Body Language Etiquette: Nonverbal Messages


nail biting

“Are you aware what signals you’re sending?”

During an interview, your mouth is not the only thing that is speaking.  Your body language is saying a great deal about how you are feeling and what you are thinking.  In order to ensure your nonverbal messages are aligned with your words, be aware of the following gestures that are all signs of nervousness, laziness, boredom or disrespect:

  • Swinging your foot or leg, twirling your hair, touching your mouth and gnawing at your bottom lip are all indicators that you are uncomfortable. Keep your feet stable and your hands away from your face. You will instantly appear more composed.
  • Faking a cough when asked a difficult question suggests “stalling”. Instead, take a moment to respond and if you are not sure, or need more time to think about it, be honest and let the interviewer know you will need some time to formulate an appropriate response. You can also say, “I am not familiar with that project but I will certainly look into it and get back with you.”
  • Crossing your arms across your body signals uneasiness or aggression. Keep your arms neutral, and allow your wrists to rest on the table.
  • Slouching in your seat delivers a negative message. Do what your mother taught you and, “Sit up nice and straight”. Good posture is a habit you cannot afford to skip.
  • Avoiding eye contact is a clear sign that you have something to hide. If you’re fighting nervousness, you can always focus on the area between his or her eyes, which gives the appearance of direct eye contact.
  • A weak handshake or too strong a handshake sends the message of insecurity. Watch my handshake etiquette video here.
  • Your tone of voice is telling.  If you speak too softly or mumble, you appear unsure of yourself.  Practice a strong tone and confident composure with a friend or family member before your interview.
  • Keep your fingers out of your mouth. Chewed nails and damaged cuticles are distracting and show signs of nervous behavior. If you’re a nail biter, schedule a manicure for a quick clean-up.
  • Always use the interviewer’s name in conversation, close the interview with a handshake and send a thank you note within 24 hours.
  • Arrive prepared and with thoughtful questions. Respond in a focused, organized manner (you’ll feel more confident if you’ve done your research). 

An interviewer is interested in seeing how you handle yourself under pressure.  Make a positive impression by letting your nonverbal messages speak loud and clear.  

Good Luck,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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