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There aren’t many of us that would miss read the mood of the young lady in the picture above. And that’s really my point. We are all so adept at reading body language in the first place, it’s a fallacy to assume that we can’t, and therefore would need to learn how. Even worse, is the fallacy that we can in fact somehow control the body language we aren’t aware ‘gives us away’ every day.

Before I go into more detail, if you are really interested in this stuff, read this book by James Borg. In it, and the many other tomes he has written you’ll find all you need to know about body language, and importantly the inherent problems with reading it. For the short version, stick with this article! Firstly there are three conditions that have to be satisfied before you can be sure your ‘reading’ of someone’s body language is anything like correct. Miss out any of these conditions, and the chances are you’ll miss the message, or even worse, get it wrong all together.

James Borg refers to the 3 C’s. Congruence, clusters and context.

A huge proportion of our communication is non verbal, and if the words someone uses are not matching up with their gestures or their stance or the way they are looking at you, then their body language is not congruent. So someone telling you that they are really enjoying your sales presentation, despite sitting there with arms crossed and fidgeting all over the place, and maybe exhaling or huffing and looking everywhere around the room but at you and your presentation, is not being congruent. Clusters of signals are also essential. While the crossing of arms may not indicate anything at all, added to the other behaviours in our little example would indicate a negativity to the ideas being touted. And finally, context. as with everything else, context is all. For example, our clients body language in this example, would be indicating something completely different if they had just returned from a run for instance, before joining you in the meeting.

So we can see, it’s so easy to get this stuff wrong. And here’s the thing, like so much other stuff to do with selling, we are already more than expert in it anyway. While I understand people wanting to improve themselves and learn things, I can’t understand someone who feels they need to ‘study’ body language’ in order to get on or gain some advantage or make a sale.

We are all expert in this subject anyway. With some exceptions, in children with language problems and developement delays and autistic spectrum disorders for instance, from an extremely young age we learn to respond to these non verbal cues. Since the time your Mum taught you the meaning of ‘that look’ or ‘that sigh’ the non verbal cues we receive, the body language we read has been shaping our behaviour. If you have had any experience with people who genuinely do not understand body language, such as the groups I’ve mentioned, you’ll understand what I mean. Missing a subtle buying signal, because you’re too busy talking, and not listening, is a different thing from not being able to process the social communication cues of your peers trying to make friends with you.

So if the really bad sales advice is to ‘learn all about body language’, here is what to do about it. Just be yourself.

Be yourself when you are presenting. Listen to what your client is telling you. Listen intently, with the whole of your attention. Their body language will be as plain as the nose on their face. We have two ears and one mouth, as a rough guide, listen twice as much as you talk!

Don’t fall into the trap of practicing some sort of ‘gap’ analysis on your clients. That means merely waiting for them to stop talking so you can make the point you want to make, before you forget it again! It’s not good doing that is it? Your conversation with the client should be based on just that, your conversation with the client. What they say to you, how they say it to you, what their body language tells you, what you have been programmed to understand since we were all cavemen having to silently communicate with each other while tracking our dinner.

In fact, I’d argue that sales people are amongst the best of us at doing this anyway. If you have any ability to sell, have had any degree of success in this career, I’d be willing to bet you are a natural at this stuff, and far more sensitive to non verbal communication than the average person in the street. Its how you manage to meet and exceed your clients expectations, understand their brief so quickly and thoroughly, and dare I say it… It has contributed to the relationships you have been leveraging in order to make sales.

And as for somehow ‘managing’ your own body language to some advantageous end – good luck with that! Why not try something else? Why not try authenticity?

Nervous? let your audience know that you are. You never know, they might forgive you for it and work hard to make sure they get the message you are intending, as well as the message you are actually delivering. Scared? Perhaps they might offer you some reassurance. As far as I remember this is how relationships are formed in the first place. The completely natural sharing of authentic thoughts authentic ideas and authentic feelings.

Go on, Knock yourself out! Be yourself…