Managing your legal career Part 1: Body Language Tips

There are many people who believe that the very sound of their voice should command immediate respect and that their message is one of unequivocal authority.  These people can be heard preaching in the school playground, at work or giving political speeches.

There is a very old adage ‘it is not what you say but how you say it’.  Silence is also far more powerful than anything said, but for most people it is much harder to say nothing than something; human nature dictates that dialogue is our most common method of social interaction.

Interpreting Business Body Language is Important

Successful relationships are derived from listening to, responding to and reacting to what is being said and done around us, and successfully mastering out ability to read a person’s body language can also lead to greater success in our legal careers.

Have you noticed that in an interview or meeting the real decision maker often says very little or nothing at all and is simply observing, this is the person that you should be most aware of.  They will be looking to see if what you say verbally is consistent with what your hands, eyes, head and limbs are telling them – essentially working out if you are credible.

My experience as a barrister, head-hunter and business owner means that essentially my entire professional life has been interviewing, assessing and managing people.  I always found that the reaction to a question is far more powerful and valuable than the content of the answer.  In order to achieve this one has to learn how to engage people.  You cannot always get it right as we are human but you can guarantee that your chances of being correct are seriously improved.

I have witnessed many meetings where the smiling assassin has been friendly and open but the handshake or look in the eye tells the real truth.

While strong academic ability has always been the benchmark for people pursuing a legal career or entering professional services today emotional intelligence is seen as the real asset of future leaders, the ability to engage with people is priceless.  Being able to read and respond to personal signals demonstrates your awareness of the emotive factors associated with business and being a successful achiever.

The great thing is that while it is true that some people are more intuitive than others, body language can be learned. I recommend books from gurus such as Allan and Barbara Pease’s book The Definitive Art of Body Language.

Why master body language?

Mastering the art of body language will improve your general ability to deal with people and give you confidence to address issues at work such as:

•        winning business on the phone or in person

•        managing your superiors and those who report to you

•        holding meetings and managing clients

•        holding an interview and being interviewed

•        conducting business overseas

•        dealing with the office bully

Here are my top 5 body language tips

  • Handshake – a firm balanced handshake displays confidence. Beware of those who tilt their hand on top to give a signal of power in the relationship.
  • Eye contact – maintaining eye contact encourages engagement. If presenting at a large meeting, divide the room into sections and move eye contact between each so that all participants feel engaged. In smaller meetings, move eye contact from person to person throughout.
  • Physical barriers – it is easy to subconsciously create a barrier by crossing your arms, legs or putting your hands over your face. This will make you come across as negative or defensive. Be aware of your posture and position.
  • Mirroring – this is a great tool to build rapport. Watch the other person – their posture, gestures, energy and use the same as naturally as possible.
  • The importance of watching – by paying attention to the person or people you are meeting and the body language they are displaying, you can gauge their interest and belief in what you are saying and adjust the discussion accordingly.

Further Reading:


The Definitive Art of Body Language – Allan and Barbara Pease

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell




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