interviews but that they are quite good at the job itself once hired. This may be well true, and the best of interviewers will do what they can, and say what they can, to put the person at ease to the extent they can in order to see the real person. While an anxious person might just want a chance to prove themselves, an interviewer can hardly hire someone and say to their own boss that they felt sorry for the person and gave them the job!

Why all the pressure on the interviewer at all? Simply put, if interviewers make poor choices themselves, their ability to hire the best talent comes into question and they could lose their own jobs in favour of another person. Understand then that not having all the time they’d like, they have to first select good people from all those resumes (who may or may not have stretched the truth or downright lied), then have to sit face-to-face with applicants and make hard choices.

Now this is all well and good but you’re the one without a job and so it’s hard sitting in your shoes feeling sorry for the person with the good-paying job across from you. So don’t feel sorry for them as much as feel empathy. I know of a few people who in an interview have actually said to the interviewer, “I understand you are under pressure to select the right candidate from all those who apply. So let me help you to come to a decision with confidence. Here’s why I’m the right candidate…”

Of course just reminding that interviewer that you know they are under pressure reminds them of it, and can have the impact of raising your own sense of power a little in the process. Bazinga! There’s a gem for you.

Some interviewers do round one on their own and bring in others for a second look when they’ve narrowed things down. The reason? “Help me make the final choice.” Get this far and you’re almost hired. Your focus should be to impress the new face across from you.




Is It Possible You Don’t Know How To Shake Hands?

Different cultures have different practices for greeting one another upon meeting, and I acknowledge that right up. Whether or not YOU are from a culture that practices this handshaking tradition or not, what is critical in job searching and work life, is that you engage in the practice if the handshake is predominately accepted by the organization and the culture of the community you are working in.

No doubt you would do your homework and learn how to welcome an important person if they were from another country visiting your workplace, or if traveling to their country, you would brief yourself on how to greet and return greetings. Why? Well to show respect for the other person and their traditions of course. This is good manners. You’d hardly say, “Hello Liz” if you were meeting the Queen of England, and you’d be cautioned never to actually touch her either which would be cause for scandal.

So back to the handshake itself and then we’ll look at when to use it. The acceptable practice is to extend your hand and grasp the other person’s hand so the area between your thumb and pointing finger is fully engaged with the same area in the other person’s hand. This communicates and is interpreted as being fully engaged, having nothing to hide and being confident. However, a surprising number of people do variations of this which are interpreted differently.

One style of handshake is to only lightly grasp the other persons fingers from their knuckles to the tips of their fingers. This is not only awkward for the other person who is caught off guard, but it communicates reluctance, lack of confidence, caution, even trepidation. Bottom line is a lack of trust. And almost always the message also passed along is that you’d really rather not shake hands at all. Well, it’s not about you. It’s about the relationship between the two of you and you’re off to a poor start. Even if your reasons are that you don’t want to contaminate yourself with germs, do it anyway and sanitize yourself later away from their view entirely.

The other extreme some go to is the overpowering grip that seems to be a test of who has the stronger grip and can get the other person to winch first. This is a poorly thought out handshake, because instead of conveying power, it conveys a lack of sensitivity to the other person. That crushing handshake can get things off to a poor start if the other person has arthritis, or possibly some other medical situation not immediately obvious. The only thing worse is to violently shake your whole arm at the same time forcing the other persons arm to also be wrung up and down. You’re now bordering on physical abuse!

So why shake hands at all? Well I’ve been told that the practice goes back a long time to when people would meet strangers and people were less trusting. So when you’d meet, you’d want to show the other person you had no concealed weapons, and those you carried on your person weren’t in your hands. As long as they weren’t in your hands, the other person would relax a bit and show you the same in return. The showing of hands progressed to the clasping of hands, and the tradition of shaking hands upon meeting has continued.

Now to who to shake hands with. So let’s say you walk in to a reception area to drop off a resume, or perhaps to announce your arrival to a Receptionist for an interview. Should you shake hands with the Receptionist or not? After all, they won’t be making a decision to interview you or hire you. The answer is that you should. If you walk up, say hello and introduce yourself by name while you smile and extend your hand in a friendly handshake, you’re off to a good start. And just before you leave the building, it’s also wise to repeat the handshake with a, “It was nice meeting you and I hope to see you again.”

