Businessperson gesturing with hands
Updated: April 29, 2012 8:01AM
Wimpy handshakes. No eye contact. Shifting your weight from one foot to another.
These body movements telegraph insecurity and convey incompetence, and they also can ruin your business relationships. That’s because no matter how articulate and intelligent your verbal message may be, people react to what they see — not what you say.
Body language is as old as time itself. Early man determined whether an approaching newcomer was friend or foe by his or her movements. And, those reactions are hardwired in us, modified only by culture and experience. So, here are a few tips to help you in a business setting.
1. Smile. Few people can resist a sincere smile. Even an insincere smile is better than a serious face. Smiles say, “I’m glad to see you. I’m no threat and I come as a friend.”
2. Make eye contact with the person you are addressing. This is paramount in our Western culture. People who don’t look us in the eye are perceived as shifty, perhaps hiding something, or unsure of themselves.
3. Give a good, firm handshake and then let go. Again, in our Western culture, the handshake is a universal sign of acknowledgment and friendship. A wimpy one signals that you are weak and incompetent. Holding on too long can be construed as trying to dominate.
4. Eye movements also can make or break you. Too many people give their feelings away with their eyes. The eye roll, the eyebrow scowl, breaking eye contact with the person you are talking to and shifting your eyes from side to side all telegraph what you’re thinking. In business it’s a good idea to maintain a smile and appropriate, but controlled facial expressions.
5. Mirroring. Have you ever noticed two people having a business discussion who appear to be in perfect sync? Consciously or unconsciously, their body movements are the same. What’s more, their voices are the same volume and pitch. Instinctively, both parties feel they are “on the same page” and like-minded. That’s called mirroring and it is a wonderful tool for good communication and strong relationships.
The gender difference
6. Handshakes are especially important for women in the business world. I’ve often been complimented for giving a firm handshake (something that was drilled into me early on by my business-oriented parents and reinforced throughout my communication career since my TV-reporter days). Too many women — most of whom are otherwise self-assured and competent — feel uncomfortable firmly squeezing another person’s hand. If you have this problem, practice on a friend or family member until a strong handshake comes naturally to you.
7. On the other hand, women often are better interpreters of body movements than men. They are generally more empathetic and sensitive to what’s really going on in a person’s mind. That’s because women tune in to all sorts of things like facial expressions, eye movements, body posture and voice strength and tone. If you find yourself missing these important nonverbal clues, watch yourself in the mirror as you talk on the phone. You’ll be surprised to see the changes in your facial expressions, your hand movements and your posture as you communicate and feel changing emotions during the conversation.
Scripps Howard News Service