Much attention has been given to the importance of nonverbal communication, or body language, during the last several decades. The study of nonverbal communication was first popularized when the book, Body Language, by Julius Fast came out in the 1970s. Fast’s research in this area made people aware of the importance of body language but was too simplistic but became a foundation for additional studies. The potential for reading and sending nonverbal signals in interacting with others is very exciting. More than two thirds of communication between people can be nonverbal. Nonverbal communication is body language–the physical projection of words. Body language messages that are given off by a person help form the basis of impressions and intentions. By taking advantage and becoming aware of nonverbal body cues, a sales professional can increase the level of success in selling to customers.
Eyes: In the book, Contact: The First Four Minutes, the eyes are referred to as the primary form of nonverbal contact. You can really learn how to read a person from eye signals. A darting look and lowering eyes gives a signal of “I don’t trust you.” Staring is impolite, and many times increases the possibility of a fight or other threatening feelings. When eyebrows are raised with a smile, this sign shows that there is interest. A wink can suggest that you have a secret.Especially in selling situations, a sales professional must maintain eye contact with the buyer. A good general rule to follow is the 80/20 rule. While conversing with the buyer, maintain eye contact 80 percent of the time and occasionally look away 20 percent of the time to avoid coming across as staring which may become threatening to some people. When eye contact is interrupted for a long period of time during a sales presentation, the buyer may develop feelings that are negative. Some of these feelings may be that the sales professional is lying, being deceptive, lacking confidence, or simply not caring and showing no interest. Eyes can smile, and many emotions are conveyed by eye contact. Experience will help you learn how to use the messages from the eyes as an aid and information source.
Body Messages Besides concentrating on the eyes for revealing information about others, spend time in noticing the body messages that are given off. By body messages we mean postures, positions, movements, hands, gestures, mannerisms, touching, and space.
Postures and positions: When people are tense, defensive, and just unreceptive, they give off specific body gestures. When a person crosses the legs, he/she could be giving a sign that the person is relaxed and receptive to what you are saying. The important concept with body messages is that people speak in clusters of signals, therefore learn to recognize the compatibility that is found among the various messages given off at one time. Leaning forward in a chair can indicate that the person is interested in what you are discussing. Sales professionals attempt to get products in the hands of buyers to prevent them from crossing their arms, a sign that could mean defensiveness or appearing to be unreceptive. Generally, any change of position may indicate a change of mind. Sales professionals are very concerned about body postures and positions because of the old saying actions speak louder than words.
Another good body message is the tilting of the head. When a buyer nods the head up and down, he/she may be agreeing with what you are saying. Moving the head closer to you generally indicates interest in you. When the prospect is busy or out of time, one may move back and forth or move around. One of the most obvious movements is when a person looks at the watch; this shows that a person is concerned about time–he/she may be in a hurry or has an appointment.
One of my favorite movements of the body to observe deals with the hands. Hands help us communicate and draw pictures to express size, shape, or direction. Hands also can express authority and acceptance. Clasped hands can indicate tension or anger. The tapping on a desk suggests restlessness, boredom or impatience. We have all seen people hit their foreheads when they forget something. Some people who have studied body language say that when people touch their nose, this indicates that they don’t believe what you are saying. A person may stroke his chin when one is evaluating what you are saying.
John T. Molloy said in his book Dress for Success–“Although you cannot control other people, particularly strangers, by reading their body signals, you can control the way other people will react to you if you control your own body signals.”
A person’s private bubble: One of the most interesting concepts that I have been exposed to in selling is that all people prefer certain distances with the people with whom they are communicating. Every person has an invisible bubble around them. The distance that exists between two people can result from their personalities, purpose of discussion, and how well the two people know each other. Impersonal business or discussions are usually conducted with a distance of 3 to 5 feet. Close friends or family usually are less than 2 feet apart. The friendlier the climate, the closer two people will be toward each other. Larger distances indicate that the situation is very formal or that the two people feel a bit uneasy or uncomfortable with each other. All of us have our own personal bubble around us. We do not like people to enter this private bubble unless we give them permission to do so. If this bubble or personal space is invaded without permission, we tend to give off the warning signs that can easily be picked up. Some people become nervous, avoid looking others in the eye, and some even start to perspire. It is a good rule to let the other person know when your space has been invaded. We generally start giving off messages like moving back, stiffening up, or becoming a bit offensive. Introverts tend to have a larger personal bubble than extroverts. It is helpful to know what personality type your buyer is so that you won’t create an uneasy buying atmosphere from the beginning.
Touching: Touching should be done with extreme caution. We all tend to do a bit of touching in shaking hands with others. A firm handshake indicates friendliness and confidence. If it is too long, it may come across as too forward and intimate. On the other hand, a limp or loose handshake shows unfriendliness and maybe a lack of self-confidence. Some people like to put their hand on the shoulder or back of others. This may relax a person, but generally can embarrass others or give off the wrong signals. A general rule of thumb to follow in selling situations is to limit any amount of touching to a handshake.
Mirroring: Every sales professional should build an atmosphere during the selling situation that is positive and comfortable. One way to do this is to assume the same body postures, gestures, and positions as the customer. This concept called mirroring helps establish a level of trust and rapport between the sales professional and the customer. In establishing a positive buying environment, the seller can often assume the same body angle as the customer. If, when seated, the customer leans back, the sales professional can also lean back and relax. The seller can take the lead in mirroring and give off body signals to promote more of an open and friendly environment. Leaning forward, opening up your arms, and nodding your head will suggest cues to the buyer and often the buyer will mirror the same signals. By exhibiting positive body signals, and through assuming the same signals given off by the buyer, the selling atmosphere can become friendlier and make the buyer feel more at ease.