Karin’s Leadership Articles

3 Subtle Nonverbal Communication Mistakes Sabotaging Your Credibility

by | Aug 18, 2014 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Communication |

Your body might be sabotaging your career. Not on purpose, your heart’s in the right place. In fact, you’ve mastered the basics. You’re way past avoiding eye contact, wussy handshakes, and the proverbial fig leaf arms. Beware of  3 more subtle nonverbal communication mistakes that can seriously damage your credibility.

3 Subtle Nonverbal Communication Mistakes Leaders Make

“I speak two languages, Body and English”-Mae West

Making Yourself Small

When in comes to confidence, I’m with Amy Cuddy, “don’t fake it to you make it. Fake it until you BECOME it.” Her TED talk provides important evidence that our body language shapes our own confidence, not just our credibility with others. Her research shows that closed arms, slouched postures, rubbing our neck and other self-protecting poses, actually impact our hormones, making us feel less confident. Those feelings then further shape our nonverbal communication behavior and the cycle continues. If you want to become more confident, open up your arms and stance and take up more space in the room. Being more conscious and deliberate about your body language will not only help you show up stronger, but to actually become more confident.

When you’re in a meeting, do a posture check every 15 minutes or so. Notice what your body does when you’re not paying attention. Do you have a tendency to make yourself larger or smaller? A good way to become more aware of how you’re holding your body is to take a yoga class. Notice how the strength and heart opening poses like the Warrior poses or backbends make you feel.

Choosing the Wrong Seat

I’m not talking about the power dynamics of working your way to the head of the table. I’m actually amazed at how many people will choose to sit on the periphery of a meeting rather than to pull a chair to the table. This is a consistent dynamic I’ve seen across companies. Even when I’ve invited people to pull up a chair to join, I’ve faced reluctance, “Oh no, I’m just fine here.” If you don’t belong at the table, you shouldn’t be in the room. If you’re running the meeting and don’t have seats at the grown-up table, get a bigger room or find a different approach. You won’t build confidence or create engagement by casting people to the sidelines.  See also: 5 Ways to Define Your Seat at the Table

Letting Your Cortisol Show

This takes many forms, from coming in late and disheveled to fidgety impatient behavior, to chronic mult-tasking in meetings. “You look stressed” is not a compliment or a badge of honor for how hard you’re working, or how much you’re taking on. Calm and collected breeds confidence in those above you and in those you serve. See Also:  Why Stress is Hurting Your Career

As Martha Graham says, “the body never lies.” Paying close attention to what your body is telling you, and others, will go a long way in bolstering your credibility.

Your turn. What non-verbal mistakes do you see hurting people’s credibility?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Chery Gegelman

    Great Tips Karin! Amy’s video was great, the first time I watched it I had to play with the postures as well. It was amazing to see how my energy changed in the privacy of my own home.

    (Love the new photo too!)

    • Karin Hurt

      Chery, I do think they’re worth playing with and noticing. I found that I have a tendancy to rub my neck when I get stressed. Fine in private, but now that I realize it sends off a signal of weakness, I’ve become much more concsious of that and resist. Instead I work on sitting up taller and stretching out my neck and spine when I feel the stress coming on.

  2. Steve Borek

    I’ll check out the video later.

    We all have other things going on in our lives. Before an important meeting, I’ll meditate for at least five minutes to clear my mind of unhelpful thoughts.

    Then I picture myself of how I want to show up.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, That’s great. I’m not a big mediatator, but I’ve been doing that same thing recently before big meetings. I have a lot of new opportunities happening and it’s vital that I show up strong. A few quiet minutes of calm really does seem to be helping.

  3. LaRae Quy

    Just loved this post, Karin.

    I had to laugh at this one: “I’m actually amazed at how many people will choose to sit on the periphery of a meeting rather than to pull a chair to the table.” It’s so true! Time and time again I’ve watched people come early to get the chairs along the sidelines…often, not all the chairs at the table were full!

    It sends a clear messge: they aren’t prepared, they don’t want to be there, and they’re not engaged.

    Thanks so much for sharing this one!

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, It’s even CRAZIER when they get their early to do it. Yikes. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Terri Klass

    Well done Karin! Our body language can definitely sabotage us and often we don’t even realize what we are doing. I witness the” not pushing our chairs up with the rest of the group” in my training classes. I automatically encourage them to move in and join even if they feel awkward. In the end it says a lot about how someone feels about being somewhere and how important or not important they may feel.

    Great points and wonderful post!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Oh yes, it happens in training classes too. Great add!

  5. Dallas Tye

    Choosing the Wrong Seat- yep, and the darkest corner of the room too. I used to use a room that had spare seats along the wall and with the lighting adjusted for the data projector, some people would find a dim corner. I ended up removing the spare seats before the meetings.

    This is a particularly good tip Karin for aspiring leaders too.

    • Karin Hurt

      Dallas, yiks, looking for the dark spot. In my MBA class some students scurry for the back wall.

  6. Alli Polin

    I LOVE this, Karin: “If you don’t belong at the table, you shouldn’t be in the room.” i see that too and hopefully people will make today the day they pull up and dive in.

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, I sure hope so too. Pull up a chair and join. Amen.


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