When he opened his own business, Jordan Sayler discovered that his mother wasn’t trying to annoy him when she told him to stand up straight as a kid. She knew the secret: People tend to read body language rather than listen to what's being said.
“I learned quickly I was not only merchandising my store; I was selling myself,” says the owner of the men’s apparel and footwear store Winn Perry & Co. “I used to put my hands in my pockets or hold them down in front of me so I wouldn't be viewed as pushy or overbearing, but I found that people often didn't take me seriously. So I started striking a confident pose by putting my hands directly at my sides or on my hips.”
Several years ago, Cecilia Lynch also discovered just how important body language can be when she met with a senior sales executive at a large international financial services company.
“I didn't think much about my body language when engaging with her. As a result, the meeting didn’t go as well as I would have liked,” says Lynch, principal and founder of the consulting company Focused Momentum. “She still hired me, but gave clear instructions that I was not to be put in front of their clients, which was a wakeup call for me.”
Today Lynch makes good use of her body language. “I conduct strategy sessions of up to 60 people at a time. I often literally need to hold the energy of the room and move it along in a productive manner, which I do through body language,” she says.
When it comes to inspiring and influencing others, you can say all the right words, but if your nonverbal postures send a different message, that is what others will take away from your interaction, explains Sharon Sayler, an executive coach specializing in verbal and nonverbal communication (and Jordan’s mother). She owns Competitive Edge Communications and is author of What Your Body Says (and how to master the message): Inspire, Influence, Build Trust, and Create Lasting Business Relationships.
“Nonverbal communication happens whether we want it to or not, and it's all too easy to send the wrong message,” Sayler says.
The good news is that with a little direction, any small-business owner can appear comfortable, in control and successful.
One of the first nonverbal actions you’re judged on by others is your breathing, Sayler notes. “How you breathe unconsciously alerts the other person’s as well as your own fight or flight response,” she says. “If you are breathing naturally and comfortably, the other person assumes he or she is safe. Low, steady breathing always calms the mind and body and is the most powerful nonverbal [action] to give the impression that you're confident and in control.”
Display Effective Eye Contact
Direct eye contact can be a signal of confidence, yet it is one of the most overrated and misunderstood of the nonverbal behaviors.
“Much advice suggests that if you don’t make constant direct eye contact, you’re untrustworthy. I’ve even heard a recommendation to have ‘sticky eyes,’ which is nonsense,” Sayler says. “Eye contact works best when both parties feel it’s ‘just right,’ so take your cue from the other person regarding how much eye contact to use. Too much or too little eye contact is not only disrespectful, it can be downright creepy. Breaking eye contact happens naturally during conversations, and it makes it easier to process what you’re hearing.”
Be Strategic With Your Chin
Although eyes get a lot of attention when it comes to nonverbal cues, it’s the chin you should be paying more attention to. “What you do with your chin tells others a lot about what’s going on inside you,” Sayler says. “For example, if your chin is off to the side, your head is tipped or tilted. That is a submissive move that can make it seem like you’re hoping to be liked or you’re confused.”
Your chin up in the air makes you appear snooty, and a tucked in chin communicates that you are shy and don’t wish to talk. To exude confidence, stand up straight and keep your chin parallel to the floor.
Lean in to Show Interest
Displaying interest in what a client has to say increases the level of commitment in the business relationship. The best way to show you care is to slightly lean toward the person or the object of interest. “The more you lean, the more interest you show, but be careful not to overdo it,” Sayler says. “The lean is slight; it should not be a lunge. You always want to respect comfort zones and personal space.”
Exude Expertise With Your Arms and Stance
Showing that you’re an expert on your subject is important to selling your products and services. To show you know what you’re talking about, Sayler suggests standing with your forearms waist-high in front of your body and your wrists at the same height as the elbows so the forearms are parallel to the ground. Your hands can be gently clasped, but don’t move your fingers. To exude even more confidence, touch your thumb-tips and fingertips together, so when you look down at your hands it looks like they’ve formed a triangle with your fingers pointed away from you.
Variations on this include standing with your arms hanging at your sides or leaving one hand hanging at your side and the other parallel to the ground grasping a notebook or similar item.
A smile communicates that you are confident and content with yourself and your business, and approachable, notes Tsutomu Carton, owner of Sielian’s Vintage Apparel. “Smiling is just as important in person as on the phone," Carton says. "I always make sure that the person I’m talking to can ‘feel’ my smile.”
Use these tips to strike a confident pose, and you’ll soon find yourself giving a high-five to increased business.
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