The planet is just over a month old in this new year, and we’re still in the grips of decaphilia, so we’re celebrating by bringing you another list of 10 for 2010. The topic at hand is what NOT to do in a meeting, whether it’s with a client, prospective client, project team, or future employer. Specifically, we’re touching on body language: those subtle – or, often, not-so-subtle – non-verbal cues that contribute to people’s impression of your intelligence, character and, yes, personal hygiene. Whether you want to land or hold on to that job or client, be professional and garner respect by avoiding these 10 annoying behaviors.
10 | Hair-em Scare-em
Keep your hands out of your lovely locks. You’re not on a date, so don’t be coyly twisting your curls around your fingers. Only if someone is paying you to film a Pantene commercial should you be flipping your tresses this way and that. True story: I was up for a job once when the interviewer got her pen stuck in her overly-hairsprayed, badly-permed mane because she couldn’t leave things alone. She was the head of Human Resources for a very large beverage corporation (seriously), and it was embarrassing for both of us (but mostly her). And before the guys get too cocky, this goes for you as well. We’ve seen plenty of longhaired lads unknowingly impersonate Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Dude!
09 | Oral Arguments
I love to chew gum and crunch on ice as much as the next person, but they are both trashy habits in an office environment. Nothing says “my parents neglected to teach me any manners at all” than those two practices. Wait – I take it back. Slurping your favorite beverage and gnawing on/mining your teeth with a toothpick are also right up there. As are biting your nails and chewing on your lips, trying to peel off dead skin. Hold on – nibbling on your writing utensil deserves a mention as well, especially if it’s not the prized Montblanc that your grandparents bestowed upon you for graduation and that you’ve never lent to anyone. Ever.
08 | Sound Off
Unless you are typing on your laptop taking meeting notes, you should have a cone of non-verbal silence surrounding you that is as big as your radiant aura. Only one click of the pen is needed to ready yourself to put thoughts to paper – any more, and colleagues are going to think you are trying to release poison gas with a pen made by Q for 007. No matter how sparkly, expensive, cutting-edge or cool, don’t amuse yourself with items such as key chains, flash drives, compact mirrors, nail clippers, money clips, or cuff links. No change jingling either. People will just come begging when they’re jonesing for a snack from the vending machine.
07 | Scowl Foul
“It takes 50 facial muscles to make a frown but only 13 to produce a smile!” Though we like this old sentiment, even Snopes questions the validity of well-accepted aphorism. Nevertheless, scowling does nothing to boost your likeability quotient. In fact, grumpiness – even if it’s wrongly perceived – repels others more than the aroma of Vieux Boulogne, the world’s smelliest cheese. Even if you could care less about winning a popularity contest, a consistent negative expression on your pretty mug will lose you promotions, hack off clients, and generally make you a walking pariah with whom no one wants to interact, not to mention work.
06 | Fidgets & Digits
Hummingbirds, puppies and two-year-olds are allowed to scamper about as much as they want, but, of course, they aren’t working on building a career. Therefore, unless you fall into one of those three categories, enough with the nervous, fidgety movements already. Tapping or drumming your fingers creates the sense of impatience, rocking back and forth makes you seem like Rain Man, and swinging your legs puts you on par with an 11-year-old girl. Even swiveling a foot can get you into trouble. True story: I exhaustedly rotated my ankle often on a flight from Chicago to Dallas, and the creepy guy beside me thought I was coming on to him. Ewww. Not the message I wanted to convey.
05 | Loosen Up
If your body is rigid, then you’re doing it wrong. Unconsciously imitating C-3PO’s taut gesticulations exudes awkwardness and a lack of self-confidence, not to mention it makes you look like a dork with the emotional intelligence of an English pea. The world – in and out of the workplace – is social, and you need to learn how to be a social animal, even it doesn’t come naturally to you. People who are both physically and verbally stiff seem frightened by their own existence and, consequently, make others uncomfortable too. So get your hands out of your pockets, unlock your knees, take a deep breath, and relax a little.
04 | Your Mother Was Right
Even though you need to loosen up your body, it doesn’t give you carte blanche to slouch. Only in the case of genius does anyone take a slob seriously, so sit up and stand up straight. Your poise will imbue a sense of respect and calm in others, and (bonus!) you will look at least an inch taller. Be careful about presenting yourself as too self-assured, though. Done with the right facial expression, crossing one’s arms can appear casual, but it often appears conceited, exuding an air of superiority, defensiveness, or even defiance.
03 | Swear You Won’t
Some readers may disagree, but there is a time and a place for a little profanity, and a business meeting really isn’t one of them. The only exception MIGHT be if the “superior party” in the conversation – i.e., your boss, your client, etc. – does so first, and in good fun with a positive tone. In other words, never initiate it and never utter it in anger. Using slang is also poor judgment the majority of the time. Swear words and slang words don’t require as much brainpower as “real” language, and using them makes you come across as uneducated and lazy. Lastly, NEVER tell a dirty, racist or sexist joke in a meeting. Even if you think you are in “safe” company or if someone has chimed in with one earlier, you never know what the people in that room consider offensive. Plus, it’s just bad taste, and it debases your reputation as a professional.
02 | The Eyes Have It
For heaven’s sake, pay attention. There is nothing that is more off-putting, disconcerting, annoying, or infuriating than lack of eye contact during an exchange of ideas. If it stems from your inherent shyness or your being intimidated by a particular person, then figure out how to overcome the fear, training yourself to engage others by looking them in the eye. Lowering your head, especially when accompanied by squirming in your chair, screams lack of confidence. Don’t have confidence” Fake it until you get it. On the other hand, visual avoidance can also convey boredom, which will hack people off even more. Often when we’re contemplating an idea, searching our gray matter for an answer, our eyes wander. That’s understandable, but just look up instead of down or out into space – it’s just a more pleasing way to ponder.
01 | techNOlogy
This last item ties directly into the one above. If your eyes – and, thus, your attention – are perusing your Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or the like, then they are not focused on the matters at hand. ONLY if you have explicit permission from your superior in the business meeting at hand should you ever answer a call, send or read a text, surf the Web or trigger an “app” on your gadget of choice. If you are the superior in the situation, then switch it all off. Unless you are a CIA operative or a technician at a nuclear plant, chances are that your being out of reach for 30 minutes is not going to cause the world irreparable harm. Not only will you set a wonderful example for others, but you are sure to increase the efficiency and productivity of the session. And who doesn’t need that”