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Unlocking the Power of Nonverbal Communication

In The Definitive Book of Body Language, Allan and Barbara Pease analyzed thousands of recorded sales negotiations from the 1970s and 1980s and found that body language accounted for the majority of the impact made in negotiating.

They also considered how the person with the strongest argument usually wins in negotiations over the phone but not always in face-to-face conversations. 

Improving nonverbal communication can increase your ability to relate, negotiate, sell and engage.

Your nonverbal communication says way more than you think.

So let’s get better. 

Here are my top ten nonverbal cues that will improve your communication: 

  1. Eye contact: Maintain steady eye contact to convey confidence and build trust. Maintaining eye contact not only exudes confidence but also builds trust. Research shows that we tend to see people who avert their gaze as less sincere, socially anxious and deceptive. Conversely, we’re more likely to believe someone who looks at us directly. You should be making eye contact 60 to 70% of the time.
  2. Posture: Stand or sit upright with your shoulders back to exhibit confidence and authority. Good posture portrays a sense of credibility and self-assuredness. The FBI conducted a study of prisoners who had shot or attacked police officers. Before engaging, the prisoners evaluated how easy it would be to take the officers by the way they were dressed (sloppy or sharp) and how they carried themselves (slouching or straight). (Talk Like Ted)
  3. Mirroring: Subtly mimic the body language of the person you’re trying to persuade. Mirroring builds rapport and fosters a sense of connection, making them more receptive to your message.
  4. Smiling: A genuine smile can make you more likable and approachable. Smiling also conveys positivity, which can help create a favorable impression and enhance your persuasive efforts. It is virtually impossible to frown while the person across from you is smiling.
  5. Gestures: Use purposeful hand movements to emphasize key points and convey enthusiasm. When speaking or making a request, use open palms to show honesty and sincerity. It can help establish trust and make your intentions more transparent. Avoid crossing your arms or creating physical barriers, as it can make you seem closed off or defensive. Nodding your head while listening demonstrates active engagement and understanding. It signals that you’re receptive to ideas and increases the likelihood of reciprocation.

Nonverbal gestures to avoid.

  • Frequent and wild hand gestures. I always knew when a past supervisor was nervous about communicating news – he would gesture wildly. His hands would go above his head and he would open and close his hands as if he were trying to catch a gnat. Don’t do that.
  • Finger pointing. Is there a more intimidating gesture?
  • Arms waving in the air. Keep your hand gestures in the ‘strike zone’.
  • Raking fingers through your hair.
  • Hands in your pocket – worse – jiggling coins in your pocket. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  1. Vocal pace, tone and modulation: While not strictly a body language cue, your voice plays a vital role in persuasion. Speak clearly, confidently, and with appropriate modulation to convey conviction and authority. Don’t mumble or murmur – you’ll come across as hesitant or fearful. Studies show that 150 to 160 words per minute is the ideal rate of speech for audio books. It is also the rate at which most listeners can hear and absorb what you’re saying. You’re not talking too fast, are you? Tone and volume is also important to monitor. Can people across the showroom hear your conversation? Change the tone and volume to make your words more interesting.
  2. Touch:This one is hard to get just right – but when you do it’s very powerful. Keep in mind ‘touch’ is very culturally sensitive. What might be acceptable to one culture could be offensive to another. For some, something as simple as a two handed handshake might be positive. After my teeth cleaning the dentist comes in to check me and gently puts his hand on my shoulder the first thing. It’s natural and very endearing. Take your cue from the person to whom you’re talking and don’t assume your cultural preference about touch.
  3. Space: Invading personal space sends a message of hostility. This is also largely culturally determined. If you’re talking to a couple or family observe how close they’re standing to each other when talking and follow their cue.
  4. Jewelry and symbols: Obviously your clothes are a big part of your nonverbal communication – and subject for another article. Here I’m talking about lapel pins, rings, watches, necklaces, piercings, and bracelets. Beyond a matter of personal taste, they frequently symbolize your beliefs, political views, affiliations, and associations. Make sure you’re aware of that in relation to the typical customer you encounter.
  5. Smell: This one gets left out of most lists. But it’s quite possible, people smell you before they hear you. I’m a big fan of wearing a fragrance, just make sure you’re wearing the fragrance and it’s not wearing you. I worked in an office in which I frequently got on the elevator at the same time as a colleague. Their fragrance filled the elevator so powerfully that it was all I could smell for some time afterward. Your taste in a fragrance might not be another’s and some even have allergic reactions. Studies show if people are allergic to you, sales will drop.

There it is. Nonverbal cues that make up others’ first impressions of you.

I’m out of words and am now gesturing wildly.

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