How the Best Salespeople Read Body Language
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Being aware of what customers
and clients are really feeling, and knowing how to react effectively,
can transform a good salesperson into a great one.
The best salespeople are experts
at reading body language.
Here’s why this is a crucial
sales skill: When you are interacting with a prospective client, you
are both communicating on two levels – one verbal, one nonverbal. And
while the verbal interchange is obviously important, it may not be the
most important when negotiations get tricky or subtle personality
During any kind of sales
presentation, the most informative body language signals to monitor are
your prospect’s engagement and disengagement behaviors. The former
indicate interest, receptivity, or agreement with what you are saying.
The latter show resistance, defensiveness, disagreement, and even
hostility. All of these signals are revealed in a combination of eye
activities, facial expressions, head movements, hand and arm gestures,
torso positions, and leg and feet movement.
While it may sound like an
impossible task to spot these nonverbal signals while keeping track of
a complicated verbal negotiation with someone you may never have met
before, remember that you’ve been reading and reacting unconsciously to
body language cues all your life. What’s different now is that you’ll
be taking conscious note of these signals, using them to gauge how
things are going, and then making appropriate adjustment to ensure the
best possible outcome.
So to begin with:
1. Watch the eyes
Having presented your prospect
with two written options, you observe that his gaze lingers longer on
one than on the other. If, in addition, you see his eyes open wide or
his pupils dilate, you know for certain that he has a much greater
interest in this option.
In general, people tend to look
longer and with more frequency at people or objects they are drawn to.
A person may be trying to appear uninterested, but his eyes will keep
returning to the object that attracts him most.
The same holds for eye contact.
Research suggests that maintaining eye contact between 60-70 percent of
the time is ideal for creating rapport. And in a negotiation setting,
when people like or agree with you, they automatically increase the
length of time they look into your eyes.
triggers less than normal eye contact. People tend to look away from
things and people they don’t like. A prospect who is bored with you or
feels restless may avoid eye contact entirely by gazing past you,
defocusing, or glancing around the room. And, instead of opening wide,
eyes that are signaling disengagement will narrow slightly. Eye
narrowing may also be observed when people read various parts of a
contract or proposal. When this occurs, it is almost always a sign of
their having seen something troubling, or problematic.
Researchers have known for years
that eye pupil size is a major clue in determining a person’s emotional
responses. The pupils are a part of our body we have practically no
control over. Therefore, pupil dilation can be a very effective way to
gauge someone’s interest. Pupils dilate for various reasons, including
memory load and cognitive difficulty, but pupils also dilate to express
positive feelings about the person we're talking to or the object we're
looking at. When someone is less than receptive, however, his or her
pupils will automatically constrict.
2. Notice facial expressions
Typically, someone who is in
agreement with you will smile and nod as you speak. Disagreement shows
up in compressed or pursed lips, lowered eyebrows, a tense mouth,
clenched jaw muscles, or a head turned slightly away, causing an
awkward sidelong eye contact.
3. Learn what gestures are saying
In general, the more open the
position of your customer’s arms, the more receptive he or she will be
to the sales process. Watch for expansive, welcoming gestures that seem
to flow naturally. When someone reaches toward you or uses a lot of
open-hand gestures, it is usually a positive signal of interest and
receptivity. By contrast, people who are defensive or angry may
protectively fold their arms across their chests, clench their fists or
tightly grip their arm or wrist.
As the negotiation progresses,
hand and arm movements are one of the best indicators of changes in
emotions. For example, when you start the conversation your prospect’s
hands may be resting openly on the table. If they pull away or withdraw
to under the table, it’s probably a signal that something unsettling or
unwanted just happened. In contrast, if someone is about to make a
sincere disclosure, they will usually show their hands -- placing both
hands on the table or gesturing as they speak.
4. Notice shoulders and torso
The shoulders and torso play an
important role in nonverbal communication. The more your
customers/clients like and agree with you, the more they will lean
toward you, or the more closely they will stand before or beside you.
On the other hand, when you say or do things they disagree with or are
uncertain about, the more they will tend to lean back and create
additional space between the two of you.
When you see people turn their
shoulders and torso away from you, you’ve probably lost their interest.
In fact, orienting away from someone in this manner almost always
conveys detachment or disengagement, regardless of the words spoken.
When people are engaged, they will face you directly, “pointing” at you
with their torso. However, the instant they feel uncomfortable, they
will turn away – literally giving you “the cold shoulder.” And if
someone is feeling defensive, you may see an attempt to shield the
torso with a purse, briefcase, laptop, etc.
People who are in agreement tend
to mirror one another’s behavior. One will lead and the other will
follow. If you notice your prospect has assumed the same basic body
orientation as yours, move slightly and see if he follows suit. If he
does, you know you’ve made a positive connection.
5. Read feet signals
Feet and legs are not only our
primary means of locomotion, they are also the main indicators of our “
“fight, flight, or freeze” survival strategies. And they are programmed
to respond faster than the speed of thought. Before we’ve had time to
form any conscious plan, our limbic brain has already made sure that,
depending on the situation, our feet and legs are primed to freeze in
place, run away, or kick out in defense.
If someone is sitting with
ankles crossed and legs stretched forward, they are probably feeling
positively toward you. But when you see feet pulled away from you or
wrapped in a tight ankle lock or pointed at the exit or wrapped around
the legs of a chair, you would be wise to suspect withdrawal and
Other signals from feet include:
• High-energy heel bouncing
almost always indicates that the party involved has “happy feet” – and
is feeling pretty good about his bargaining position. And if your
seated opponent rocks back on his heels and raises his toes – he
probably thinks he has the upper hand.
• In the opposite case, bouncing
legs that suddenly go still is probably a sign of heightened
anticipation – the equivalent of holding your breath.
• Crossed legs send their own
set of cues. If the foot on the leg that is crossed on top is pointing
towards you, the person is most likely engaged. If the opposite leg is
crossed so the top foot is pointing away, the person may be withdrawing.
observant without making it obvious, Trust your instinctive reactions
but improve your accuracy by consciously analyzing the nonverbal
signals being sent. And remember, you are already much better doing
this than you may know. Successfully reading body language has helped
the human race survive for the last several million years. The best
salespeople have simply turned a survival skill into a savvy technique
About the Author
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is a global speaker,
leadership presence coach, and media expert on body language in the
workplace. She’s a leadership contributor for Forbes and author of "The
Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How
You Lead.” Reach Carol by email: Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com,
telephone: 510-526-1727, or through her website: www.CarolKinseyGoman.com
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2016-01-20 09:42:10 in Personal Articles