Non-verbal communication – communication done through body language – can account for 50 to 90 percent of our communication with each other. Understanding body language will help you read clients and do business more effectively. For example, if you are discussing an add-on service with a client and they say, “I might be interested,” but their arms are crossed, the body language of “arms crossed” can be interpreted as a closed posture, which should be an indicator to you that they could be feeling skeptical and it might be the right time to pull out a testimonial or client success story about the add-on service you are discussing.
There are very few people who can instantly connect with others, where immediately both parties are comfortable in the presence of each other. In the absence of these rare connections, a combination of gestures and expressions will convey volumes of information. Beware, one or more gestures don’t necessarily mean anything. For example, the client who sits in your office with their arms crossed when you mention an add-on service may be skeptical, or crossing their arms may be comfortable for them. What if that same client also greets you with a bone-crushing handshake? They might be upset or just overzealous and unaware. While “arms crossed” and “bone-crushing handshake” may be nothing more than the client is “comfortable and unaware,” these gestures should be observed as potential non-verbal communication signs. Reading these signs better equips you to begin and navigate through a conversation.
Review our list of non-verbal cues and starting today you will begin to read your business clients better.
It has been said that the eyes are “the windows to the soul”; therefore getting to know different looks will help you to better read people.
- Direct eye contact can indicate someone is interested and paying attention.
- Looking prolonged into someone’s eyes can come off as threatening.
- If a client does not keep eye contact or frequently looks away, this can indicate they are uncomfortable with something.
- Excessive blinking may indicate distress, and infrequent blinking may be intentional — think of a poker player trying blink less to conceal their feelings about their cards.
- Intentionally diverting one’s eyes – looking out a window instead of looking at the person talking – communicates disinterest.
Mouth and Voice
- Lips pursed? They may disapprove or not trust what they are hearing.
- Covering their mouth? They may want to hide their emotion, a smirk, smile, or yawn.
- Corners up or down? When the corners of their mouth are slightly turned up, they might feel happy and less guarded. When turned down, they may be stressed, doubtful, or disapprove.
- Talking loud? They may be stressed, angry, or perhaps hard of hearing.
- Talking softly? They may be shy, embarrassed, or have their hearing aids turned up.
- Over-emphasizing their words? They are attempting to communicate that a word or combination of words is important to them.
- Asking you a question and then answering it themselves? They are trying to teach you something about themselves or their business.
- Laughing? Loud outbursts can be a sign of nervousness and embarrassment; it can be attention-seeking, or a sign of dishonesty. Laughing at a time that seems inappropriate can be interpreted as nervousness or indicate they uncomfortable.
Posture can be interpreted as open or closed. Open posture occurs when the core of the body remains open which indicates positive interest, ready for conversation and to move business forward.
- Crossed arms or legs? This does not automatically indicate they are “closed,” this posture may be comfortable. If someone is crossed and slightly turned away from you, this can be interpreted as closed posture. Likewise, if they are sitting erect and their arms are crossed, this can be interpreted as defensive, distrust, and closed posture.
- Sitting or leaning forward? If so, they are engaged in the conversation and can be interpreted as ready to buy or do more business.
- Hunched forward? This can signal boredom.
- Sitting or leaning back? This can be interpreted as closed and disinterested, bored, or irritated.
- Head cocked to the side or chin down? This can be interpreted as a sign of uncertainty, disapproval, disinterest, or a lack of trust.
Hands & Arms
- Sweaty handshake. This can be a sign of nervousness.
- Handshake pressure. Matching the pressure of your client’s handshake is good business practice. If a client squeezes your hand too tightly, this can be a sign of aggression and anger, or, it is unintentional.
- Steepling. The process of spreading your fingers apart and touching fingertips from one hand to fingertips of the other hand is called “steepling.” This is known as a power gesture, it is used frequently by politicians to send the message of power, confidence, and knowledge. It is widely recognized as such.
- Palms up or down? Keeping your palms up is a positive expression. Palms down, which is a gesture used to train animals, can be interpreted as controlling or negative.
- Pointing. Using one finger to point can come off as being direct and precise, or closed and offensive. Open-hand, palm-up gestures in place of pointing can project a more open conversation, versus closed.
In business meetings you should respect the client’s personal space. Touching a client for a handshake is fine, but touching a client on the arm or shoulder can be interpreted as body language indicating a closer relationship. In the 1960’s, Edward Hall, an American anthropologist, researched the topic of social space and determined there are “bubbles” of personal space that surround us. Hall’s research still holds true today, indicating social space that extends four – 12 feet, is appropriate in business settings.
Note: See Edward Hall’s personal space “bubble” diagram:http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2533-personal-space.html
Your Interpretation Should Be Flexible
Interpreting body language and a client’s personal space boundaries is dependent on how well you know someone, culture, and context. You might greet clients differently depending on whether they are new or existing, male or female, or whether you see them routinely, in public, or only in office.
As you go about your business, remain flexible in your interpretation, realize one or two gestures may or may not be an accurate assessment of a client’s feelings. Consider body language to be an indicator, there to allow you to more effectively navigate through a client meeting.