By Harvey Meyer
do speak louder
PEOPLE MIGHT NOT say boo in meetings,
interviews or interactions with customers,
but their body language speaks volumes about
what they’re thinking.
Watching what people’s eyes, faces, hands,
torsos and legs are expressing can improve
our understanding of what they are—or are
not—communicating, experts say. In the
business world, understanding body language
may offer an inexpensive, and often overlooked, competitive advantage for many small
companies, suggests Janice Niederhofer, a San
Rafael, California, communications consultant and Costco member.
It all harks back to an age-old axiom:
Actions speak louder than words. Indeed,
when what people say conflicts with what
their bodies are expressing, we tend to give
more credence to their “body talk,” says Karen
Studd, associate professor of dance at George
Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.
“We tend to believe what people are doing
over what they’re saying,” says Studd, a certified movement analyst and a Costco member.
Here are some basics on what others’—
and our own—bodies are telling us.
The eyes have it
Kevin Hogan, author of The Secret
Language of Business (John Wiley & Sons Inc.,
2008), breaks down body language into eight
key elements: eyes, face, gestures, touch, posture, movement, appearance and voice. Many
of us zero in on the eyes because they are usually the first place we look and continually
return to, according to Hogan.
“We tend to read a lot into how a person
directs their focus, because we use our vision
and gaze to connect to the world,” agrees Studd.
“Is a person gazing directly at you and giving
you attention and hearing your concerns?”
Richard Ashley, associate professor at
Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois,
and a member of the International Society for
Gesture Studies, says increased blinking correlates with heightened anxiety and attentiveness. But controlled blinking, even if only
milliseconds slower than the spontaneous
kind, coupled with longer eye closure, is often
associated with deception, he says.
Another spontaneous behavior involving
the eyes: pupil dilation. If you are close
enough to another person, Hogan says, you’ll
notice that person’s pupils enlarge automatically—and noticeably—when light dims but
also when the person is excited, aroused,
happy or engaged in problem-solving activities. Keep that in mind the next time you’re
making a proposal to your customers or boss
or are in the midst of a job interview.
Most people also concentrate on facial
expressions, since faces tend to communicate
and often magnify a range of feelings—
everything from happiness, fear and disgust to
anger, sadness and surprise. Observes Studd,
The Secret Language of
Business, by Kevin Hogan
The Definitive Book of Body
Language, by Barbara and
The Nonverbal Advantage:
Secrets and Science of Body
Language at Work, by Carol
What Every BODY Is Saying:
An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to
Speed-Reading People, by Joe
Navarro and Marvin Karlins
“People whose faces are more active and
mobile appear to be more open.”
Hogan pays attention to how touch plays
a part in status. Generally, he notes, a person
with higher status will initiate touch, whether
shaking hands, patting the back or placing a
hand on the arm. Conversely, according to
Hogan, lowering the body, averting the eyes
and moving away are nonverbal cues that signal submissiveness.
Although often ignored, the positioning
of one’s feet may also present clues. For
instance, Hogan notes, if someone standing
nearby points her feet near or toward you, it
indicates she probably has positive feelings
for you; if a person”s feet are pointed away
from you while her body faces you, that is a
sign of discomfort.
that they”re wrapping a foot behind a leg, but
when they move into that position,” he says.
something, maybe our communication or
somechangeintheenvironment.Inevolution-ary terms, it”s one of many gestures drawing the
A body of truth
Donald Rheem, a North
Potomac, Maryland, strategic
communications consultant, contends
that an open body posture—animated
turesmovinginharmony withthevoice, torso
and feet facing listeners—lends more credence
posture, which could include a non-expressive
face, crossed arms, or hands in pants pockets or
clasped in front of or behind the body.
“If people are in a locked position, they
aren”t as apt to make gestures,” says Rheem.
remakingfewersig-nals and cues to help deliver their message, so
others aren”t as sure about what they”re try-
ing to convey.”