This is a companion article to “It’s Not What You Say.” This article focuses on what and how others are communicating to you nonverbally.
Practice “Reading” and Interpreting Others’ Facial & Body Language
Just as you are communicating what you really mean and want to say to others with your facial and body language, others are communicating to you with their nonverbal body and facial language.
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According to anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (whom we introduced in “It’s Not What You Say”) and FBI counterintelligence and behavior analyst Joe Navarro, the smallest nonverbal things that happen in a face-to-face negotiation and/or first meeting with a new person go a very long way in terms of results and impressions.
Learn how to interpret what others are saying to you when they’re not saying a word.
Three Categories of Nonverbal Signals
Consider using the analogy of a traffic signal:
- Green signals mean the client/negotiating opponent is open and receptive to what you are saying. Keep going.
- Yellow signals mean that the client has some sort of resistance. Slow down and proceed with caution.
- Red signals mean STOP. Shift gears and suggest a different strategy or direction and/or a time out.
Nonverbal Channels that Communicate Nonverbal Signals
Bernice Ross, President and CEO of BrokerageUP and author/trainer, suggests five channels that communicate nonverbal language: the face, arms, legs, hands, and body position:
- Look for eye contact – if focused and increasing, interest is honest
- If eye contact unfocused or decreased, person likely has no interest or may be hiding something
- If red-faced/throbbing neck – stop right away – person may be angry or embarrassed; throbbing vein(s) often indicated the person’s blood pressure has gone up
- Chin up communicates defiance; chin down communicates displeasure or the person is looking at paperwork
- Raised eyebrows can indicate surprise or the person’s disbelief in what you’re saying.
- Open arms – keep going as person is open to the discussion
- Crossed arms can either mean the person is chilled or, if their arms are crossed with their shoulders down and their chin is up, stop because the person may be angry.
- If one shoulder is pointed and angled toward you, this is a “yellow” signal so be warned and be cautious.
- If one arm hangs over the back of a chair, you may not have the person’s attention or acceptance. This is a “yellow” signal.
- If the forearms don’t touch the desk, the person is ready to go. Be cautious.
- If the person’s upper arms/elbows are as far back as possible, the person may be defensive and wanting to leave.
- Open and relaxed hands, keep going.
- Open palm held out like “stop,” stop.
- Hands touching chin, ear, nose, clothing, etc. indicates tension. Slow down and/or ask the person for help in understanding what the person is communicating.
- Hands in fists or clasped tightly together indicate a “red” signal. Stop.
- Crossed legs with the toe of the crossed leg pointing towards you is a Go.
- Crossed legs with the toe of the crossed leg pointing away from you is a No Go. Stop.
- Legs crossed at the ankles indicate defensiveness or uncooperativeness. This is a “proceed with caution” or stop indication.
- Uncrossed legs with feet on the floor indicate person open to you and what you’re saying.
- Body angle leaning forward and towards you indicates the person is with you.
- Body angle leaning back while maintaining eye contact and open arms usually indicates the person needs more information from you. Ask them what they would like from you.
- Body angle leaning back or turning their face away from you indicates the person isn’t interested.
- Body moving side to side suggests doubt and/or insecurity and/or boredom. Ask them whether or not they’ve become disinterested and/or uncomfortable.
You may want to check out books written by Joe Navarro such as What Every Body is Saying, The Dictionary of Body Language, and Louder Than Words.
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