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The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 22, 2008 • Issue 08:09:02

Body language

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

Did you know people form an opinion of you within seven seconds of meeting you? Did you know when your body language is different from your spoken language people believe what they see, not what they hear?

And did you know people are constantly telling you what they think and feel - without using words?

Nonverbal communication - the use of personal space, physical gestures, posture, facial expressions and eye contact - directly relates to the spoken message. Those who understand nonverbal communication are better able to ascertain the underlying meaning of the spoken word.

Mastering nonverbal communication and using it persuasively makes the difference between a great impression and a negative impression. It also is an extremely effective tool in managing and growing a business.

Body language includes even the most subtle movements, including winking and the slight raise of an eyebrow. A simple gesture such as rolling your eyes communicates exactly what you mean without any words.

Following are some key areas of body language to consider:

  • Facial expressions: Facial expressions are key to interpreting level of attention, openness and willingness to listen. A smiling person indicates he or she is friendly and open.

    One who talks and smiles incessantly may be hiding something; a person who smiles and nods when appropriate appears truthful.

  • The eyes: Eyes reveal much about emotions and are fundamental for comprehending a speaker's meaning. It is always important to make eye contact. An individual who looks you in the eye while speaking is more likely to be interested in you and to be telling the truth.

    Someone who avoids eye contact appears shady. But some people make eye contact out of politeness or because they do not trust the speaker.

  • The head: Various head movements show whether the listener considers the speaker truthful. A person who scratches his or her chin or plays with an ear does not believe the speaker or is focusing attention elsewhere. Subtle clues indicate that the listener is no longer engaged, for example, a tilted head often broadcasts boredom or negativity.

  • The arms: Folded or crossed arms are among the most powerful forms of body language. They convey negativity and defensiveness and create a symbolic barrier between the speaker and listener.

A blank expression combined with crossed arms is a sign of hostility, complete disassociation from the situation or a focus on responding rather than listening.

Self-evaluation

To help you assess your behavior and determine if it is in step with the messages you want to convey, here are five suggestions:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. While you do not want a canned, choreographed presentation - down to individual gestures - you do want to establish your general tone and message. And you want to be sure your nonverbal language enhances your verbal presentation.

  2. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Identify whether your body language is conveying anger, tension, frustration or other negative emotions. Are you sending a message of enthusiasm, assertiveness or aggression? Assertiveness can be appropriate, but aggression is rarely appropriate and tends to undermine the message.

  3. Videotape your presentation. If you make cold calls, videotape a typical cold call. How do you look? How do you sound? What does your body language tell potential customers?

    Be sure you look natural and at ease. If you are new to the payment processing business, are you confident in your products and services? Is this reflected in your body language?

  4. Ask trusted friends, colleagues, mentors or family members for help. Personal feedback is often difficult to hear but it can be extremely useful in seeing ourselves as others perceive us.

  5. Take immediate steps to alter negative gestures or behaviors. Be extremely careful to avoid any sexual innuendos, flirtations or unintended suggestions. These are always inappropriate in a professional setting.

Self-control

Following are tips to help you rein- force your message through body language, as well as decipher the messages from those speaking to you.

  • Pay attention: It is important to look at the big picture - are the eyes, hands, gestures and movements of the person you are speaking with conveying the same message as his or her spoken words? The same goes for you, too. Does your body language mesh with your verbal language? Fine tune, as needed, during conversations if you perceive your gestures or expressions are off base.

  • Respect boundaries: In a professional setting, limit your physical interactions to shaking hands. Many people are uncomfortable with personal closeness. Body language will tell you if you have encroached on another person's space; in that case, simply step back.

  • Avoid innuendo: Do not swagger, strut or swing your hips.This provides a seductive, flirting sign that is inappropriate in the work place.

  • Be grounded: Sitting with both feet on the floor with knees slightly apart indicates open body language and a willingness to communicate. Keep your feet still.

    Jiggling or tapping them indicates nervousness, irritation or boredom. Point your feet toward the person you're speaking with.

    Turning your feet away indicates impatience or a lack of interest.

  • Watch your hands: Be careful what you do with your hands. Do not hold them in front of your groin or chest area.

    Do not touch any of your body parts including your face; this indicates anxiety and is counterproductive.

    It is always appropriate to clasp your hands at your waist or simply extend your arms down by your sides, which indicates strength and confidence.

  • Respond appropriately: If you approach someone who immediately crosses his or her arms, do not challenge the person in any way. Suggesting that you return at a later time might diffuse the situation.

As you work to strengthen your communication skills, pay particular attention to the nonverbal messages you are sending.

By understanding the meaning behind expressions, gestures and behaviors, you can be more successful in assuring your message is delivered as you intend.

And by responding appropriately to the listener's nonverbal communication, you have a greater likelihood that your message will be received as you intend. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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