Career Network for student Scientists and Postdocs at Yale

Creating a platform for discussion of scientific careers

What Does Your Body Language Say About You?

Networking is all about communication. This usually involves speaking with someone you’ve just met, and of course, everything you say is verbally communicated to your new network connection, but have you ever thought about what else you may be communicating to them non-verbally??

Believe it or not, our body language actually conveys more information than what we say. About 90% of all communication is non-verbal.

So what messages are you sending with your body language? These are important considerations…

Simple things can completely turn others away from you or give them a negative impression of you. In many cases, we are unaware of how we are offending our new contacts. So let us highlight a few key non-verbal cues that can make a big difference in your new contact’s perception of you.


1) Smile!

We’ve emphasized this before (and we’ll continue to emphasize it because it’s SO important), but you should always smile! ALWAYS!

Why? Because smiling puts others at ease. Imagine if you met someone for the first time and they gave you a stone-cold expression or scowled at you throughout the entire conversation. Would you be comfortable speaking to them at length? Or would you feel slightly uncomfortable, trying to figure out if they are mad at you or just generally angry at the world? Most people would try to escape any conversation with that person as fast as possible!

On the contrary, if someone is smiling during your conversation with them, it’s probably a more pleasant experience. You may be more able to laugh at certain comments and share a mutual interest in something. In general the conversation takes on a less serious, more relaxed, and more light-hearted tone. This makes the person appear more inviting, and you may want to get to know them a little better.

Additionally, smiling is a great way to garner trust from someone. Think about it… it’s a lot easier to trust someone who seems happy and genuine, isn’t it? Exactly. So, by smiling more, you send the impression that you are helpful, compassionate, and real instead of an aggressive, sketchy slimeball who might be trying to use the other person to get ahead in their career.

So smile. It’s that simple. Smiling goes a long way in making a good impression on someone.


2) Check Your Chin Angle.

Unless you are incredibly short, lifting your chin slightly inherently causes you to close your eyes a little to continue looking at the person you’re talking to. This creates an air or an impression that you are better than the other person because it appears as though you are looking down on them.

Thus, a lifted chin is associated with a message of condescension, and no ones likes to feel belittled in a conversation. So be sure that you aren’t doing this to other people! If someone feels as though you feel you are better than they are (and that you have apparently made this assumption with very little information about them!), they will not think very highly of you at all. Instead, they will be very put off by you, and they probably won’t want to talk to you much longer.

In contrast, if you keep your chin horizontal, this subtly puts you and the other person on a more equal playing field. It doesn’t convey an exalted ego, nor does it insinuate that you are a lesser person than the other (as would be the case if your chin was dropped and held very close to your chest, causing you to look up at the other person). Keeping things neutral in an indirect way is key.

If you want to take this one step further, a slight tilt of the head to the left or the right additionally sends a more relaxed, casual vibe, as if you are letting loose a tiny bit instead of holding your head straight and stiff. Casual and inviting without projecting a superior or inferior attitude is what you should strive for here.


3) Angle Your Body, too.

Just as your chin angle can say a lot about what you’re thinking, your body angle can send similar messages.

Standing at a full frontal can be viewed as a very intimidating and aggressive move. If someone is perfectly squared off with you – shoulders completely parallel to yours – standing right in front of you, it can appear as though they are on the attack. No one wants anyone to come at them during a networking reception, nor do they want to feel like they are being cornered with no way out.

Avoid this discreetly aggressive stance by angling your body. Don’t stand with your shoulders parallel to theirs. Stand at an angle. Try to create an obtuse angle with your shoulders and theirs. This creates a more open feeling, and if they absolutely needed to, they could excuse themselves from the conversation much more easily than if you were standing square in front of them, blocking their way. Angling your body makes them feel less trapped and you aren’t perceived as aggressive in the conversation.

In addition to appearing more relaxed and casual, the added benefit of this openness between you and the other person is that it allows other people to seamlessly join the conversation while the two of you are talking, which can lead to more networking opportunities than you originally bargained for! 🙂


4) Keep Your Palms Up.

When using your hands as you’re talking, be sure that your palms are up. This suggests that you are open to their thoughts and ideas and that you are (again) more relaxed and casual.

The opposite – speaking with your palms pointed down – can be perceived as a lecture, as if you’re scolding someone. Think about how your parents spoke to you when you were in trouble… Their palms were probably facing downwards as they ordered you to “Go think about what you did!” They may have shaken a finger at you and pointed to a mess you made, all while their hands faced down. Or think about someone who adamantly opposes a proposed idea. As they say, “No way!” they probably have their palms down and their hands and arms are most likely moving in a side-to-side manner.

Every instance of palms facing down towards the floor is associated with more stern manners of talking. Thus, having your palms down comes across as very demonstrative, authoritative, and – at times – aggressive and intimidating. Avoid sending these signals by keeping your palms facing upwards. This way you’ll appear more open and casual.


5) Pay Attention to Your Eyebrows.

During the conversation, your facial expressions can indicate exactly what you think about something the other person said, and if your words don’t match the look on your face, it really doesn’t matter what you say next, they already know your true opinions.

Additionally, these looks can be offensive at times. Imagine that the other person has said something that you feel is incredibly stupid. The natural, and almost involuntary, reaction is to scrunch your eyebrows in an “are you serious?” tone. You may be able to catch yourself and actually say something nice, but the damage has already been done. They know you think it’s a stupid idea. Alternatively, if you raise your eyebrows in an inspired/inquisitive manner (regardless of what you actually think of the idea), this makes the other person feel good about the conversation/their idea.

You’re welcome to have your own opinions, of course, but when trying to network and make new connections, it’s best to avoid accidently offending the other person.

So pay attention to what your eyebrows are doing. Any kind of raised eyebrow expression is perceived as more open, inviting, and comforting to the other person, whereas anything that causes your eyebrows to scrunch into an angry or confused look suggests that you don’t think highly of the other person in some capacity… in which case, the conversation likely won’t end well. So think uplifting and positive thoughts!

A big hint here… It’s very hard to have angry or scrunched eyebrows when you’re smiling. So, back to point #1, ALWAYS SMILE! 🙂


These are five simple non-verbal means of communication, and considering that 90% of what we communicate is sent via non-verbal cues, it’s important to pay attention to things like chin and body angles, your hands, and your facial expressions. Be sure that you aren’t turning away a potential network connection and a great opportunity by accidentally offending someone with your non-verbals.

You want your body language to complement what you’re actually saying. Strive to communicate a cohesive message and preferably one that is open and inviting, casual and non-judgmental, so that you leave your new network connection with a ‘good feeling’ about you. 🙂


** Let us know of any other non-verbal cues that you think are particularly important! **

Share your thoughts below by clicking the “Leave a Reply” link or by clicking the chat bubble in the top right of the post.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 Comment

  1. School of Communications and Business

    November 10, 2016 at 2:53 am

    Your exposure to many new things and we are grateful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.