Career Advice Career Books Recommendations

Surviving the office jungle

With a title that promises guilty-pleasure reading, Body Language In The Workplace is a fun though fairly superficial exploration of exactly what it "says on the can". On the one hand, it thankfully eschews any of the threatening or baffling jargon of similar titles. On the other hand, it all too often states the obvious.

However, in the frenetic Hong Kong workplace, common sense is frequently the first casualty in the headlong pursuit of profitability. And so, as rudimentary as this work appears, it has its place and its uses.

This study will, for the most part, reinforce what you have always known, and make you chuckle or sigh at the obvious pitfalls and traps you have fallen into at those times when you were not at your most switched on, so to speak.

Who would benefit most from this book? Among the leading candidates are graduates entering the workplace for the first time, inexperienced managers, and indeed any working person who wants to read, in a leisurely fashion, about the office jungle where life is unfair, the weirdest rules apply, and to challenge them too robustly is to condemn oneself to another few weeks of watching day-time TV and scouring the daily's jobs section.

In short, Body Language In The Workplace is light-hearted, but is also astute, and sprinkled with gems that are worth repeating to yourself when in the meeting that appears to be going horribly wrong - that is to say, not going your way.

Divided into seven thematic chapters - job interviews, persuasive presentations, office politics, the secrets of the super-successful, and the like - this work will confirm your worst fears.

Yes, job interviews are usually really all over within 15 seconds, and based on personal attraction or lack thereof. And tall people get most of the breaks and statistically reap the greatest financial success.

The only real questionable advice the authors give is that guys should not sport a goatee to a job interview. Interestingly, as a goateed individual, I've aced half a dozen interviews with my irresistible Trotskyite look and wily charm.

There is an abundance of information provided here on the remarkably complicated business of shaking hands. "A good handshake can be the difference between a career boost and career suicide," the writers assert, before looking at "the firm handshake", "the submissive handshake", "the bonecrusher", the "double-hander" (useful for a female to disarm an aggressive male corporate warrior), and "the wet-fish".

Examining eye movements, Body Language In The Workplace, touches on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and suggests harnessing its power, but then simply advises the reader to delve into more specialised books on the subject. This is pretty lame, considering what a powerful mind-reading tool NLP can be.

The Peases gratifyingly come down against using nonsensical and cliched corporate-speak like "pushing the envelope", "moving forward", "thinking outside the box", and "blue-sky thinking".

There's a chapter on "Globalisation: The Perils And Pitfalls", which highlights how Westerners - and the Chinese, Indians, and other ethnicities - can inadvertently tread on each others' personal space and other concerns. This is particularly helpful in multicultural Hong Kong. There's a couple of zingers here too, such as: "When doing business in Japan, make sure your shoes are spotlessly clean and in good condition. Every time a Japanese businessman bows, he inspects them."

Body Language In The Workplace is woefully brief, given the vast scope of its subject, with rather too much white space, and some amateurish cartoons and illustrations. But there's enough good advice here to keep you out of trouble until the next office bloodbath.


Six insights

  • Project a positive demeanour and extend a firm handshake
  • Know when to maintain eye contact and when to look away
  • Subtly mirror the body language of your colleagues and associates
  • Avoid using outdated business jargon such as “moving forward”
  • Purchase the latest handheld technology to look professional
  • Drink in moderation at office parties