Say It in Body Language

By Malcolm Fleschner

When traveling in Australia, former president George Bush flashed the two-finger “V” sign for “Victory” to a crowd through the back window of his limousine. Unfortunately for Bush, in Australia such a hand gesture (with the thumb and two lowered fingers facing toward the body, rather than out to the crowd) is roughly equivalent to the extended middle finger in the United States. Whoops! The photo made front pages across Australia and didn’t help Bush’s image down under.

Effective body language is just as important for salespeople. In Artful Persuasion: How to Command Attention, Change Minds and Influence People (AMACOM, 2000), author Harry Mills suggests the following six guidelines for getting your body on the same page as your mind.

1. Say cheese
Face customers squarely. Look directly at them. While you’re listening, tilt your head at a slight angle, arch your eyebrows and nod occasionally. Maintain a relaxed posture. And most important, smile. Smiling conveys warmth, confidence and builds rapport.

2. Open up
An open posture says that you’re receptive to what customers have to say. Also, when standing don’t slouch, and when walking always do so with a purpose and direction.

3. Lean into it
Leaning forward with your hands clasped or on your knees communicates interest in what customers are saying. Leaning back, however, with your hands interlocked in a “steeple” shows indifference.

4. The eyes have it
Research shows that when we like someone, we tend to make eye contact 60-70 percent of the time. When we’re nervous, however, that figure drops to 40 percent. Sustained eye contact is one of the best methods for communicating genuine interest and attention.

5. Touchy, touchy
In our business culture, the handshake is the most common and accepted form of touching. No one likes a limp handshake. Ideally, your grip should be firm and last between three to five seconds. Any longer and you could send the wrong message. Also, avoid the vise-grip – this isn’t a strength contest, and such blatant intimidation tactics are rarely effective.

6. Relax
Above all, remain relaxed in your posture. A comfortable, attentive pose sends the signal that you are ready to listen. Even if you’re nervous on the inside, you don’t have to appear uncomfortable. Don’t fidget, slouch or assume a rigid posture, and you should begin to feel as relaxed as you look.

To learn more about mastering the art of nonverbal communication click here.