It's not always what you say; It's how you say it
Is it possible to communicate with another person without using words? You bet it is. Nonverbals can carry many times the weight of verbal's. Nonverbals, or body language, involve body movement such as of the head and limbs. It also has to do with the way we position ourselves in relation to one another, how we time our verbal exchanges, the amount of eye-to-eye contact, and the where, how, and how often we touch each other. In the interview situation, you've engaged in a face-to-face conversation. Normally, you'll become so involved in what's being said that you may not realize you're sending out clues that may give an additional meaning to the message you're trying to convey to the interviewer. What you do with your body and how you move provides many clues to the interviewer. It tells how you feel about yourself and others. The casual movement of your shoulders or the posture you assume can provide infinitely more signals than the actual words you utter.
Let's say you're halfway through an interview that, if successful, can result in a job offer. Suddenly you get a sinking feeling. Something is wrong. By the time the interview is over, you have a gut feeling that tells you you've blown it. But how? You answered all the questions superbly; you were up for the interview, and you gave it your best shot. You felt you were doing fine; then all of a sudden-almost imperceptibly,-the interviewer sat back, crossed his arms over his chest, and started to fire direct questions at you, one after another. Up to that point, he had asked mainly open-ended questions and had given you ample time to answer each one. Now it appeared that he was anxious to get the interview over with, and he was speeding it along. Sure enough, several days later you get a write-off letter telling you that you were rejected. But you knew as soon as you left the interview that you had blown it. How? By the silent, nonverbal body language that the interviewer sent out when you were selling yourself.
The importance of nonverbal communication can't be emphasized enough. In the face-to-face interview situation, your message is being communicated by more than just words, and it is being received by more than a passive body with only ears acting as receptacles of information. The listening body also has eyes. By using the language of your body to make your verbal communication more effective, you'll bring about an increased understanding of your abilities. Further, if you're sensitive to the signs the interviewer is giving off, you'll be better able to determine how well or how poorly you're doing and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Most of us view oral communication as an exchange of words and ideas. We tend to overlook the role that attitudes and emotions play in communications. Facial expressions, movement of limbs, slight gestures, often reveal more than the spoken word does. It's interesting to note that nonverbal clues can contradict a spoken message. A silly example of this can be demonstrated by moving your head up and down and saying "no" or by moving your head from side to side and saying "yes."
If, on the other hand, the nonverbal supports the verbal, then the verbal message is vastly more persuasive. For example, when you move your head up and down and say "yes," you're strengthening your message. If you increase the up-and-down movement, you'll indicate an increased amount of agreement or acceptance; and your "yes" takes on a greater degree of meaning. Now you're conveying the message that you really do agree with what you're hearing. The accompanying nonverbal supported your statement and made it much more persuasive. So it is with all non- verbal's: They can alter, modify, enhance, detract, negate, reinforce, or contradict the meaning of the spoken word. Because the interview consists primarily of a verbal exchange, it's important for you to be aware of the impact nonverbals can have on the dialogue.
An inexact science, but...
Psychologists have conducted studies on the way that body language modifies the meaning of the spoken word. On one side of the coin, they know that nobody position or movement in and of itself has a precise meaning. The infinite variety of movement of parts of the body-such as the head, arms, and legs-the way we position ourselves in relation to others, the timing of verbal exchanges, the amount and kinds of eye contact, and how often people touch one another do not give full meaning all by themselves. Only when the spoken language and the body language are used together do we get the full meaning of what a person is saying.
By being aware of body language, you can use it to your advantage in the interview situation. As you receive and interpret signals others are sending out, you can monitor your own signals. You can achieve greater control over yourself, and in turn, you will function more effectively.
A word of caution, however. It's difficult to do; if you try on a conscious level to project a certain message, you run the risk of doing it wrong or of mishandling it. Sometimes, if you become self-conscious about what you are doing, it becomes more difficult to do. Here, then, is what I recommend: Play it safe. We are going to focus our attention on the body language of the interviewer, so that we can monitor his or her messages. During the interview, you should be aware of your own body language; but you should not consciously try to modify it to any great extent unless you feel confident in doing so. The interview situation is not the place to practice. Too much is at stake!
As you observe the interviewer, you should be looking for movements or gestures that will give you clues to his or her thinking. For example, if the interviewer suddenly sits back and folds his or her arms abruptly, you can be pretty sure that trouble has arrived. A suppressed smile, a lifted eyebrow, or a wrinkling of the nose can tell you how the interviewer is reacting to what you are saying. Those messages, if properly interpreted, can provide you with steady feedback as you talk. As the interviewer listens to what you're saying, you should look for signs of reception or rejection. For example, if the interviewer's eyes are looking down, covered by his or her eyelids, or if the face is turned away, or if the smile does not involve the cheeks or the nostrils (i.e., the creases around the eyes are not deepened), then you're being shut out. The interviewer has turned off and tuned you out. If, however, the interviewer's mouth is relaxed and void of any smile, with the chin forward and eyes gazing sideways but not directly at you, then he or she is partially with you and is considering what you're saying.
If the interviewer's eyes engage yours and hold them for several seconds at a time with a slight smile extending at least to the cheeks, then he or she is with you and is evaluating what you're saying. Finally, if the interviewer shifts his or her head and faces you squarely with an expansive smile engaging the cheeks, the nostrils, and the creases around the eyes, along with good eye contact, then he or she is enthusiastic about you. The interviewer is open and receptive to everything you have to say.
Your body doesn't know how to lie
It's a fact-your body does not know how to lie. Every movement you make gives off a message, and that message emphasizes or contradicts your verbal's. If you're timid or fearful during the interview, you may show it by holding a tense posture, by hunching your shoulders, pulling in your chin, or holding your eyes open wide. If you're confident, it will show. You will lean forward slightly, indicating a relaxed, highly interested participant. If you're arrogant or overconfident, you might assume a backward sprawl, which might even signal disrespect for the interviewer. If you're depressed or suffering from defeat by not being able to land a job, you might signal that defeat by holding your head forward, sunken, and resting on your chest, with eyes downcast. If you're a good persuader, you probably will use slow, easy gestures; a resonant, inflective voice, with a ring of optimism; an uplifted chin; composed hands; you will keep your head on an even plane with the interviewer and maintain good face-to-face eye contact and slows regular breathing.
Whatever your mood is, and whatever level of confidence you possess, it will show through during the interview. If your mood is negative or if your level of confidence is low, you must make an effort not to broadcast it with your body language. Your body language has to depict a high level of confidence. It should enhance and reinforce your verbal's, so that you come across to the interviewer in the most positive light, and therefore in the most advantageous manner.
A word of caution
By now you realize that there's no precise formula for interpreting the various aspects of body language. No hard and fast rules exist. Interpreting the language of the body is more intuitive than anything else. You can, however, sharpen your intuition and awareness of body language by observing the interactions of others at work, in restaurants, and in social situations. Make mental notes of the body language they use to modify the spoken word, and internalize them.
When you play the game for keeps in front of that job interviewer, your body language must reinforce the truth behind the words. You also must observe the body language of the interviewer for signs of acceptance or rejection of your message, then adjust your delivery accordingly. I don't expect you to change overnight the body language you have developed in a lifetime. I do, however, expect you'll increase your awareness of the importance that body language plays in communication. That awareness will enhance your ability to win in your job interview... that and preparation for in-depth questions. You'll learn about this aspect in the next chapter.