“What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
My son (seven years old) and his sister (five years old) were engaged in their daily bout with each other when Mommy stepped in to send them to their respective corners. After playing small claims court judge and hearing the testimony from each, she determined that little sis’ needed to make an apology to her older brother. “Tell your brother that you’re sorry.” Following a glare of discontent at the presiding judge, little sister turned to her brother with a furled brow, arms crossed tightly and shouted, “I’m sorry!” Did she really think that big brother was going to buy that? Did she think that Judge Mommy was going to accept that as proper penance for her crime?
While childhood altercations may be a world apart from the difficult business situations that we are all placed in, the lessons we can learn from body language interpretation can be priceless. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, when the words you speak, the tone of voice you use and your portrayal of body language are not in complete alignment, your message becomes less believable. When these three (words, tone, and body language) are not in alignment, people tend to believe body language 55% of the time. That is reason enough to make certain that our body language is sending the message we want.
What are the body language interpretations?
While body language is going to be slightly different with each individual, we all interpret basic movements and gestures the same way. For example, a furled brow and a raised arm with a clinched fist would immediately be interpreted as someone extremely upset with you. In business, movements and gestures rarely take on such dramatic movements. Business body language can be much more subtle, yet have just as strong a message behind it. Understanding how to interpret simple gestures can be beneficial in not only reading underlying meanings, but also in sending the appropriate messages.
According to research, the following movements and gestures have been patterned to show that they can have distinct meanings. While a movement to the ear can mean that the person speaking is not being truthful, it can also mean that the person had an itch on their ear. So, when you’re reading subtle movements, look for patterns of consistency rather than trying to interpret every movement individually.
- Cover mouth or pull collar - They are telling a lie
- Biting lip or fingers in mouth - They are nervous or unsure
- Raised eyebrows or Rub neck - Disbelief or unsure about a decision
- Leaning Forward - They are interested in what you are saying.
- Uncrossed Arms - Open to the conversation
- Crossed Arms - Closed to the conversation or what you are saying
- Hands on Hips - Angry or defensive
- Touch ear - They don’t like what they are hearing. If they are speaking, they may be telling a lie.
- Rub eye - They don’t like what they are seeing.
Align your body language with your desired message
If you want to send a complete message to someone, you can utilize your body language to reinforce what you are saying and your tone of voice. By avoiding negative body gestures, you can utilize your movements to create a powerful message that is visually in line with your verbal and vocal communications.
- Sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner.
- Lean forward, towards the team member to show greater interest.
- Utilize the “silent nod” when you are listening to show agreement or understanding.
- Never point your finger at the other person. It is interpreted as immediate criticizing.
- If crossing your legs, do so in a relaxed manner. Crossing arms and legs can be interpreted as being closed to the conversation.
- Smile! Research shows that the smile is an effective body language tool for showing interest, friendliness and openness. Dale Carnegie stressed the importance of smiling in his world renowned book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
For utilizing body movement with purpose, professional athletes have learned that using their body to “fake” their next move can lead to any easy lay-up, a soccer goal or a touchdown run. What has become known as a “juke” or a “feint” or a “fake” is really just a professional athlete utilizing the interpretations of body movements to send the desired message to an opponent. A slight dip of the shoulder to one side means they are going to run that direction. A bend at the knees means they are about to dribble with the ball to that side. For every movement, athletes know there is an interpretation.
As professionals in business, we need to recognize how body language plays a similar role in our business meetings. Since every movement can have an interpretation, we need to make certain that our body language is in alignment with the verbal and vocal message we are sending to create the greatest impact. While we may not be looking to score a touchdown…we just want to add another satisfied customer!
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