Are Your Unconscious Nervous Habits during Meetings and Interviews Holding You Back?

Part 2 of 2 by Ellen A. Kaye

Businesspeople take note: if you’re not getting that promotion you want or that raise you feel you deserve, it may not be your job skills that are holding you back. It may be you are unconsciously making a poor impression on senior leadership during the meetings you both attend. After all, many of us have unconscious bad habits that hibernate or go unnoticed during the frenzy of the workday. But in a meeting room where there’s nothing to do but listen, those habits come out in force – playing with pens, twirling eye glasses, jiggling legs – you name it. In the confined quarters of a meeting room where senior executives have the opportunity to observe you for an extended period of time, these habits can be more than just annoying – they can cap your career.

Busy, creative people aren’t naturally inclined to sit still for long periods of time, so they develop nervous habits as a way to release energy. The problem is that these unconscious behaviors make them look fidgety and unprofessional. And that’s often enough to lose a promotion to someone else who either doesn’t have any annoying nervous habits, or has learned to master them.

The good news is that you can learn to master them. With practice and coaching, you can learn to calm your body and exude controlled professionalism throughout every meeting. And best of all is that simply by gaining control of your nervous habits, people will think you are performing better at your job, even though it’s only your posture and comportment that have improved.

In the September 26th GLADIATOR issue Dancing fingers and Playing with your pen were discussed. Here are three additional common nervous habits people that people exhibit when they are sitting in a meeting and my recommendations to overcome them:

Jiggling your leg. This can include jiggling one or both legs or feet, tapping your feet, crossing and uncrossing your legs, or doing anything else with your legs other than resting your feet quietly on the floor. As with your restless hands, my unusual but effective solution to this habit requires visualization. Start by practicing at home or at your desk. Sit in a chair, place your feet on the floor shoulder-width apart, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now imagine roots growing down through your feet and into the earth so that you are rooted and grounded. With each breath, feel energy flowing through those roots, up from the ground, then back down into the ground. Once you’ve mastered this visualization process, all it will take in a meeting is sitting down, putting your feet on the floor and taking a deep breath and you’ll feel the rooting process take place. Most importantly, your legs will remain still and calm, which will enable you to project confident, controlled professionalism throughout the meeting.

Playing with your glasses. Like to twirl your glasses? Chew on the ends? Tap them on the table? The solution is simple – put them on and re-bind your hands to the arms of the chair. If you don’t wear your glasses all the time because you need them only to read a chart or slides, then place them beyond the line of demarcation. As with your pen, set down the glasses and leave them alone until you need them. Then use them and put them back.

Tearing up Styrofoam cups. This is one of the most annoying habits because it’s not only distracting to watch, it also results in an unsightly pile of Styrofoam pieces, which calls further attention to your bad habit. As with your glasses and pen, overcome this habit by putting your cup beyond the line of demarcation. That way, you know you need to pick it up, take a sip, and put it back. If the cup is empty, leave it beyond the line of demarcation. Again, the simple act of establishing this line will make you think twice about reaching for any of the items beyond it. Another solution for the Styrofoam-tearing habit: drink from a glass, a can or a ceramic mug.

Think you don’t do any of these things? You might be surprised. I’m often called in by companies to observe group meetings, and then work one-on-one with the executives in private to transform their negative behaviors. During these coaching sessions, most executives are shocked to learn they exhibit one or more of the behaviors discussed above. But their awareness, coupled with my coaching, typically results in a quick fix – and a quicker ticket to a raise or promotion.