The Smart Lemming Rules of Life and Career Management: #17 Master your emotions and body language

Young female workerWhen I enter a room, I subconsciously pay attention to how I carry myself. Am I standing straight up with my shoulders back, head raised, eyes alert, so I appear open-minded to the people in the room?

Is my chin up high, but not too high, so I don’t look as if I’m looking down my nose at anyone. Does my facial expression match what I want to accomplish at that moment? If I’m not out to accomplish anything, then do I have a “Mona Lisa” expression on my face rather than that scary Asian one that freaks people out?

This may sound silly to some people, but over time, I’ve learned that managing my emotions and body language at work and in life contributed to my success in accomplishing my career and life goals.

Evolve from hot head to calm, cool, collected

Believe it or not, I was an emotional kid growing up. I was a hot head on the basketball court, as I got mad at referees for making bad calls or mad at myself for fouling out of a game. It took me years to learn that I was more intimidating to competitors if they saw me calm and confident rather than angry and irritated. I learned that when I kept my cool, I made fewer mistakes, stayed focused on the plays, maintained leadership for my teammates, who looked to me to set the tone on the court.

Not much has changed from my basketball days to my work setting. Today, I still need to instill confidence in other people’s ideas or actions, give advice that sounds reasonable, or provide feedback that doesn’t sound irrational because my emotions make me sound like a raging lunatic.

Listen to your parents, don’t slouch

Over the years, I’ve learned to not slouch because my father would tell me, “You’re aunt was always embarrassed about her height growing up. She’s 6’0″, but is hunched over because she was self conscious about being taller than everyone else. Stand tall, learn from your aunt’s situation.” I loved my father’s advice, but resented that fact that was my aunt’s six-feet tall while I barely broke 5’8″. Why wasn’t I super tall like her? I learned to consider myself lucky that I was even 5’8″, since my mother’s only 5’5″ and her mother was under only 4’10”.

I’ve also refined my body language in important meetings too, paying close attention to the colors I’m wearing and my facial expressions that I’m displaying. I wear the color red sparingly, only using it if I need to convey power to achieve my business goals. I know that I can be scary or intimidating in this color, so I try not to abuse it unless I need to be scary, which doesn’t happen very often. If you see me wearing red, watch out!

Keep people guessing

In meetings, I want to look open to new ideas; however, if I’m concerned about an issue, I’ll display a hint of concern through subtle facial expression like slightly squinting at the paperwork we’re reviewing in the meeting. Since I’m usually neutral in my facial movements, this “concern” becomes noticeable to other participants, thus opening the issue up for discussion. Of course, it always helped that I sat across the table from my CEO, who was always monitoring my facial gestures as cues in managing the meeting and agenda.

Even my neutral expressions causes confusion, which I’ve used to my advantage at times. It’s been helpful to keep people guessing on what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling in negotiations. If they can’t read me through my facial expressions, then I retain my advantage at the negotiation table. The people keep talking, disclosing even more information than than the would if they could read me, so they just keep talking and talking.

Gather your thoughts, then speak

Are you too emotional work or in life? Try managing your emotions to see if you or others benefit from your restraint or alternate approach by providing calmer feedback. When you feel a negative emotion emerge inside yourself, pause, loosen the muscles in your jaw, quietly inhale and exhale, and then provide your feedback.

Frankly, managing your emotions only requires self-awareness. Of course, there are times when we need to convey anger at work, but I’m only referring to situations where we lack the self-awareness or self-discipline as we accidentally make others hate working with us or distrust our perspective because we sound irrational in our anger.

Strategically use color

Also, take a simple approach in managing your body language at work. The next time you have an important meeting, pick colors that you think will help accomplish your meeting goals. I wear darker blues to look conservative, red to reflect power, and black when I want to blend in and not be too involved. When I want to look open and actively participate, I wear my favorite colors like purple or lavender. Based on my experience, whites and greens are also good colors for looking receptive and open minded in meetings. Try using colors to help you set the stage for how others perceive you in your next meeting.

Whether you realize it or not, you use body language all day at work. Your coworkers, managers, or clients sub-consciously process your body language that influences your affect on them in meetings or other touch points. Body language covers the following:

  • Posture, facial expressions, and hand gestures
  • Body movements in meetings or walking into a room
  • Color of our clothes and hair style

Improve your interactions with others at work by managing your emotions and body language. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to change these little things that contribute to your career success.

sunglassesatnightP.S. Bonus tip: If other people are wearing sunglasses and you’re not and you have expressive eyes, then wear sunglasses too. Eyes can betray us by giving away what we’re thinking or feeling. Most of us have mastered how to disguise what we’re thinking or feeling, but for those of you who haven’t yet: Keep the playing field level, so you stand a chance in power plays by using little tactics like wearing sunglasses when others are trying to assert their power over you while they wear sunglasses. And here you thought Corey Hart was crazy for saying that we needed to wear sunglasses at night, while all he was doing was providing sound business advice.


The Smart Lemming Rules of Life and Career Management series outlines my rules of personal and work success. After reflecting on my personal values, I made this list, realizing values are my rules of being or life management principles. Based on your experiences, I hope this list inspires you to identify your own rules. Here are the rules to my success that may help you over the course of your journey:


Level 1: Rules for Our Fundamental Nature

Level 2: Rules of Continuous Learning and Modeling

Level 3: Rules for the Actual Journey

Level 4: Rules of Adapting to Environment and Interacting with Others

Level 5: Rules of Humility

Level 6: Rule of Being

  • #21 Be compassionate.