The Benefits of Body Language

“What your words aren’t telling me your body is.”

When delivering emotional communication only 7% are words, 30% is tone and 55% is body language or non-verbal
- Albert Mehrabian (social psychologist).


Being able to master the art of body language is like arming yourself with a super power, or sixth sense. It’s like a gift that keeps giving and it’s especially useful for people in the beginning stage of employment.

A long time ago humans didn’t talk so instead of speaking there was silence. The only way to read a fellow human being for threat or friendship was through their body language.

Unfortunately due to the spoken word we have become worse than our ancestors with the ability to read body language and lost those ‘survival’ skills.

In a split second we needed to know if someone was a threat or foe to ensure our survival. These limbic responses have not been upgraded since our primitive cave man times. We still run on the same operating system.

Let’s learn more.

Breaking Down Body Language

There are a few rules when it comes to body language so we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up:

1. Our feet are furtherest from our brains which means we have less conscious control of them than any other part of our body. Where people’s feet are pointing is a signal to what their intent is. Toe to toe is great but one foot pointed away at the door demonstrates disengagement. When you join a group at a conference if the feet are open they you can join, if they are closed pointing toe to toe between two parties then they are locked in tightly and best not to break it up.

2. Our torso is called the “billboard of the body”. Why? Because it presents all our significant proportion of our physique and housing our vital organs (the technical term is ventral). Because of this our brain takes great care to protect all our vital organs (hearts, kidney, lungs). Folding arms protects the heart, our most vital organ working as a physical barrier driven by discomfort. We shield ourselves using our subconscious reptilian brain.

When we expose our ‘ventral’ (torso front) we are showing we are at ease, comfortable and confident. We have nothing to hide and are happy to be open. When someone shrugs their shoulders make sure both shoulders rise at the same time or they are being fake.

3. Our arms – like our hands, our arms are highly active. They represent the true sentiment of our intentions, almost mechanically. Putting your arms behind your back (like royalty) means you don’t want to be touched. You are isolating your arms which can indicate higher status.

We also use our arms to alert others to territory. Hands on hips (aka. akimbo stance) means we want to establish dominance. “Spreading arms should spread alarms” – the signal demonstrates a dominant, assertiveness. Watch out for this one.

A great way to get a sales prospect with their arms resolutely folded to (literally) open up if to give them something to hold like a brochure. An arm barrier like this can be broken by changing this behaviour.

If you’re prospects does a double arm grip (ie. both hands gripping arms when folded) this a non-buying signal.

Hugging yourself is a maternal thing ie. it’s a pacifying behaviour when under stress.

A Touch Creates A Connection

A social experiment showed that a light 3 second touch on the elbow elicited a more honest response when asking about lost money in a phone box ( University of Minnesota Phone booth Test). When touched lightly 68% admitted to having the coin, without the touch only 23% admitted having the coin.

An experiment with waiters proved this too – light touching increased tips by 22% regardless of customer gender.

A touch can be used to:

– reinforce a comment
– create an association (eg. car dealer touching car bonnet whilst saying “great fuel economy” by subconsciously connecting the words with the car)
– make a good first, warm impression

When you next meet someone new in sales, shake their hand with a mutual firmness and then lightly touch their elbow whilst repeating their name. Whilst it will feel unnatural, it makes them feel more important, you remember their name using reinforcement and you create a good, positive impression that allows you to be more influential.

Our hands have more neural connections to our brain than any other part of the body. This means we are highly expressive with our hands using gestures, movement, animation, clasping, grasping and pointing (just watch Italians or South Americans).

The hands tell us a lot. We shake hands with people because our primitive past to check they are not concealing any weapons.

Use open palms when presenting or explaining to help your prospect’s primitive brain to understand you are no threat with nothing to hide. You will look a lot more honest and open using open palms.

Palm ups proves positivity (84% after presenting). Hands down doesn’t (52%).

A palm down (like a Trump handshake or Nazi salute) is a sign of authority or dominance. Or a woman wanting to be woe’d when she puts out her hand palm down like the Queen waiting for a curtsey.

Highlighting Rubbing Hands

When someone rubs their hands slowly it signals that what they are about to do will benefit only them. This is a warning sign to be aware of deceit.

