June 21, 2019

Body Language – Truth or Tosh?

As a recruitment company, part of the pastoral element of what we do is to help get candidates prepared for their interviews. We give candidates information on the company, the role, who they’re seeing and where they’re going and the advice carries on throughout the entire interview process. After we’ve done that, we can do little more aside from wait for the phone call.

We’ve heard it all, from the interviewer who fell asleep and started snoring to the candidate who told her interview panel to hold on while she finished a game of Candy Crush, but one thing we don’t talk to our candidates about is body language.

For two reasons.

First, our candidates are grown adults. Telling them not to put their feet on the desk, WhatsApp their mates or spark up a fag seems like overkill. If you need those types of warnings, perhaps the world of work isn’t for you. At least the type of roles we recruit for.

Talking of roles we recruit for, here’s our Vacancies list.

Second, it’s entirely likely that body language is a load of old flannel. Plenty will disagree and that’s OK, but let’s look at some practical tips from Mashable, and then with absolutely no psychoanalytic knowledge of this stuff, let’s try and dissect it for what it really is.

Not for nothing but these tips were offered up by body language experts Dr Lillian Glass, Patti Wood and Tonya Reiman, all of whom have written extensively on the subject.


Truth or Tosh – You/We Decide


Tip 1 – Sit all the way back in your seat

Their reasons: Sit firmly and lean your back straight against the chair. It’s the first thing Glass recommends — an automatic signal of assurance and confidence. If you naturally slouch, pretend there’s a string pulling you up from the crown of your head.

What we say: First off it’s hard to argue against her reasons but we can counter-argue that leaning forward could convey interest. Alternatively you might be struggling to hear if the person opposite you has a quiet voice.

Conclusion: Bit of truth, bit of tosh.

Tip 2 – Don’t go for direct eye contact

Their reasons: Instead, go for ‘direct face contact’ Glass recommends. A more effective way to ensure you look interested and engaged is to look different parts of someone’s face every two seconds, rotating from eyes, to nose, to lips, so you’re never just drilling into the interviewer’s eyes.

What we say: If your eyes are darting around someone’s face every two seconds the person you’re gawping at is going to think you’ve probably been artificially stimulated. Chill out, make eye contact but remember to blink every now and again.

Conclusion: Tosh.

Tip 3 – Use hand gestures while speaking

Their reasons: If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, go ahead and gesture while speaking.

‘When you’re really nervous, you tend to want to hide your hands because they express your anxiety,’ Wood says. Keeping your hands hidden can be misinterpreted as distrustful behaviour.

What we say: Save for any other options, gesticulate wildly? Really? There is a happy medium between gesturing while talking and sitting on your hands so they’re out of sight. Just be natural and do what you always do. The last thing you need is to have your mind on what your hands are doing.

Conclusion: Tosh.

Tip 4 – Show your palms

Their reasons:When your palms are up, it signals honesty and engagement. The limbic brain picks up the positivity, which will make the interviewer comfortable,’ Wood says.

“It’s one of the reasons we shake hands, to show the open palm,” Wood says. “It’s so tied to survival instincts… If we don’t see open palm gestures, it puts us on our guard.”

What we say: Does anyone reading this put their guard up if open palm gestures aren’t immediately obvious when meeting someone? Put it this way, if someone came at you with open palms would you be more or less inclined to stick a quid in their hand and hope they do in fact get a bed for the night?

Conclusion: Tosh.

Tip 5 – Plant your feet on the ground

Their reasons: Wood and Reiman both recommend keeping feet firmly the ground. Women should never cross at the knees, but rather the ankles, “as this allows them to switch if necessary without being obvious.”

There’s also a scientific benefit to keeping your feet grounded.

“It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult to answer highly complex questions unless both of your feet are on the ground,” Wood says. “It has to do with being able to go back and forth easily between the limbic reptilian brain to the neocortex brain.”

In layman’s terms, planted feet can help you go between creative thought and highly complex rational thought.

What we say: Who cares. Plus, unless there is a glass desk between interviewer and interviewee, neither party can see what the feet of the other person are doing. Also, ‘it’s difficult to answer highly complex questions unless both of your feet are on the ground’? They seriously expect us to fall for this guff?

Conclusion: Complete tosh.

Tip 6 – Work on your walk

Their reasons: “Interviewers often make a hiring judgment within the first 10 seconds of meeting you”, Wood says. How you walk into the room is a part of that judgment.

“Shoulders pulled back and neck elongated, each stride should be roughly one to two feet wide,” Reiman says. “Walk directly toward the person you are meeting with every body part pointing in his direction, maintaining eye contact with occasional breaks to the side.”

What we say: Unless you’re a catwalk model or John Travolta at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever when the walk is a key element of the all-round swagger, you don’t need to be working on a walk. Walk how you walk. It’s fair to say that you should be upright and not slouching but aside from that, a prospective employer isn’t going to hire or fire you based on how you enter the room.

Conclusion: Mostly tosh with a sprinkle of truth

Tip 7 – Breathe deeply and speak on the exhale 

Their reasons: One way to soothe interview nerves is to breathe properly. Reiman, Wood and Glass all recommend focusing on breathing as a vital part of the interview process. Glass recommends inhaling when the interviewer asks you a question, then speaking on the exhale, following the air flow.

“Deep breathing engages our parasympathetic reaction, which calms us down,” Reiman says. She recommends taking 10 deep, diaphragmatic breaths before the interview, because it “reduces our heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone level.”

What we say: Yeah, this time they’re right. We all know that deep breathing can help to calm the nerves. No issue with this one.

Conclusion: Truth

Tip 8 – Nod your head while listening

Their reasons: Aside from keeping eye and face contact, nodding your head while listening is an additional way to show attentiveness.

“Nod your head occasionally to let them know you are enjoying and understand what is being said,” Reiman explains.

What we say: Straw-clutching of the highest order. It’s a natural instinct to nod while you’re listening to someone, but what happens if you fundamentally disagree with what they’re saying? You’re not a nodding dog on the parcel shelf of a family car.

Conclusion: Time-wasting tosh

Tip 9 – Lean in 

Their reasons: Leaning in is a natural thing to do when you’re engaged in a conversation, Wood says. Reiman suggests the same — leaning slightly forward (keeping your shoulders back and down, and your chest high) demonstrates interest.

“Your posture is an integral part of your nonverbal conversation.”

What we say: In the first tip they told us to sit all the way back in the chair. Now they’re telling us it’s OK to lean in. They’ve run out of stuff to tell us about body language already so they’ve (surely, purposely) contradicted themselves to see if we’re paying attention.

Conclusion: Utter tosh.

So there we have it. There appears to be something in the ‘science’ of body language but if you want our advice, don’t let it keep you up at night. Let the threat of monsters in your wardrobe do that…

Catch you soon.


The Liquid Team