By Lloyd Lofton
Have you ever had a “hunch” about what a prospect or client is thinking or how the meeting is going? Have you had that “gut feeling” that your prospect or client may not be telling you what is really going on with them?
What we really may mean by having a “hunch” is that the prospect’s body language does not seem to match their words. Maybe they are sitting back in their chair with their chin down, or their arms crossed on their chest or they may even have their legs crossed.
Maybe that hunch is that you need to take a different approach.
Many non-verbal communications are basic. When people are happy, they smile. When they are sad or angry, they frown or scowl. When they agree with what you’re saying, they nod their head.
Shaking their head from side to side may mean they don’t agree with or they feel negative about what was just said. This is reminiscent of little children who shake their heads from side to side when they are done eating.
Some gestures are universal among people. For example, the “thumbs up” often is associated with someone who wants a ride (such as in hitch-hiking). A thumbs up is the signal that people agree or that they believe something is OK. A sharp upward jerk of the thumb also could be an insult.
Then there’s the V sign. This is often seen in sports to signify a win or a victory. However, if you’re in a bar in England, the V sign might give you two mugs of beer.
Some behaviors are habitual. For example, have you ever been looking for an address while you’re driving and have others in the car, and as you come close to the address you’re seeking, you turn down the radio so you can “see” the address better? Or have you had someone walk into the room and tell you something surprising and then you reach for your glasses, put them on then ask the person to repeat themselves so you can “hear” better?
Here are some principles we can follow to ensure we are interpreting the right message from people’s non-verbal communication and that we are transmitting the correct message with our body language.
Look at clusters. For example, when someone scratches their head, it could mean the person doesn’t understand what is being said. It also could mean dandruff, sweating, forgetfulness or lying. So look for other gestures to ensure you are reading the person’s body language correctly. Do their gestures match their words, voice inflection and the context of what is going on?
What a person does with their hands is often a tell-tale sign of what they are really feeling. The index finger pointing at their cheek while another finger covers their mouth with their thumb supporting their chin could have one meaning. However, when that is combined with their legs being crossed, you could believe they don’t like what you are saying or they disagree with it.
Do the other person’s words match their gestures? Consider the the person who is saying how happy they are with their relationship while they are slipping their wedding ring on and off. However, on the other hand, a person sitting with their legs crossed and their arms crossed over their chest would not look defensive if they were sitting at a bus stop on a cold day versus sitting across from you at a kitchen table.
The handshake is an important part of body language. Some say that when you shake hands with someone and they turn your hand so theirs is on top, it means they want to assume the dominant position in the relationship. The reverse of the dominant handshake is to offer your hand in the “palm up” position indicating you will allow the other person to feel as if they are in command of the situation.
So it may be worth your while to pay attention to the little things when communicating with someone. Consider the message you are conveying with your body language as well as the message you receive from the other person’s body language.
Are your words and body language congruent with the message you want your prospect or client to receive?
Lloyd Lofton, CSA, LUTCF, is the chief operating officer of American Eagle Financial Services, Smyrna, Ga. Lloyd may be reached at [email protected].