Successful businesspeople understand the importance of perception. How you are viewed and perceived by others can go a long way in determining how they ultimately react to you. It can be the difference between making a sale or losing a customer, striking a deal or walking away from the table empty-handed.
It’s not just what you say or the quality of your business track record that casts the die in your favor or works against you. Equally critical is the body language that you convey. Your demeanor and your expressions can impact your success much more than you may realize. So it’s important to recognize the elements of both proper and poor body language.
Creating Your Persona
Whether you’re participating in a conference, conducting a large meeting, attending a trade show or merely interacting with others in your office, your mannerisms speak volumes about your personality and your opinions.
The first thing anyone notices about you is your aura…the energy and universal mood that surrounds your personal space. It’s not happenstance; this environment is something that you create. And it sends signals to others long before you speak a single word. In fact, psychology experts believe that body language accounts for at least half of any message in face-to-face encounters. This is equally true in the case of a tycoon finalizing a multi-million dollar agreement, a salesperson closing a deal in an auto showroom, an advertising creative director explaining a new campaign or a small business office manager working with ZarMoney cloud accounting software in a shared room for three.
So what are the important factors of body language? Posture is certainly one of them. Do you slouch like someone who doesn’t care or do you carry yourself straight and upright – stomach in, chest out and shoulders back? People who slouch exude a lack of confidence. It says you’re not sure of yourself. On the other hand, when you stand tall and claim your space, you command respect. Plant your feet approximately six to eight inches apart, one slightly ahead of the other. Even if you’re somewhat short in height, you will come across as large in stature.
The way you stand when talking to other people is also crucial. For example, if you are conversing with one person and the two of you are forming a rectangle with your feet, you will give off the air that you don’t want to be interrupted, that it’s a discussion only for the two of you. Conversely, if the two of you stand with your feet pointed outward, the message will be that others are welcome and even invited to join the conversation. In some instances you may want to mimic the way the others in your conversation are standing. This type of parallel pose can build a good rapport.
Shake Like You Mean It
Your handshake provides its own powerful directive. A good, firm grip – without crushing the other’s hand – denotes strength and a sense of engagement. It’s especially important for women to solidify that grip and get noticed. Men typically have a stronger grip, but that doesn’t mean that a woman who is aware can’t match it with a firm grasp of her own.
It’s preferable to go with the traditional handshake. Beware of those who, after your hands are linked, maneuver to get their hand on top. These are the controllers; so if you’re going to deal with them, tuck that bit of information into your mind. Unless you are shaking hands with a dear friend, never place your other hand on top of the shaking hands, either. By enveloping the other person’s hand you are invading their space and going to a place where you haven’t been invited. Many people refer to that as a “politician’s handshake,” so enough said.
Above all, avoid the limp grip and the dead fish handshake. The former immediately conveys weakness and reticence, while the latter implies that your palms are sweating from nervousness and anxiety. If you feel that your hands are wet, wipe them dry…discreetly, of course…before shaking hands.
The Story in Your Eyes
Eye contact is one of the most essential rules of connecting with others. Make that contact from the very beginning and hold it. Your eyes not only convey warmth, strength and sincerity, but they also let a person know if you’re paying attention or not. If they drift toward a clock, to others not speaking or even to a thread on the other person’s shirt, you will appear dismissive. You can look away for a second or two so that you don’t appear to be staring, but always bring your eyes back to the person across from you. It doesn’t hurt to also add a few extra touches like nodding in approval from time to time or perhaps occasionally raising your eyebrows to show that you’re interested in what the other person has to say.
The Power of a Smile
Everyone, unless it is a toothless hillbilly, looks better when smiling. Those who smile appear friendly and approachable. One of the quickest ways to put someone at ease is to smile at them. Believe it not, smiling also makes you feel better about yourself too. You don’t want to break out into a full grin, but letting that smile resurface every now and then helps to keep the mood upbeat and positive.
It is said that men smile when they are pleased; women smile to please. The most powerful is obviously the latter. So, while it’s important to show those pearly whites, you should be careful not to overdo it. The best course of action is to enter a room, establish your presence for a moment, then break into the smile. Entering a room smiling or giggling gives the impression that you are amused by a prior conversation that the other person has not been privy to. It could give the mistaken message that you are hiding something.
When you are talking with others, sometimes a smile can turn to laughter. If it is genuine and not overly loud, laughter can do wonders for lightening the conversation and creating goodwill and a sense of bonding with those around you.
Arm Yourself with Positive Vibes
All of these body language mechanisms ring true, whether you are making the rounds at a cocktail party, meeting business associates at a trade event or outlining strategy with your own internal crew in your office. In that sense, your arms also tell a great deal about you and show your degree of interest. If you want to show that you are steady and in control, you should keep your arms relaxed and open. Putting them behind you or akimbo with your hands on your hips gives the impression that you are aloof or that you are disinterested. By all means, avoid crossing your arms as this comes across as somewhat stern or scolding. It may also indicate that you are uncomfortable in your immediate surroundings.
As an extension of your arms, your hands can provide excellent support when conversing. Using your hands to gesture when you speak is thought to improve your credibility. Some studies have even indicated that gesturing with your hands while you are speaking can improve your thinking processes.
Tone Is Everything
Whatever devices you use when speaking, it’s easy to get carried away when engaged in an interesting discussion. We’ve all raised our voices and our inflection at times. And that’s not all bad. But it’s important to be cognizant of the level of your voice and to subliminally monitor it routinely. A more attractive voice tone is one that is low, not yelling. In addition, it’s wise not to end every sentence as if you are asking a question. When you find yourself speaking too loud or becoming careless with your inflection, simply take a deep breath, gather yourself and resume speaking slowly and more clearly.
There are many gestures that we make without ever realizing it. They are habits that we have picked up and maintained throughout our lives. Unfortunately, some of them may be not only unbecoming, but downright annoying. For instance, scowling is a non-starter, even if you are indicating disapproval. A scowl leaves the impression that you cannot control your emotions and it also serves as a poor substitute for articulating your objections.
Rolling the eyes is another habit that should quickly be broken. This does nothing for your persona other than convey a certain haughtiness or dismissive air. Very few businesspeople have built their success upon the rolling of their eyes.
Now we all have been in business situations where we are either bored, eager to make our own point in a conversation or running late for another meeting. Suddenly, we find ourselves fidgeting. Though understandable, given the circumstances, this makes everyone else in the room feel ill at ease. It also can derail a very positive discussion as people tend to feel a greater sense of urgency to quickly finish their own contributions to the conversation. Rather than a facilitator, the person fidgeting becomes the disruptor.
Master the Nuances
The world of business is very complex, not only regarding the knowledge one must attain in his or her specialty, but also in the way that we interact with others, either gaining their trust or, sometimes, inviting their disapproval. In these situations, it often is not so much what you say, but how you deliver your message, both in phrasing, articulation, tone and overall body language.
From the most successful businessperson to the novice just starting out, we all have something in common. That is our ability to make a positive impression on others. It’s not always how much you know, but rather how well you understand your surroundings and the nature of personal discourse. When you can recognize these components and react accordingly, you stand a much better chance of making a positive impression.