Tilt your head to the right side in a job interview and you may get the job. Tilt it to the left side and you may end up getting … a date.
People who tilt the head to the right while talking to someone can appear more trustworthy, according to body language expert Tonya Reiman. In turn, a slight tilt to the left is seen as a sign of attractiveness and desirability.
Such nonverbal cues are subtle but have a dramatic impact on the way people are perceived, Reiman writes in her first book "The Power of Body Language" (Pocket Books, $25). The book offers advice on how to become aware of those messages and use them in the boardroom as well as the bar.
"Most people are completely unaware of what their bodies are telling others, and how it ends up influencing their careers and love lives," Reiman told Reuters in an interview.
According to Reiman, about 90 percent of our interpersonal communication is nonverbal. How bodies move, what expressions a face makes, how fast one speaks, and even where we sit in a business meeting, send messages far more convincing than any words spoken.
The problem, she said, is that many people have conditioned themselves not to pay attention to such signals, labeling them as unreliable, irrational or just superficial.
As a result, according to the book, "we end up getting duped, swindled, jilted, misled."
For starters, Reiman recommends readers pay special attention to the most common and usually the first form of physical contact between strangers: the handshake.
The handshake is one of the most critical opportunities to establish rapport and may be as crucial for job applicants as a strong resume, Reiman said.
Her book lists no less than 12 "wrong" ways to shake hands including the submissive handshake, the overly affectionate, the sweaty, the forward lean, but none as dreaded and as dreadful as the limp handshake.
"The limp handshake feels like you’re holding a lump of room-temperature chicken," she said.
The right way that will work with any person in any situation, according to Reiman, is to go toward the person, lean slightly forward, look them in the eye, extend the right hand and simultaneously introduce yourself. The whole handshake should not last more than two to three seconds.
The book moves forward to more "advanced" lessons, such as how to manipulate perceptions of your status with different sitting positions in a meeting that go beyond the traditional head-of-the-table spot. And even where to place your desk in an office in order to avoid a virtual downgrade in rank.
Reiman writes that once while working for a Fortune 500 company, her desk was moved from the middle cubicle in a row of three to the end of the row. In her new spot, people would constantly stop by her desk and interrupt with random and administrative questions."
"By shifting my desk a mere eight feet, I’d gone from being a mid-level professional to an administrative assistant," she wrote.
While you may not be able to determine your place at the next desk reorganization in the office, Reiman says some of the worst body language flaws in the corporate arena are easily fixed: Getting into others’ personal space, slumping onto a chair instead of sitting up straight, not enough or too much eye contact, looking angry, adjusting clothes during the interview, or perhaps, a woman adjusting her panty hose.
And what about that head tilt?
"If you are going for a job in accounting, law, medicine, or another field bound by a strict code of ethics, tilt your head to the right," she said. "Trying to become America’s next top model? Tilt to the left."