You see what you’re really doing is exhibiting good manners, and good manners never go out of style. Keep in mind that beyond just being good manners, you will perhaps be contacting that Receptionist to either get through to the interviewer in a week or so, or you might get information from them as to what they can pass along about the company, the hiring process etc. Why not be memorable and in a good way with that person?

It’s also wise to go through the same introductory process with those that greet you to welcome you to the actual interview, whether it’s a single person or a panel of interviewers. This process shows everyone your confidence and polished manners. And again, there’s more going on here for you. For one thing, your actions slow things down just by a few seconds which in turn gives your brain a chance to connect with each person. And if you are worried that someone on the panel or the lone interviewer might be unfriendly or even distant, it’s harder for them to be this way if you are genuinely friendly and well-mannered.

What would happen if you extended your hand in greeting and it wasn’t returned? Keep smiling, withdraw your hand, and don’t force it. Rather than judge the person as being rude, just assume they haven’t the opportunity to read this blog!

What You Tell About Yourself

On my drive in to work everyday, I pass a number of homes, some of which are century homes, some newer. Despite the age of the actual home itself, the care taken to maintain the home and the property of any home older than a couple of years says a great deal about the people who live there.

I was struck by the appearance of a house this morning especially, and I made the link between the appearance of the home and the job seeker, or in fact, any employee. Let me share this with you and perhaps you can see and learn from the parallel I share – assuming I do it well enough!

The home in question has a fair amount of property around it, and it has some mature trees, a paved driveway, and I’m guessing it would contain 4 or 5 bedrooms as it has a second and third floor. It appears at one time to be have been cared for as the exterior has gingerbread accents on the roof lines, and it has a curved staircase that leads one up to the welcoming front door which is stained oak. While it sounds impressive, I could easily see that some of the gingerbread scrolling is missing and hasn’t been replaced, the gingerbread itself is covered in peeling paint. The curved staircase leading up to the door needs some support work, and the front door needs to be stripped and re-stained as damage from weather has removed the protective finish and started to remove the lustre and shine of the stain. The trees on the property are overgrown and need a good cutting back too.

In other words, what I got from the appearance of the place was at one time someone obviously cared for the place and had made some effort but for whatever reason(s), the place was just being let go and showed a lack of care. Perhaps money was tight due to a drop in income, someone wasn’t physically able to do the work anymore etc. For whatever reason, that home is just not showing itself at it’s best and somebody possibly doesn’t care as much as they once did.

Now to the job seeker or the employed. Can you identify with people you see around you daily, perhaps if we admit it, ourselves from time to time and see the link I”m going to draw with that property? I know of people who are wearing fairly expensive shoes for example, who haven’t polished them in many months. The scuffs are there, perhaps some mud or nick that indicates a lack of attention. Perhaps a favourite shirt that someone wears often has a threadbare collar that indicates it should really be relegated to Saturday in the backyard rather than the workplace. Perhaps the cuffs of the pants are disintegrating from contact with the ground each step, or the back pocket is wearing thin wear the person keeps their wallet.

All of the above indicate perhaps that at one time the person cared for their appearance enough to purchase the clothing but for reasons unknown, has not taken the time or trouble to keep up their appearance. Lack of money, attention, concern etc. could be to blame. There may have been a time when those new shoes got changed out of to nip outside and just pick up the newspaper from the driveway in the rain. If you didn’t you might have wiped off any mud or dirt immediately and given them a good polish from time to time. But as with many things, over time, the shoes didn’t seem all that important or new, and they got less and less of a concern as a result.

The message you are communicating to co-workers, clients, Management, potential employers etc. is entirely up to you to craft. How do you want to be perceived and viewed? There was a Sherlock Holmes episode that I vividly recall now as I write this in which Holmes remarked to Watson about the declining wealth of an apparently well dressed gentleman. In that gentleman’s’ presence, Watson challenges him to explain how he could possibly deduce that from his appearance, and he cites buttons not replaced, a silk handkerchief frayed and not replaced, the lack of care for the shoes etc. There are Holmes-like people all around us checking us out and making judgements and assumptions about our appearance and yes, you do it too with others.

Maybe the time has come to look over your wardrobe and accessories and give your overall appearance a brushing up. Whether you are looking for work, or thinking of a promotion down the road, your appearance and your attention to it (or lack thereof) may be part of how you are perceived for that new job or that new role. A good clue would be to look at those in positions you aspire to and take your cues from how they dress. Then, however they dress, step it slightly up one notch in order to be a good ‘fit’.  Just like a house gets spruced up before going on the market, so should you.