When someone rubs their hands fast (such as a Dad with a kid at the theme park ride or a customer about to buy a beer or order dinner) it’s about anticipation and excitement for them.

If someone rubs their hands fast in front of you this means they are excited for you.

How To Point To Prove

Do not point with your finger. Most societies see this as an aggressive state.

Instead, like leaders, squeeze your thumb against your fingertip (eg, Tony Blair) so you look like more of an authority. Don’t be a dictator or finger pointer.

You can also steeple your hands instead (where your fingers and thumbs connect at the top like a church steeple). It’s a power pose that many politicians use (eg. Putin) to present confidence.

When you want to show you are confident or want to make an important point, use a steeple when you say it.

Our Face

Neck rubbing usually happens about 5 times (rarely more) and indicates uncertainty or literally, the message they hear becomes a “pain in the neck”. They will feel unease.

The same with ear pulling. It shows they don’t like what they hear and subconsciously they don’t want to hear it so they distort their ear to distort the message.

How To Spot Fake Faces

Our faces can put on a false front. This means we need to focus on both the face and the body to make sense of what someone is or isn’t saying or what they’re thinking and feeling.

Because our faces have so many muscles when we feel tension we tense and tighten up these muscles. If someone says they’re not tense but the facial muscles are then you know they’re not telling the truth.

Subtle cues have significance. You need to focus on not only what’s been said but how it’s being said. Be a student of observation.

Face & Feet

If the face isn’t telling you what you need, focus on the feet. If someone’s happy but doesn’t communicate this in their face as they need to suppress it, look for happy feet jiggling instead.

Promoting Your Pupils

We have no conscious control over pupil dilation (wide) or constriction (smaller). We also squint not only to focus more but protect and reflect from what’s causing us pain (physically or verbally) – the discount of discomfort as some say.

When we aren’t emotionally engaged we show less eye emphasis ie. less high arched eye brows, less wide eyes.

Smiles With The Eyes

Often humans will fake a smile where only the muscles around the mouth move. A true, genuine smile will engage muscles around not only the mouth but the eyes.

This is how you tell a real vs. fake smile.

Spot The Signals

When you see a change in body language it’s a signal so long as it’s in context.

Reading body language is like reading. You have to read in sentences, not pick out single words. Just because someone has their arms crossed means they are feeling threatened. It might mean the room is cold.

How To Handle A Handshake

In Western cultures a handshake might be the only physical contact we have with a sales prospects so it pays to know how to handle the handshake.

First impressions count and so do handshakes.
If you want to register rapport, match the grip and firmness of the prospect whose hand you are shaking. It signals you are equals, already equaling matching.

How to Dominate

If you want to dominate someone, focus your gaze and form a triangle just above their eyeline on their forehead – imagine a third all seeing eye on their forehead. This is called the Power Gaze. This way you are not engaging their eyes and sending a signal of superiority. Be careful when using this as it is an aggressive act.

The second type of gaze is what we call the Social Gaze which is often used in sales settings. You focus on the area of the face in the triangular area between eyes nose and mouth.

The third gaze is the Intimate Gaze – this is where we drop our gaze (men are notorious at this when looking at women which lets them down in professional settings). This gaze drop beneath the chin and moves towards the chest. They want to take you “all in”.

Building Good Rapport

We’ve covered handshakes which are important because first impressions count. At the same time, we were told as kids it’s rude to stare. However eye contact is selling can be used effectively if its executed well.

When listening we gaze for 80%, when talking this drops to around 50% (Argyle, 2012). If you want to build good rapport with your prospect make sure you maintain eye contact for about 60-70% of the time. This will indicate you are engaged and interested in them and value what they have to say.

We have taught and trained many sales people who don’t make eye contact with their prospect which signals a lack of confidence and belief in themselves and their product.

Prospects pick up on this. If you’re not confident in what you’re selling, they won’t be either. What we pay attention to primes.

Final Thoughts

Always look for context and congruence. Does their words match their body? Are they aligned? Remember body language is like verbal language. They come in sentences, not singular words or movements.

Make sure you begin with a baseline on behaviours so you can then see when those behaviors change and differ from the norm.

Start by practicing in social common scenes like an airport, bar or restaurant. What can you see. What is their body telling you? What’s the context? Are they pacifying themselves? Are their tell take signs of tension?