By Nicholas Cucci
Network Merchants Inc.
In the research of body language, interaction between two individuals is one of the most popular areas of study. Research indicates 90 percent of people will form an opinion about you within the first four minutes of meeting you, and 60 to 80 percent of that opinion will be based on nonverbal criteria.
In addition, Dr. Frank Bernieri of the University of Toledo conducted a study in which the first 15 seconds of videotaped interviews were shown to impartial observers.
His analysis found the impressions of said observers almost paralleled those of the individuals who had conducted the interviews.
This reinforces that not only do you have just one chance to make a positive first impression, you have precious little time in which to do it, and you'd better be aware of all signals you're sending, to boot.
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Alan and Barbara Pease explains how body language is more influential in human interaction than the spoken word, bringing home the importance of ensuring your mannerisms and movements are in sync with what you say.
While not as comprehensive as the knowledge contained in the Peases' book, the following tips can help you make better first impressions. Let's assume you're heading into an interview or meeting with a new client.
Be sure to remove your coat upon arrival. Keep your arms as free as possible, as clutter will make you appear disheveled, and items could possibly tumble. Receptionists will often urge you to take a seat, keeping you out of their line of sight to avoid having to interact with you. The Peases recommend standing instead with your hands behind your back to show confidence.
This body language is a constant reminder that you are still waiting. I have to admit this seems awkward, but it makes sense. Constantly convey a confidant body image. If you're too relaxed, you won't leave a strong impression about you or your business.
Your entrance tells everyone in the room how you expect to be treated. Walk in without hesitation. Do not stand in the doorway or change your speed when entering. Shifting gears or shuffling upon entrance conveys a lack of confidence.
Walk directly and confidently across the room, even if the person you are meeting with is on the phone, going through a drawer or tying shoelaces. Put your belongings directly on the table or desk, if possible, and take a seat. This lets the other person know you are accustomed to walking into offices and that your time is as valuable as theirs.
Keep your palm straight and return the pressure you receive. Let the other person decide when to end the handshake. Never shake someone's hand across a table. Instead, step to the left of the desk or table to avoid being given a palm down handshake. Also, use the person's name twice within the first 15 seconds to show you appreciate the meeting and are ready to get down to business.
If you have a choice, sit in a chair of comparable height to the person you're meeting. If you must sit in a low chair directly facing the other person, turn it 45 degrees away from the individual to avoid being stuck in the "reprimand" position. If the chair is immobile, simply angle your body instead.
It's an extremely positive sign if you're invited to sit in an informal area of the office; about 95 percent of business rejections are delivered from behind a desk. Remember to sit at a 45-degree angle to the person you're meeting with.
People who are cool, calm, and collected are in control of their emotions and use clear, uncomplicated and deliberate movements. Higher-status individuals use fewer hand gestures; it is an ancient negotiation ploy. Mirroring the other person's gestures and expressions, when appropriate, also helps leave a strong impression.
Respect the other person's personal space, which will be largest during the opening minutes of the meeting. If you move too close, the person will respond by moving back, leaning away or using repetitive gestures. As a rule, move closer to familiar people but further back from new acquaintances.
Men generally move closer to women they work with, while women generally pull further back when working with men. People of similar age generally work in closer proximity, while those with significant age differences tend to keep a greater physical distance.
When the meeting is over, pack up your belongings calmly and deliberately, not in a frenzy. Make sure to shake hands again, turn and walk out. Close the door if it was closed when you arrived.
And take this adage to heart: it's not what you say; it's how you say it.
Nicholas Cucci is the Marketing Director for Network Merchants Inc. He is a graduate of Benedictine University. Prior to joining NMI, Mr. Cucci worked in the payment processing division for a Fortune 500 company and has advised several large retailers on credit card fraud protection, screening and risk assessment. He can be reached at email@example.com or 800-617-4850.
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