“Reading body language can be very interesting and informative. People don’t realise how much information they display and how noticeable it is to other people.” So says Peter Clayton in a recent post in Soft skills. Understanding business body language can be very rewarding. You’ll know when to move forward, back off or slow down. It is also invaluable when interviewing, negotiating, running a training course or leading a team.
So what should we be concentrating on? The short list that can be used for Business Body Language is:
- Voice tone, inflection and volume.
- Eye contact.
- Head movement.
- Body movement including hands, arms, body and legs.
Voice tone, inflection and volume
Use the first few minutes of any business meeting to read and memorize the normal body language of important attendees, including voice tone and volume. Using small talk allows your to understand how they speak and how they communicate. Later in the meeting when things get serious you can use your original benchmarks to check how genuine they are.
Next, consider how much eye contact they are displaying and in which direction they look when using small talk. A dominant person maintains eye contact approximately 99% of the time which is a great deal more than a reserved or quiet person which is normally 60% of the time. An enthusiastic person would look you in the eyes approximately 75% of the time and would tend to look upwards and around when recalling memories.
Try to include a question about the marketplace and the way the economy is affecting all of us. This is a negative topic for most people, the eyes will probably go down and the voice will be lower. What you want to know now is how their eyes drop and for how long and in which direction left or right. When important points are mentioned during the meeting, if eye contact drops further and lower and is more focused then there is probably something to be concerned about and the person may be concealing something.
Remember, these are only indications of something to be concerned about or partial concealment. It is not, as some believe, an indication that someone is lying.
When lighting conditions are favorable it is very useful to gauge whether someone’s pupils are constricted or dilated. If you see a small piece of body language that concerns you and you can also see that the eyes are constricted then you know the person you’re talking to is concealing something. Likewise, when negotiating it is good to see someone’s eyes become dilated, it tells you they are far more interested than they would like you to believe and that the negotiations are going well. The easy rule is that the eyes constrict when someone is concealing negative thoughts, where as dilated pupils are a sign of enthusiasm and interest.
It is important in the first few minutes of any meeting to see how much head movement a person is using when talking about small issues. When someone is attempting to conceal something, they will increase their eye contact to 100% directly into the eyes whilst holding their head steady. It is a subconscious movement that says if they are not looking away or fidgeting you will believe them. This stronger eye contact and steady head comes from childhood when we were told by our parents to “look me in the eye and tell me the truth”.
Hand to face
When we are thinking one thing and saying another, we feel uncomfortable. The facial skin gets warmer, especially around the base and side of the nose, ear lobes and neck. When you hear somebody say something which appears to be positive, but then they slightly rub the base of their nose at the same time, something is wrong. What happens is that blood has come to the surface of the skin and causes minor irritation which prompts someone to touch it to clear the irritation. Note – it is not blushing and you will not see any redness.
Going back once again to the beginning of the meeting, what posture does this person have? Are they sitting upright, slightly forwards or slightly relaxed with their arms on the desk? How far away is their body from the desk? Enthusiastic people tend to come forwards, their hands become slightly animated and involved and their voice is a little louder. We can all see these expressions because unless you’re negotiating there is no need to conceal them.
However, as the meeting progresses it may appear that someone is becoming more relaxed, they move slightly away from the desk and turn to the left or the right very slightly. If this happens it is a sign that they are losing or have already lost interest and are being polite about it until the meeting finishes. This is almost certainly the case where the person you are talking to has respect for you and therefore the posture they have is an attempt to look relaxed. If when you ask the next question the voice is lower, with less inflection and tone then you can be sure that they are just being polite.
Peter Clayton is a leading body language expert, speaker and trainer as well as a consultant for the BBC and ITV. He writes for a wide range of national papers and magazines and is a specialist consultant to other speakers, leading businesses, celebrities and politicians. For more information, visit his website:www.peterclayton.com