Understanding body language is crucial in the business world, and anywhere else for that matter.
Want to know how your client feels about a particular contract clause? Curious whether this salesperson’s offer has a “catch”? Need to know which part of your pitch the prospect is really interested in?
It’s all within reach; once you can identify body language cues, you’ll feel like a mind-reader in the boardroom. Body language is controlled by the limbic or mammalian brain, which is distinct from the cognitive or “human” brain that we use to lie. That means body language is expressed with instinct, not intent; it’s an honest, unguarded reaction to external stimuli. You’ll always have an accurate read of your client’s “temperature,” no matter what their conniving cognitive brain tries to tell you.
With this in mind, let’s discuss 2 ways you can use body language reads to boost your bottom line.
When do I push a sale?
It’s really important to get the timing right when you’re pitching an offer during a meeting. The sale’s lost if you offer a product or service too soon. You need to know when the prospect is interested.
Before you commit with your offer, scan the room and look for these bodily signs of interest:
- Full eyes. This indicates that the listener is engaged by what you’re saying. Squinting is a sign of stress that should tell you the listener is losing interest, or is in disagreement with you.
- Full lips. When we’re under stress, we purse our lips or cover our mouths in what is a form of “blocking behaviour.” We literally block sensitive parts of our bodies when we’re feeling even slightly uneasy. On the other hand, we keep our lips full and relaxed when we’re comfortable. If your prospects are pursing, biting, or hiding their lips, hold off or end the meeting entirely; now’s not the time to swing for a home run.
- No facial finicking. Another form of blocking behaviour that we exhibit under stress involves touching, rubbing, or preening ourselves, especially when it’s focused around the face and neck. If your client is rubbing her neck, scratching at a beard, or perching his chin on his hand in the “thinking man’s pose,” they’re not in the right frame of mind to receive your offer. End the meeting, or keep talking until the face is relaxed and unblocked.
When do I wrap up the sales interaction?
Failing to secure a sale during a meeting isn’t always a sure sign that the client is a dead-end: just because you lost the battle doesn’t mean you lost the war. A client may simply not have the budget available to work with, or may be conducting preliminary research with no intention to buy on that day. It doesn’t mean they won’t buy from you eventually. In these instances, remember that you’ll plant the sales seeds for later if you respect the client’s time and attention.
Unfortunately, many business owners end up burning bridges by trying to wear down their prospects. They try to force a sale with a marathon meeting, flooding the client with information and selling points. It’s a bad move that most people make unintentionally – it’s hard to know when someone is interested or just humoring you. Understanding of body language can prevent this – especially if you study the feet!
The feet are perhaps the most honest part of the body, in part because we don’t pay much attention to them when we’re trying to sell a lie. So much effort goes into the face and eyes that the feet are forgotten.
You can know exactly when to end a meeting if you look carefully (and discreetly!) at your prospect’s feet. Watch for these signs that they don’t like what they hear, or their attention is waning:
- Wide stance. When we feel threatened, insecure, or ready to leave, we will widen our stances. This is an intention cue; in other words, we are showing our intent to physically use our feet, whether in fight or flight, by moving into a balanced, athletic stance. In contrast, cross legs will tell you that the client is comfortable and settling in to talk more. In these cases, the limbic brain is literally lowering its defenses, which should signal their openness to your offer – or at least their intention to hear you out.
- Hooking feet on chair legs. Though it may appear that the client is anchoring themselves in place for a long listen, this behaviour actually indicates that they’re feeling uncomfortable. Think of this hooking action as bracing for an impact or clinging on for dear life: neither has a very comfortable association. If you notice their feet in this position, wrap it up.
- Angling the feet towards the exit. Have you ever approached a group of people who greeted you by turning their heads while their torso still pointed away from you? This is technically referred to as “ventral blocking,” which means turning our vital organs and ventral side away for defense. If this happened to you, you probably didn’t feel too welcome. The direction we point our torso – and our feet – can tell a lot about how we feel.If you want a clue as to whether the person across from you is interested in what you’re saying, take a peek at their feet. If you’re pointing towards you, they’re interested in what you have to say. If one or both are pointing towards the door, they want out. Wrap up the meeting and live to fight another day.
More Body Language for Business Tips
I hope these body language tips for business come in handy. It’s an interesting subject, and one that I’ll cover in greater detail in an online course later this year. Check Rapid Business Lessons for updates on that project, along with outsourcing tips and training courses.
Hargrave, Jan. (2008). Do you speak body language? Forensic Examiner, 17(3): 17-22.