On self-awareness, body language, and workplace relationships

You have probably come across folks who strongly believe they are awesome at connecting with people, especially colleagues at work. They brag about their “excellent” social skills, but coworkers and colleagues find them to be annoying, aggressive, obnoxious, or difficult to work with. At the core of this lack of self-awareness are two issues – lack of important communication skills needed to foster positive relationships in the workplace and costly assumptions about the needs of others in a relationship. A major, but often overlooked, mode of communication is body language. Yes, your body speaks and conveys subtle messages to others, sometimes louder than your words or actions. It is the non-verbal language we use to communicate with others through body movements, facial expressions, and gestures. Mastering these non-verbal communication skills can give you an edge during job interviews, improve your relationship with coworkers, endear you to your clients, and even improve your social interaction outside the workplace. This is particularly relevant in these days of virtual meetings where your audience don’t get to observe you closely in person. Paying attention to your body and how it communicates with others is crucial to understanding your work environment and fostering positive social relationships.


While I admit that I am not a communication expert, below are a few tips about facial expressions, body movement, and gestures that I am inculcating into my daily interactions with others. 

✅. Put on the smiles.  Smiles and laughter are universal facial expressions that communicate friendliness and warmth. Your smile invokes positive emotions putting people at ease around you and serving as ice breaker when meeting strangers. On the other hand, frowned or gloomy face may project boredom, lack of interest, or stress. 

✅ Maintain eye contact. The eyes, they say, is the window to the soul. When you are in conversation with someone, maintaining a steady eye contact indicates you are listening and focused on the discussion. If you are in a meeting with more than one person, consider moving your gaze to different members of the audience as you communicate your point. Avoiding eye contact while communicating might come across as being dishonest, anxious, lacking self-confidence.

✅ Your posture matters. Your body posture, whether sitting or standing, speaks volumes about your feelings and attitudes. There are hundreds of body postures with different interpretations. Here are a few worth mentioning.

☑. Siting up straight with your chin up conveys self-confidence, focus, and strength.

☑. Shrugged shoulders might convey lack of interest

☑. Crossed arms may connote defensiveness or lack of interest in the subject matter.

☑. Leaning in during a one-on-one conversation suggests you are paying attention to the details being discussed.

☑. A firm handshake while maintaining eye contact projects confidence.


✅ Respect for personal boundaries. Boundaries are physical, emotional, and professional guard rails people put around their lives to maintain a level of safety and comfort when dealing with others . Positive strong relationships are built on being sensitive to the needs and boundaries of others. How well do you respect people’s personal spaces? Are you the type that give unsolicited hugs and pats on the back to colleagues who you don’t have close relationship with? Are you the type that overshares personal information when meeting with people for the first time? Do you contact colleagues outside work hours to discuss work? Not only does violating the personal and professional boundaries of your colleagues makes them uncomfortable around you, it also reflects your lack of personal boundaries and poor judgement.


Finally, it’s important to recognize that societal norms and social expectations vary across cultures and regions of the world. For example, while maintaining eye contact connotes confidence in western cultures, it means arrogance in other cultures. Self-awareness about what obtains in your culture and other regions of the world can help you build professional relationships beyond cultural and geographical boundaries and position you for more career-defining opportunities.