Top Brokers know, either intuitively or through conscious attention, how to read others. They read people not by the words they use, but rather by their nonverbal communication or body language.
In a landmark study, UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian found in face-to-face communications, 55 percent of the message comes from body language, 38 percent from how the message is delivered (tone, rate of speech, volume) and only 7 percent from the words used. Words can mislead: but the body does not lie.
Here are some nonverbal communication tips that can help you properly interpret a person’s message. There are four core principles of nonverbal communication.
1. Congruence occurs when a person’s words, tone and body language match. When there is incongruence use body language, not words, as your default interpretation.
2. Look at behavior holistically. Gestures or individual movements should not be viewed in a vacuum. Two or three movements will likely illuminate what the person is really feeling.
3. Context plays a big part in nonverbal communication. For example, most people are going to be more relaxed and open at an informal meeting than they will be at a negotiating table.
4. Observe changes in body language and what precedes them. For illustration, if a person’s body language turns closed when you ask them to take action it may signal they are uncomfortable with your request.
Nonverbal messages are split into two categories — positive and negative. Positive signals are those which suggest openness, acceptance and comfort. Negative signals send a message of discomfort, distrust or indifference.
• Uncrossed arms or legs. Uncrossing of the arms or legs is a good sign that a person is getting more comfortable and opening up.
• Open Hands. Open hands send such a powerful message that Allstate Insurance adopted it as its symbol and calls itself the “good hands people.” Further, rubbing one’s chin usually indicates thinking and evaluating.
• Moving closer. A forward lean, moving closer or facing a person more directly are strong signs of interest. For example, if another person slides his/her chair towards you and leans forward it is a strong indication of interest. This is also true when a person simply has their legs pointing at you.
• Eye contact. Eyes are windows to the soul and good eye contact (about two-thirds of the time) is a very positive signal. It is hard to mislead someone when you are looking at their eyes.
• Matching. Imitation is the highest form of flattery so when a person follows or matches your body language it signals they are in sync with you. For example, if you are standing leaning on a desk with your other hand on your hip and the other person does the same thing it is a particularly opportune time to request action.
• Crossed or folded arms or legs. When someone crosses their arms look at their hands. If their hands are clenched that may be a sign of extreme frustration, discomfort or anger.
• Clenched or hidden hands. Putting hands in pockets or placing hands out of sight, such as below a table, is a negative signal.
• Moving away. When a person moves, leans back or turns away, even if only slightly, they are communicating discomfort. This often happens when you meet a person for the first time and shake their hands. Many people are not comfortable being so close and will take a couple of steps back.
• Limited eye contact. Limited eye contact may show disinterest or boredom and staring may indicate anger or distrust.
• Excessive body movement. Fidgeting or finger tapping can be a sign of impatience, boredom or nervousness.
• Covering of the mouth. When people don’t tell the truth they often cover their mouth when they speak or touch their face with their left hand.
Once you properly read a person’s message, you must react accordingly. When you receive a negative message it is crucial to adjust your behavior. For example, if you ask an owner how much he wants for his property and his behavior becomes negative (looking away and crossing their arms) you must recognize you failed to present a strong enough call to action. So try to understand their resistance, back track and build a stronger case.
A Broker’s greatest commodity is the ability to build relationships and influence others and it all starts with reading body language.