Body Language – The Silent Force

April 27, 2012 by  Filed under: Sales 

We communicate all day long. In person, by phone, email, twitter and other social media, a continuous flood of communication. All these forms of communication are different. We use different tools for different methods of communication; our voice, our ears, our computer or smart phone. There is one form of communication however, we always use: body language.

And here is the interesting part. We all recognize the more significant forms of body language. We all know what somebody ‘says’ when s/he uses body language, but we often chose to ignore it, especially if the message is negative and especially in business communication.

In general, women are better in picking up and interpreting non-verbal signals than men. According to some scientists this has to do with the need to be able to communicate with the new-born child. The mother ‘reads’ the signs.

I am not a scientist but I do remember a few occasions where I saw a healthy kid while looking at my few months old son but his mother told me we had to see a doctor because something was wrong. She was always right.

Ever had a bad day at work but had no intention of bothering your spouse with it? I did. Entering the house after a hard day at the office, smiling and hugging the wife to hear her say: “What’s wrong? Something bad happened today?”

My wife even knows when I am angry or agitated while I am at my keyboard. It seems that I start ‘slamming’ the keys when I am upset in some way.

In short, our body tells the true story. No way of hiding our true feelings for the keen observer. Our body doesn’t lie. We can try to manipulate our own body language but that takes so much energy and attention that we usually fail at it after a very short time.

In a sales situation, body language plays a huge role and it is amazing how little attention there is for this form of communication. Picture this situation:

Joe has a meeting with a prospect to discuss his proposal. He explains all the specs and benefits. The prospect is sitting there listening. After all the explaining, Joe asks the prospect what his thoughts are about the proposal. The prospect leans back in his chair, crosses his arms in front of his chest and says:”That is a very interesting proposal, Joe. It looks really good.”

Do you think that Joe stands a chance to close the deal here? I don’t. The prospect says that he likes it, but his body says (or even yells) ‘no’. People lie every day, body language doesn’t. Most Joe’s will go back to the office and tell their Sales Manager that the deal is almost done. This deal will hit the 90% mark in the forecast.

What should Joe have done? Here a few tips on reacting to non-verbal signals when they contradict the verbal signals:

  • If the verbal and non-verbal are contradicting each other, don’t believe what your conversation partner says. He is lying or hiding something.
  • Never ignore body language. There is always a slight chance that you misinterpreted the signals but the odds are that your feeling is right.
  • Express your ‘gut feeling’. Joe could have said something like: “I do have the feeling, Mr. Prospect, that you still have some doubts.”. Most likely the prospect would have told Joe what his problems are.
  • Never accuse people of lying. Even if you know that they are. Often people try to hide the truth because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Always pay very close attention to body language. Especially when you are in the closing stage of your sales meeting. And don’t forget your own body language. As you pick up somebody’s body language, so do others. Don’t cross your arms, don’t lean back in your chair, keep your hands above the table and away from your face.

A few often misinterpreted non-verbal signals:

  • Avoiding eye contact. Most people think that a person who avoids eye contact is a liar. Not true. Avoiding eye contact is a clear sign of insecurity. Granted, some people become insecure when they tell a lie, but it is not the lie itself that makes them avoid eye contact. Pathological liars will look you straight in the eyes when they tell you their lies.
  • Hand to the mouth or nose while talking. This is also often seen as an attempt to hide the truth or telling a lie. Be careful with that assumption. Although in conjunction with other signals it can be a sign of lying, in most cases it is an expression of being nervous or insecure.

Body language is one of the most studied aspects of (human) behavior. It is fascinating and it can tell you a lot about your conversation partners if you know how to ‘translate’ the signals.

Read some more about it, follow some seminars or training sessions about body language and I’ll promise you, a whole new world will open up for you and it will help you a lot in your sales practice.

Happy signalling.

Succinct Inc. is an Ontario based organization specialized in tailor-made training programs for sales and management. Succinct also provides Online Assessments that can be a tremendous help for all HR practitioners while hiring new employees or making the right choices in an employee’s development.

For more information:

Kees Scheffel.

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