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You Don't Always Say What You Say and Here's Why

You Don't Always Say What You Say and Here's Why

Be Aware of your Body Language:

Definition- the conscious and unconscious movements and postures by which attitudes and feelings are communicated.

A study at ULCA determined that when communicating feelings and attitudes:

  • 7% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (tone).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

This means that body language and auditory cues can dramatically alter an individual’s perception of you. The importance of body language and facial expressions stems from the fact that it is controlled subconsciously and therefore speaks the truth, so to say. People are very good at picking up on inconsistencies that present themselves when people are lying or not being genuine.

For example if someone was engaging with you in a conversation telling you how much they liked you and wanted to help you but had closed body language (ie. Folded arms) and didn’t look you in the eye. Their closed body language would suggest that they are uncomfortable (defensive, angry) and their lack of eye contact would suggest that they are being deceitful. Their words say one thing, but their body says another.

The example above was used to demonstrate the significance of body language. In an interview or professional environment such as a workplace, maintaining your integrity and being respected by peers and other individuals is necessary if you are to ever embark on a successful career path. It should also be noted that everyone is different and their baseline behaviour has to be determined before you can make judgements on their body language (Ie. Some people are genuinely shy and may lack some social skills and therefore may not look you in the eye, but this doesn’t mean they are necessarily being deceitful).


The whole point of an interview is to meet you and understand what type of person you are. Are you a capable individual? Are you ambitious? Are you the type of person that lacks passion, motivation and integrity which will detriment their company? 


 Interviews are run to analyse you as a person and determine if you will provide value to their company. Traits like confidence, independence, honesty and passion are viewed favourably and although you can say every buzz-word they are looking for, if your bodily behaviour doesn’t back it up they will see right through you.

Applying Body Language to Interviews:

Before the interview even starts you are under the spotlight. When you walk up and introduce yourself to the interviewer 3 things happen that already give away what type of person you are.

1. The handshake:

Handshakes convey more information about you than you may ever realise.

There are many types of handshakes and each of them tells the receiver something about you.

Weak handshakes are a sign that you lack confidence and therefore lack capability in what you do. It indicates to the receiver that there are mental weaknesses present.

Strong handshakes (overly forceful) indicate that you are overcompensating for a lack of something or have delusions of your superiority and power. No one likes these people.

Long Lasting handshakes give the impression that you are desperate and needy, keep it short and sweet.

Rushed handshakes give off the impression that you don’t care about the person and essentially it’s the same as brushing someone off. Try again.

Incomplete handshakes occur when you give a handshake but don’t acknowledge the person via eye contact or a welcoming smile. Inconsistencies ring alarm bells, remember body language.

Perfect handshakes happen when you have a firm grip, make eye contact, smile and repeat their name. This assures them that you are confident, are capable and are independent. The makings of a good employee.

An experiment conducted by John Mayer (PhD) correlated firm handshakes with increased chances of employability. Can’t argue with science.

Take home message: Even if you are nervous and shy, don’t let your handshake betray you.

2. Eye Contact:

Eye contact is a key player in developing good relationships and understanding people. It conveys to a person more information about you than you realize and you subconsciously process information from the eye contact of other people. Ever met that shifty person that you didn’t quite like or weren’t too sure about but you couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, maybe your subconscious picked up and processed some information about their eye contact that you weren’t aware of at the time.

Looking people directly in the eye shows them that you are confident in what you say and have nothing to hide. It reinforces your verbal message with coinciding non-verbal actions. It is also a sign of respect as it shows that you value what they say and that you consider them important. 


 Irregular eye contact whether it be brief or prolonged periods of gaze-like behaviour convey different messages to the receiver. Brief eye contact suggests that you do not care about them and therefore do not respect them and gaze-like eye contact can be viewed as slightly aggressive and domineering. None of these will work well in professional environments.

Take home message: Be aware of your eyes and what they may be conveying to the receiver.

3. Smiles:

“Monkey see, monkey do”.

Facial mimicry is a process that occurs when individuals mimic the emotion of people they interact with. Experiments carried out by Drs. Ursula Hess and Slyvie Blairy proved that after subjecting participants to images of people that conveyed different emotions, electrical activity in facial muscles of the viewers activated muscles involved in expressing the emotions they were viewing.

“Smile and the world smiles with you”

Emotional Contagion is a process that is a continuation of facial mimicry and refers to the ability of emotions to be transferable to other people. Facial muscle activation interlinks with the brain and causes neurotransmitters and hormones to be released that are associated with the emotion (eg. Serotonin released with smiling and adrenaline released with frowning and narrowed eyes). A researcher at Lund University in Sweden conducted experiments on emotional contagion and concluded that mimicking a person’s bodily state or facial expression had a spin off effect which resulted in physiological changes in the receiver’s body identical to that of the senders.

Your emotional state is transferred to people you interact with and the importance of smiling when you meet someone just got backed by science.


 However don’t try to fool people, genuine smiles relating to happiness, joy, amusement and excitement include activation of the zygomatic major muscle and involuntary activation of the orbicularis oculi muscle. The oculi muscle is involved in the movement of muscles around the eye and can’t be faked. If someone is faking a smile you can always tell by looking at their eyes, in the absence of wrinkles or “crows feet” around them take heed in the fact that they may be hiding something or attempting to deceive you for one reason or another.

Take home: Smile at your interviewer with good eye contact and a firm handshake and be genuinely happy that you have got a chance to prove how good you are to them.

Next time you’re in an interview don’t forget the importance of non-verbal communication. Sometimes you’re not saying what you’re actually saying.

Jayden Kafanelis

Executive Director of InternMe Australia

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