TOP TEN BODY LANGUAGE TIPS
Only 7% of how we communicate is down to the words we use – so claims a body of research that stresses that it really isn’t what we say, it’s the way that we say it.
Some experts have gone further, reckoning that, if we can master body language and how we communicate non-verbally, then the world is our oyster – providing the key to greatness; many a business training course extols the virtues of the likes of mirroring and powerful handshakes.
But is it really that simple and how much of it can actually make a difference to the salesperson trying to develop that all-important rapport, for instance? The reality is that, while being aware of body language is crucial, most people know when it is not natural and is being used to manipulate a situation.
If you’re selling, sell
Body language and behaviour expert Judi James says that the biggest mistake salespeople make is either trying to mask the fact they’re trying to sell something – the wide-eyed bonding, overtly friendly, ‘your best mate’ stuff – or trying too hard to put into practise everything they’ve read in a body language book.
‘They may have read that the science of non-verbal communication is a precise one that you can use to manipulate and mind-read. It isn’t. Subtlety is the key word for body language during the sales process. You will need a little fast-track bonding but that shouldn’t mean you try to get onto their personal Christmas card list within the first three seconds,’ she stresses.
Neither should we read too much into the research that says 93% of communication is non-verbal. ‘The study was done in the 1970s with a specific group of people,’ points out Roger Jones, an authority on business communication and influencing skills.
‘Other research says it is around 70%. Either way, they are not hard-and-fast rules, and people vary. What this kind of research is good at, though, is in demonstrating that words aren’t as important as people think.’
So, what does all this mean for the sales person? We asked three experts for their top 10 tips on non-verbal communication that really does make a difference.
Mirroring is not all it’s cracked up to be
If you want to build rapport with people, you need to become like them – in other words mirror their actions and they will think that you are on the same wavelength as them. That’s the common wisdom that’s often handed down to salespeople. However, it can be dangerous if not done subtly.
Says Jones: ‘If it is not elegantly done it looks totally naff. I’ve seen some salespeople totally overdo it and they look like complete amateurs. People see through it.’
Advises James: ‘Slightly copy the person’s style of communication and movement but only in the “formal/relaxed/funny/serious” vein; don’t go so far as to be co-ordinating breathing times!’
First impressions do matter
Jones points out that if you are fed a whole load of information, you only ever remember the initial portion of it. ‘It is like one of those conveyor belt quiz shows where people only remember the first two or three items they saw. The same applies in human relations. People only pick up what you initially project.’
Therefore, if you go in to a room looking as dull as dishwater that is what people will remember you as. All subsequent encounters will be associated with that first impression so, if you turn up unmotivated the first time, then all bright and breezy the next, they will think that the latter persona is fake.
‘Think about what you want people to remember about you after that first encounter and project that when you walk in,’ adds Jones. ‘If you want to look enthusiastic, for example, think of a time in your life you felt really enthusiastic; walk in remembering that situation and chances are you will project it.’
Body language leakage
Look out for the messages people are inadvertently giving out in small gestures such as a shake of the foot, a sure sign they are feeling pushed. Jones again: ‘If you watch someone on the evening news when they are being pressed by the interviewer, you will often see their foot waving around.’
Other body language leakage includes rubbing the nose – a good indication that someone is lying. ‘There a physiological reason for the “Pinocchio effect” – when people lie they rub their nose because there is blood running through the facial tissues at the moment of deceit,’ says Jones.
Judi warns that you should also keep an eye on any of your own body language leakage: ‘It is those small giveaways that will lose you credibility. Customers are currently body language sophisticates thanks to reality TV shows and they’ll know when you’re lying or bluffing. Also avoid metronomic gestures like tapping, fiddling, drumming fingers, and pen-rapping. It shows impatience and will put the wrong type of pressure on the client.’
The vice-like palm-down handshake is an obvious sign when it comes to someone trying to assert their dominance. In short, don’t do it. Palms should be vertical and web-to-web for an equal handshake. Salespeople are sometimes shown to shake hands palm-up to show they are ‘at someone’s service’ but, again, this can be rather obvious and naff.
The hands-on-the-hips ‘Highland Fling’ pose is another dominance sign to watch out for, says Jones, as is who goes first through the door. ‘If they guide you first through the door they may be being polite or they may be trying to show dominance especially if they pat you on the back as you go through.’
Leaning back in a chair can look judgemental and ‘territorial’ males should avoid that spread-leg look. James warns that you should never out-status the client with leg-splaying, pointing, raising your chin, puffing your chest, and self-pointing.
The eyes have it
Body language analyst Robert Phipps says eye contact in any culture is one of the most important aspects when dealing with others. ‘Maintaining good eye contact shows respect and interest in what they have to say.
In the United States, the UK and Australia we tend to keep eye contact around 60 to 70% of the time. By allowing your gaze to drift away from the face some of the time, you won’t make yourself or other people feel self-conscious. Any more eye contact than this, and you could come across as too intense; any less, and you give off signals that perhaps you’re losing interest in them or the content of their conversation.’
Watch your mouth
Mouth movements can give away all sorts of clues as to how we’re feeling. Says Phipps: ‘We purse our lips, bite them, and sometimes twist them to the side when we’re thinking or maybe holding back a sarcastic or angry comment we don’t wish to reveal. Nevertheless, it will probably be spotted by others, and although they may not know what comment you have in mind, they will pick up on your displeasure.’
While smiling shows warmth, don’t overdo it and forget the fake grin – genuine smiles show the teeth and wrinkle the corners of the eyes.
Body language is helpful for helping to guess what someone else is thinking. Jones says that you need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes: ‘If you were in that body posture with that facial expression, what would you be thinking? Chances are you will be 75% right. Also look for congruence – is their voice soft and warm but their body language very sharp, for example?’
Crossed arms are an obvious one here – but often we sit or stand like that simply because it is comfortable. Same applies to crossed legs. However, be wary of the ‘figure four’, says Phipps, where you bring your leg up to rest on the knee of the other. ‘This is generally perceived as the most defensive leg cross, especially if you do it just after someone says or does something you don’t like, because the natural tendency is to grip the ankle and squeeze, which shows your tension with the situation.’
Reading the hands
We use our hands and arms in putting a spin on our messages, which is why newsreaders are trained not to move their hands, says Jones. Watch out for ‘the politician’, which is like a soft karate chop and means ‘this is the point’ and can be quite manipulative.
Phipps adds: ‘Palms slightly up and outward is seen as open and friendly. Palm-down gestures are generally seen as dominant, emphasising, and possibly aggressive, especially when there is no movement or bending between the wrist and the forearm.’
The best thing you can do, however, is be honest and open – and the body language will follow. ‘In a world where everyone’s selling but no one admits to it some openness will work to your advantage,’ reckons James.
‘Look and act and sound like a salesperson. People enjoy buying.
‘She says that the first three seconds of a meeting are like your chip and pin. ‘It’s during this time you get all your personal details across to the other person and they will either approve or not. ‘Hi, I’m selling telephones’ plus a good firm handshake and smile should work as well as anything. It shows a respect that openings like ‘I’m just trying to canvas your opinions on our new range’ and other under-the-radar comments don’t.’