Have you ever had a pleasant interaction with a coworker that suddenly went awry?
Perhaps you made a slightly off-color joke that didn't quite land, or you were in the midst of yukking it up with a colleague when he suddenly excused himself to answer a suspiciously silent phone call.
The fact of the matter is that 60-90 percent of our communication with others is non-verbal.
With that in mind, it's incredibly important to pay attention not only to what your coworkers are saying, but also to how they're saying it. It's equally important, of course, to monitor how you're coming across.
Here are 16 easily missed social cues to look out for in the workplace, and how you should respond to them:
1. Personal space
If your coworker is inching away from you when you talk, you might be invading their personal bubble.
Standing too close (or far) from someone can be awkward. For interactions with most Americans and Western Europeans, try to maintain a distance of about three feet, depending on how familiar you are with the other person.
Personal space and physical contact norms vary by culture, so brush up on your business destination before you travel.
2. Tone of voice
Don't just listen to what your coworkers are saying--pay attention to the inflection, pitch, articulation and volume of their speech. It's equally essential, as any great speaker could tell you, to regulate your own tone.
You don't want listeners to misconstrue your meaning based on nonverbal associations. Vocal intonation and inflection are highly important in both meetings and presentations.
3. Tone of text
While tone of voice is usually fairly simple to discern, parsing emails can be a little more complicated.
Be wary of shorter statements--a terse "Please advise?" might mean, "Why are you dropping the ball on this?" Be sure to proofread your own messages to ensure you're sending effective emails that accomplish what you need them to.
4. Vocal register
Whether you're asking a question or listening to a presentation, be aware of the pitch of the speaker's voice. Higher registers tend to suggest excitement, whereas lower registers are usually reserved for more serious matters.
5. Eye contact
Darting eyes may be a symptom of anxiety or insecurity. If someone's looking you straight in the eyes, they're either extremely confident or very comfortable in the conversation. Both are impressions that you should aim to convey.
Speaking of anxiety, fidgeting is a universal sign of discomfort. If you're talking to someone and they begin to play with their hair or shift from one foot to the other, they may either be uneasy or uninterested in the conversation.
Be aware of your own fidgeting, and attempt to cut out any nervous habits that might signal disinterest.
7. Crossed arms
If, on the other hand, your co-workers are standing with their arms crossed, they might be taking a defensive stance. If someone's closed off physically, chances are they're also closed off to the conversation.
8. Wardrobe choices
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Those who dress well project more confidence than those who don't. So if a coworker isn't dressing their best, chances are they're not feeling their best either.
9. Facial expressions
Your facial expression is often (consciously or unconsciously) tied to emotion. So if a coworker is scowling, no matter what they say, chances are they're not in a good mood. If you're trying to convey an upbeat outlook, make sure your face is sending the same message.
10. Smile style
It's fairly easy to tell a fake smile from a genuine one. A real smile involves more facial muscles and more crinkles around your eyes, so it's easy to differentiate between a genuine grin and a forced smirk.
11. Attentive stance
The next time you're speaking with someone, observe whether they've pointed their toes and squared their shoulders towards you. If so, it means you have their full attention.
Is the person you're talking to mirroring your physical stance or tone of voice? If so, chances are they're making a genuine effort to engage with you--whether the mirroring is purposeful or subconscious.
13. Checking the tech
If a co-worker is constantly checking their phone (or smartwatch) during a conversation or presentation, the message they're sending is very clear--they're not interested in what the other person has to say.
To convey respect, be sure to keep your phone in your pocket while others are speaking.
14. Poor posture
While many of us have poor posture from hunching over our computers, notably droopy shoulders are often a sign of exhaustion. If you notice a coworker slouching, it might be best to give them some space.
15. Sudden silence
If you walk into a conversation and everything gets quiet, make a subtle exit--chances are you've interrupted a private moment.
16. Chiming in
If you do join a conversation, make sure your coworkers are as engaged as you are.
If you find yourself monologuing while your coworkers are giving terse, one-word responses, then it might be best to gracefully walk away, or at least cede control of the chat.