Body language paves way for success

Published in The Tennessean June 29, 2015

By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville

“I can sell my product on the phone or over my website, but repeatedly fail when face-to-face. I am clean and well-dressed but something goes amiss.”

What does your body say when you meet someone in person? Body language is thought to be the most important interpersonal communication skill followed by tone of voice and finally by the actual words you say. This is particularly true when one’s body language and words are at odds with each other. Think of the defiant teenager rolling her eyes. Whatever words she says with this accompanying gesture are meaningless. This is a harsh example compared to what one sees in the business world, but even small hints of insincerity can foil an otherwise perfect message.

Following are a few tips to improve your chances of success:

Smile. When you are meeting someone, look happy to see him or her. This is likely the first thing your client sees and its impact is significant and sets the tone for your meeting.

Provide a good handshake – neither too firm nor too weak . This might be the only time the sense of touch is involved in a meeting so make it count.

Maintain eye contact and proper posture. Good eye contact signifies sincerity and honesty. Good posture shows confidence and interest.

Don’t invade your client’s “personal space,” but don’t stand too far apart.

If you can arrange seating, try to remove barriers and positions of dominance. I love the scene in “ It’s a Wonderful Life ” where Potter sits in his “throne” and George Bailey is relegated to a small low, chair across the desk. Who’s in power, and how do you think George feels?

Mirror your client’s body movements, and nod your head to show agreement. Some mirroring will be done subconsciously, so build rapport by consciously adding a bit to the equation, but do not be obvious.

Hand placement and movements can be a sign of engagement. Try to keep your hands in sight. Fidgeting shows nerves and touching your face or mouth can be taken as a sign of dishonesty. But do gesture appropriately while speaking.

Crossed arms or legs might be major signs of disengagement or defensiveness. If your client exhibits these signs, consider changing tactics or taking a break.

Ditch your cell phone. Let the client know up front if your wife is past due to deliver your first child or if a family member is in surgery and you might need to take a call. Otherwise, silence your phone and put it away.

Are you sending unconscious signals? Changing is not easy; it means unlearning old habits. But if you want your words to be taken seriously, back them up with positive body language.

Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org .