Friday, July 11, 2008

Guest Article: Body Language – It’s What You Don’t Say

By Bill Willard

You’ll be judged from the moment you walk into a room; the way you stand, sit, and use your hands can send messages—intended or otherwise. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good—and sometimes contradicting your intended meaning.

Because body language is often subconscious, it’s more spontaneous and less controlled, and shows our true feelings and attitudes. “Our nonverbal messages often contradict what we say in words,” says Jo-Ann Vega, president of JV Career and Human Resources Consulting Services in Nyack, N.Y., “When we send mixed messages or our verbal messages don’t jibe with our body statements, our credibility can crumble.”

People tend to believe the non-verbal.

Body language works both ways, of course. So learn to read the signals prospects and clients are sending during interviews. Here’s rundown of common types of body language and nonverbal communication, and what they can mean. I say “can” mean because there are not always hidden meanings behind every gesture. If a client rubs her forehead while you’re speaking, for example, she may just have an itch.

Body Language Tips You Can Put to the Test

Here’s a rundown of some nonverbal cues that can maintain your credibility and professionalism–and just might save your day!

Make a Confident Entrance – Get down to business the minute you walk into a prospect’s home or business. Don’t rummage through your briefcase or pour over papers if you have to wait a few minutes (read a magazine, instead). Shake the person’s hand firmly (that goes for both the popular genders), and take charge of yourself by choosing the most appropriate-seeming chair and being seated without waiting to be asked.

Watch Your Distance — Prospects and clients may be uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded. Outgoing types like keeping a 20-to-50-inch zone around their bodies, while introverts prefer more space. Until you know otherwise, give people plenty of room, but lean in to make key points or display self-confidence.

Maintain Eye Contact – Secure people with high self-esteem match their facial expressions to their message, rather than always wearing the same one. Smile and maintain eye contact to project openness, sincerity and honesty (without staring, which can be intimidating); looking down and sketchy eye contact implies lack of confidence.

Pay Attention to How You Speak – Slipping over to the verbal, use a natural tone and stick to your normal speaking volume, rate and rhythms. Secure SBOs and professionals have relaxed, well-modulated voices that let them express enthusiasm and interest. Speak in simple, straightforward sentences, avoid clearing your throat, using “ah” and “um” or other vocal ticks that are signs of nervousness or being over-rehearsed.

Mind Your Posture and Gestures – You want to come across as confident, relaxed, positive and well-balanced. Stand up straight, but walk freely, swinging your arms and taking determined strides. Careful attention to what is being said is often indicated by peering out over eyeglasses; cupping chin between thumb and fingers; putting hands to bridge of nose, or stroking chin. Fidgety mannerisms mean the person isn’t paying attention. Avoid appearing rigid or tense, and be aware of the other signals you’re sending…

• Disagreement is signaled by folded arms, crossed legs, picking imaginary lint from your clothing or running your hands over your face are signs of disagreement.

• Cooperation is demonstrated by sitting on the edge of chair; hand to face; hands open, arms uncrossed.

• Negative attitudes or deception are commonly indicated by frequent eye blinking; hand covering mouth while speaking; frequent coughing; looking away while speaking; or rapid sideways glances.

• Frustration is shown by pointing an index finger; rubbing hair or back of neck; wringing hands, sighing and tightly clenched hands.

• Boredom or indifference are generally indicated by eyes not focused at speaker or looking elsewhere; head in hand; sloppy or informal body posture; or preoccupation with something else.

Remember, because all of this works both ways, learn to read what prospects aren’t telling you. Look for confirming communications either verbal or nonverbal.

Cross-Cultural Differences

Toss people from different cultures into the mix, and body language can become even more meaningful.

For example:

• If you’re telling a Japanese prospect how well you understand his situation and objectives, but happen to be casually waving your hand in front of your face with the palm facing outward, don’t be surprised if your prospect looks somewhat bewildered. In Japan, that gesture can signal that you don’t know something or feel unworthy of a complement.

• Patience is an important virtue to people from Mexico, so don’t appear impatient at delays or interruptions.

• In the Korean culture, men have priority. It is customary for a man to walk through the door first, ahead of a woman, and for the woman to help the man with his coat.

Want More? Send questions and comments to

Reference Sources:

1. National Business Employment Weekly and Princeton Creative Research Inc., a Princeton, N.J.. consulting firm.

2. Teach Yourself Body Language, by Gordon Wainwright.

3. The Secret Language of Relationships: Your Complete Personology Guide to Any Relationship With Anyone, by Gary Goldschneider, Joost Elffers.

4. Never Be Lied to Again: How to Get the Truth in 5 Minutes or Less in Any Conversation or Situation, by David J. Lieberman.

About the Author: Bill Willard has been writing high-impact marketing and sales training for over 30 years—but as Will Rogers put it: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Through interactive, Web-based “Do-While-Learning™” programs, e-Newsletters and straight-talking articles, Bill helps small-business owners and independent professionals get the job done: profitably improving performance, helping grow your business, skipping expensive mistakes, making the journey to success faster, smoother, easier. And fun!



Kandas - Custom Furniture Consultant said...

This article was originally published to SuperWAHMZ 1.0 on May 19, 2005. I am reposting several articles today in celebration of Fantatic Friday!

Stitchen said...

Very interesting Kandas. Thanks again for reposting.