Body Language Part 6 - Workplace Meetings

Posted by: Jo Banks

Date: 01-01-0001

What our body language says about us in workplace meetings, how make boring meetings enjoyable and how to spot challengers to your authority...

Body Language and Meetings

As an avid people watcher, I’m always fascinated to watch the dynamics between co-workers in business meetings.  With very little effort, it’s easy to see who is in control, who is engaged/who is not, who is bought in/who is not, who is uncomfortable etc.  Here are some good points to look out for the next time you’re in a meeting:

  1. The most important person usually comes in last (their time is more precious).
  2. The most important person sits at the head of the table
  3. Watch gaze patterns – who is looking at who?  When non-authoritative people talk, eyes tend to drift as we don’t see that person as important as the ‘leader’
  4. Watch for object focussed actions (doodling, pen clicking) when people do this, far from indicating that someone is bored, it usually means that the person talking is engaging and in control
  5. Look for people touching their face – we do this for one of several reasons:
    • To bring attention to ourselves
    • To comfort ourselves
    • Can show that you’re not willing to challenge what’s being said
    • When we don’t want to be the next speaker!
    • Hands behind the head can mean one of two things, either the person is self soothing (comforting themselves) however, it’s far more likely to be a display of dominance and power – making oneself as large as possible.  I actually find this gesture the most amusing as you will usually see two Alpha males use this pose when positioning for power
    • The most important person usually leaves first

I occasionally have clients who are extremely task orientated and they tell me that they struggle in meetings when people are often batting around different opinions when not actually coming to any real conclusions. I tell them to pay more attention not to what is being said, but what isn’t, to watch people’s body language and to look deeper into their motivations.  When they do this exercise and report back to me they say that their whole view of meetings has changed.  They now get totally absorbed in the meeting at a deeper level which helps maintain their attention and enables them to understand others motivations more fully, instead of focussing on their own internal, unhelpful, dialogue.

Where to sit in a meeting

If you sit to the right of your manager, it gives you the right ear advantage.  Information is processed in the left part of the brain which is accessed through the right ear.  You have more chance of a better outcome if you sit to the right.  The term ‘right hand man’ comes from this.

Keeping Power (once you’ve got it)

When you have it, someone else always wants it and it can be won or lost depending on how we present ourselves and deal with objections.  There are some body language pointers to look out for when someone has consciously or subconsciously decided to challenge your power:

  1. Power disparity – this is where the subordinate doesn’t give you eye contact
  2. They pat you on the back – this is a power touch, it non-verbally says, “I’m in charge here”
  3. Gaze aversion and constant interruptions – tell you that the other person does not recognise your authority
  4. Pushing tongue to the side of the cheek – this is a non-verbal rejection of what you are saying by the other person.  It originates from when we would expel the breast as babies during feeding (I watched Tom Jones do this to something that Will-i-am said on the Voice recently – I thought, “Oh Tom isn’t going to like that” then the camera immediately shot to Tom and whilst he was smiling, he made the expulsion gesture with his mouth!)
  5. Hiding lips – can be a gesture of distress by the other person, they really don’t like what you’re saying and strongly disagree with it but don’t verbalise their disagreement

In summary:

  1. With power comes responsibility
  2. The powerful use body language to convey status, command the space around them and get others to come to them.  They use their self belief to get others to follow their lead
  3. Leaders use their personal branding to create congruence and build trust
  4. It’s not always the aggressive Alpha males that you need to watch – the quieter ones are usually far more powerful
  5. Risk takers acquire power
  6. Where you site has a massive impact on your career – sit to the right of your leader
  7. Power is all about self belief and exuding confidence.


Get in touch for a free, no obligation consultation about how we can help you increase your power and standing within the workplace.