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4 Essential Business Body Language and Etiquette Tips


business body language and etiquette tips

How can candidates, employees and managers show respect and leadership in the workplace? I have partnered up with Libby Van Vleet, business etiquette expert to bring you the best body language and etiquette tips you can use in the workplace.

Both your manners and your nonverbal communication speak volumes about who you are. Great body language and impeccable etiquette can give you an edge in the business world.

Libby Van Vleet and I have broken down 4 of the essential areas of business to explain how you can use etiquette and body language to get ahead.

1. Mastering the Art of the Handshake: 

The Etiquette, Libby Van Vleet

I recently heard a story about a firm in the hiring process. They had narrowed the applicant pool down to two equally qualified candidates. What was it that broke the tie between the two applicants? Their handshakes. The person with the firm, warm shake who looked the interviewers in the eyes got the job. The runner-up had a limp grip delivered with cold, clammy hands. The employer was looking for a confident, enthusiastic worker and the job winner communicated those qualities in the very quick exchange of a handshake.

Evaluate your own handshake.  It must be neither too limp or bone crushing, but firm. Execute a brief shake, not excessively pumping the other person’s arm.  If you suffer from cold and clammy hands, subtly wipe your hand on your pant leg to present a dry hand.  Be sure to look into the person’s eyes directly as you shake.

Handshaking is appropriate in all kinds of situations: hellos, goodbyes, new acquaintances, congratulations, consolation, and thanking a host at a social event.  So be sure your handshake sends the right message to make a great impression.

The Science, Vanessa Van Edwards

I cannot overemphasize the importance of a handshake. Studies have shown that the amount of rapport you get from a handshake is equivalent to three hours of face to face time. Our brain likes to see and feel another person’s hand because from an evolutionary perspective this was the best way to make sure the other person was a friend, not a foe. If we could see they were not carrying a weapon, we could trust them. Still today, our brains like to see and feel the other person’s hands.

For women especially, it is important to offer your hand when first meeting someone. Men in my seminars have shared with me that they sometimes are unsure if they should shake a woman’s hand and wait for the woman to offer hers. You do not want to miss the opportunity. As Libby mentioned, offer them a straight on, firm, warm shake.

Be sure to keep the handshake straight up and down. Research has shown that if you tip the person’s hand up, it makes you seem submissive and if you tip their hand down it makes you seem aggressive.

2. The Power of Touch:

The Etiquette, Libby Van Vleet

Smiles, handshakes, and spoken greetings are clearly very appropriate in an office setting.  You may celebrate with a close colleague with a quick hug upon receiving good news.  An occasional pat on the arm or shoulder might be acceptable as well.

However, kisses should not be a part of workplace exchanges.  This might be a generational issue.  I know of a “serial kisser” who had nothing but kind intentions when greeting the ladies of the office with a kiss on the cheek.  This may have been acceptable at a time, but this particular smacker ended up facing a sexual harassment case, and has since changed his habits.

The Science, Vanessa Van Edwards

Touch is a powerful tool, but in the office it should definitely be limited to hand, wrist, and upper arm. The occasional pat on the shoulder is also acceptable. The reason that these areas are “safe” areas is that research has shown that the higher up the arm you touch someone, the more intimate the touch. So a double handed handshake is less intimate than a pat on the elbow or upper arm. Keep this in mind when meeting people.

You also want to pay attention to their nonverbal cues at your touch. When you touch their hand or elbow do they flinch or move back? Do they grimace? Or do they smile wider and reciprocate the touch. Some people are very uncomfortable being touched and this will show through their body language.

3. Understanding Spatial Distance:

The Etiquette, Libby Van Vleet

We’ve all been there at some time in our lives.  Slowly taking small steps backwards in an effort to maintain a comfortable “bubble” of space between ourselves and the person encroaching that space.  The close talker!  And then, the terror: we have hit a physical wall behind us.  There is no more room to retreat.

Avoid being this annoying space stealer.  Maintain a minimum distance of two feet apart when interacting with others.  You may choose to lean in to hear a quiet person more clearly, but then back away to speak yourself.  One important consideration may be height differences.  Stand far enough away so that the other person won’t have to look up or down at you.  Allow a person to have their freedom.  You will know if you are violating a person’s comfort level if they keep backing away from you!

The Science, Vanessa Van Edwards

In western cultures there are spatial norms. These are called proxemics. Proxemics is the way we interact with the space around us. In Western cultures the typical appropriate spatial distances are listed for you here:

Intimate relationships – 0 to18” apart

Personal relationships – 18” to 4’ apart

Social relationships – 4’ to 12’ apart

Public – 12’ plus from others

In business environments you want to stay in the social zone or the personal zone if you are sitting or working side by side. If someone comes to close to you, try bending your elbows and clasping your hands out in front of you as a barrier. This expands your personal bubble in a subtle way.

4. The Importance of Posture:

The Etiquette, Libby Van Vleet

Stand up straight!  Slumping and slouching communicate disrespect, laziness, and disinterest in the other person.  Keeping your shoulders back and your head up not only conveys confidence and positivity, it is also better for your health.  You will actually feel better while exuding a great attitude.  Did I mention that good posture makes us all look taller and slimmer?  Good posture will bring you confidence, health, and an improved appearance.

The Science, Vanessa Van Edwards

Good posture is not just for the benefit of others. Standing up straight, taking more space with shoulders back and head up actually produces more testosterone (the strength hormone) than slouching and contracting in.

There was an amazing study done by researchers at Harvard Business School and they had participants come into a lab and split them up into 2 groups. In one group they had them do successful body language—these are expansive poses, great posture poses for 5 minutes. In the other group they had them do unsuccessful body language or defeated body language poses, these are contracted, tightly held arms and legs and low hanging heads also for 5 minutes. They then had these groups go into mock interviews where they had to deliver a speech to evaluators and answer questions. These were videotaped and rated for overall performance, hireability, and presentation quality.

Can you believe that the group that stood in the power poses were rated higher for their speech AND were more likely to be hired. Just standing in successful body language for 5 minutes before an interview effected the outcome of the interview.

When at work stand in expansive poses, head up, shoulders back, feet firmly planted to get yourself in the right mindset.

Communicating your sense of self through manners and body language is an incredibly powerful tool that can set you apart from co-workers and competitors. These easy actions can have impact on your influence, impact and bottom line.

For more etiquette tips, visit the newsletter section of Libby Van Vleet’s website: www.wakefieldetiquette.com.  Libby’s business Wakefield & Wakefield offers programming to help professionals maximize their potential. Refreshetiquette and interpersonal skills to set yourself apart from the competition.

Want to dig deeper into the science of body language? Check out our book Captivate!

Ever wonder what makes people tick? captivate, captivate book, vanessa van edwardsWant to know the hidden forces that drive our behavior? In Vanessa Van Edwards new book Captivate, she explains a simple blueprint for hacking human behavior. In this science packed, anti-boring guide you will learn:

  • The formula for fascinating conversation
  • How to walk into a room full of strangers and make a killer first impression
  • What to do to increase your impact and income using people skills
  • Our strategy for hacking the people code–we call it the matrix (Keanu Reeves not included with each book sale)
  • The art and science of understanding people

Learn the new–science based way for winning friends and influencing people.

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


3 Comments


  1. Dena Dyer

    Very helpful article! I am going to share it with our readers at the work/faith website I help edit for (The High Calling). Thanks for the great advice for professionals.

  2. Pingback: 4 Essential Business Body Language and Etiquette Tips | The Leadership Lab

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