Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Non-Verbal Communication in the Workplace

What signals are YOU sending in the workplace?
Understanding nonverbal communication is a major component to succeeding in the workplace. Why? Because we live in a visual world and actions really do speak louder than words.  We can attribute most of how we are perceived by our coworkers to everything besides what we say.  There are a few main areas of non-verbal communication to consider: eye contact, gesturing, proximity, posture, and time.  Perhaps the best thing to remember is mirroring- especially when it comes to your boss.  Mirroring is exactly what it sounds like- a reflection of the nonverbal cues of the individual(s) you are interacting with.  So if your boss makes a lot of eye contact with you- you should try to do the same.  Your best bet is to be aware of how your actions ‘fit in’ with those of everyone around you.  Sound complicated?  It’s not! Read on for some tips:
Eye Contact: Good eye contact is essential.  You don’t need to stare (staring is rude!), but you do need to maintain eye contact for a few seconds at a time- especially if you are trying to explain yourself or express your undivided attention.  Eye contact helps build rapport and establish personal connection.  Not to mention, it ensures the speaker that you are actually listening.  So, be sure to look up once in a while.  This goes for presentations as well.  Scan the room, focus on one person for a few seconds, and then move on.  This can take some practice… but practice makes perfect.
Gestures: Go with what is natural for you.  It is fine if you have a tendency to use your hands when you speak, but keep in mind that it can be visually distracting.  Gestures convey a number of subtle messages, so take the time to learn about how you may be perceived when you cross your arms during a meeting, or lean back in your chair while speaking to a colleague. 
Proximity: Since you can quickly and easily make someone feel uncomfortable if you invade their space, it’s important to follow a few basic etiquette guidelines.  On a larger scale, when entering someone’s office or work area, you should make your presence known (‘Hi’ works wonders) so that they aren’t startled.  Don’t just barge in.  On a smaller scale, when you are having a conversation with one person (or even a small group of people), be respectful of personal space and boundaries.  If someone takes a small step back, don’t try to fill in that space.  They’ve just communicated that they need some breathing room.  Remember that you have the power to do the same.
Posture: No one likes a sloucher! Stand and sit up straight and you will not only look better, but you will also feel better.  Don’t do this to the point of discomfort, but just know that slouching won’t get you anywhere- it conveys laziness and disinterest. 
Time: This is perhaps the ultimate component of nonverbal communication.  If you are consistently on time (which in reality, translates to a minute or two early) for meetings, etc., you will convey a strong message of professionalism.  What about when you are late? You will seem inconsiderate and self-centered (how rude!).  So, be on time, and you will be golden. 
Some quick tips: smile, nod your head, and be aware of the tone and volume of your voice.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Business Casual Style Guide

Whether you are preparing for your first company outing or your first summer Friday, what should you wear when the dress code is ‘business casual’?  This term strikes fear in many young professionals because it is broad and deceivingly easy to mess up.  First, always remember that it’s important to dress to impress.  Second, look neat and clean 110% of the time- there is no excuse not to.  Third, use your trusted co-workers as a style guide.  Even if you are the youngest, newest (and coolest) hire at your company, you can still use those around you as a reference for fashion appropriateness.  Read on for a quick business casual guide broken down by ladies vs. gentlemen.
Hair: Neat and groomed.  Pull it back if it gets messy during the day. A cute hair accessory (headband, barrette) is fine as long as it’s subtle. 
Face: Make up is totally fine as long as it’s not distracting.  Fake eyelashes, purple lipstick, etc. are probably too over the top for anything work-related. And remember, no one likes your perfume besides you, so keep it to a minimum. 
Outfit:  Tops should be fairly conservative in terms of cut and length.  Trendy colors are usually just fine. Bring a cardigan to cover up.  Skirts and pants can be a bit trendier in terms of cut (high waist, etc.) but keep them to a limited color palette.  Make sure everything fits properly (get them tailored if they don’t) and don’t show up in anything skin tight.  Denim is typically a no-no (but not always) and it goes without saying that jeggings are NOT allowed…ever!
Feet: Heels or flats are fine.  Heels should not be sky high- make sure you can walk confidently in whatever you’re wearing! Tread lightly when it comes to sandals, boots, etc… follow the lead of your co-workers.  Sneakers are a bad idea- wear them only during your commute.  Nude hosiery is sometimes necessary but always old-fashioned.  If you can wear opaque black or navy tights instead, go for it.
Accessories: Jewelry is fine as long as it’s not distracting.  The same goes for bags. 
Overall: Keep it neat and classy
Here are some great places to shop for business casual attire that will fit any budget (and remember that all of these stores have outlet locations- which offer great discounts):
Hair: Trimmed and under control.  Visit the barber, please.  No baseball hats!
Face: Keep it neat.  Shave regularly and put the time into making sure you aren’t missing anything.  Scruff isn’t acceptable.  And remember, no one likes your cologne besides you, so go easy.
Outfit: Forgo the tie. A clean, pressed, collared, button-down shirt is perfect.  Make sure it’s in an appropriate color.  Subtle patterns are nice too.  Quality does make a difference, so be sure you have a few nicer options in your closet.  Fit is essential, even if you aren’t paying top dollar.  Slacks need to fit properly as well- get them hemmed if necessary.   A jacket is a nice touch, but not always necessary.
Shoes: Pick up a few pairs of dress socks.  Make sure you have a few well-maintained loafers and oxfords- no sneakers, please!
Accessories: If you must wear jewelry, please keep it to a minimum.  Bling is never a good idea.  Carry a basic bag (yes, a “man purse”) to keep yourself organized. 
Overall: Keep it neat and classy.
Here are a few places to shop for all of your business casual needs:
Check out these guidelines on the Career Center website for more business casual suggestions!