Being able to identify various types of nonverbal communication is important. To succeed in life you need to competently read the cues your audience is giving you - whether that audience is 1 or 1,000. If they are really getting into it, agreeing with you, you want to know this. You also want to know if they are disagreeing, or being put off by your message.
You don't need to wait until the end of your pitch, to figure out what they think ... by staying aware of changes in people's body language you can guess, at what they are thinking throughout your discussion, and tailor what you are saying so that you make sure your message hits the mark.
Reading body language can be fraught with danger. You may have heard of generalizations such as: folded arms mean defensiveness, or if the other person can't maintain eye contact it means they are lying. Not always true! It might just be that the person regularly crosses his or her arms, or maybe that they are feeling cold. Or maybe they don't hold eye contact at anytime (it might just be a cultural thing).
To accurately assess someone's body language you need to have a fairly good understanding of how they hold themselves (and their tone of voice) most of the time. With that caution in mind, these types of nonverbal communication hints, can be useful to give you some clues that MAYBE things aren't quite what they seem.
Keep an eye out for some of these types of non-verbal communication cues as you are interacting with others.
Whether an individual, or a group, where a person's body is facing is an indicator of interest.
You will find that if someone is giving your their full attention, is receptive to you, their shoulders are going to be squared up to you, as well as their faces. If you find that someone's body, or their feet, are turned away, this suggests that they would really prefer to turn away, and that they are going to leave at the earliest opportunity. Want them to stick around and keep their attention on you? This might be the time to startle them, or surprise them, or to somehow get their attention again.
Trainers and Speakers know that using their headlights, is a way of capturing, and/or redirecting, their audiences' attention. By shifting their body, so that their headlights are facing, or moving away, from a particular person, or group, the skillful trainer can orchestrate the attention of an entire room. This is a useful skill, even if you are only meeting with one or two people. (Headlights?? The two bumps on the front of your chest - otherwise known as nipples. Wherever the headlights are facing, is where the person's attention is.)
If the person in question, is interested in you, you will find that he or she is facing you, and they are making eye contact. This is a very good sign, and you will discover that this is a great way to really make an immediate connection. If you find that their gaze is wandering, grab it by saying something like, "if you direct your eyes here," and point to a board or demo. Then you can try to meet their gaze again.
Nodding is a sign that they are saying yes to you, and the more that you can get them to do this, the better off that you are going to be. Take some time, and see what their heads are doing. A slow nod, can be a sign that they are coming along, and if they are nodding to everything that you say, you will find that you are probably in good shape. To get them started, have them say 'yes' to something easy, and build from there.
For example, if you are doing a pitch to your manager, for more resources to be directed to your department, you might ask a question that you are almost 100% certain he or she just has to say yes to, "Is improving our team's productivity one of your highest priorities?". Getting them to say the word 'Yes' aloud is best - but a nod is in the right direction.
An open, relaxed hand, ideally with you able to see their palms, is an indicator that they are interested in what you have to say. If their hands are closed, this might be a sign that they are withholding. To get their hands open, try being more expressive with yours. Use more hand gestures, and generally loosen up and chances are, they will too. But of course don't make yourself look like a windmill!
It is true that smiling is a good sign, but make sure that you are not getting put off by a false one! To tell if someone is smiling in earnest, stop and look at their eyes. If a person is faking a smile, you will find that their eyes don't wrinkle at the corners, making the familiar laugh lines (mind you in these days of botox - who can tell! . For a bit of fun, take this 'Spot the Fake Smile' test.
If you want to get people to smile at you, remember that you should smile at them as genuinely as possible. Find something to be happy about, try to quell any nervousness that you might feel, and just smile, with as much genuine emotion as you can muster. If you smile, people will smile back at you. Try this... walk down the street and smile at strangers ... very few - if any - will not at least turn the corners of their lips up - but you will more probably find that many will actually smile back ... they just can't help themselves!
When you first get a handshake from someone that you are going to be working with, you might be able to read a lot into it. For instance, you will realize that someone who lets go fast is someone who really doesn't want to be there, and that they might be something of a hard sell. A firm handshake is best, and you will find that this is a person who is looking forward to hearing what you have to say. On the other hand, a bone-crunching handshake, is a sign that you are going to be dealing with someone who likes to be in charge, so alter your game plan accordingly.
For example, the person starts to go a shade of red in the face. A mind-read you might make is "He is getting angry". Realize this is only your guess. The only observation you can truthfully make is "This person is going red, something is going on for him."
It might be okay to assume, maybe he's starting to feel disconnected. Therefore, just in case, you might want to maybe do something that will re-build rapport and connection - it may or may not be needed, but it certainly won't hurt.
There are many other types of nonverbal communication clues ... but these are probably the easiest, and the ones least likely to get you in a whole bunch of trouble, by interpreting incorrectly. Understanding, and having the skills to work with, different personalities is critical to your success as a leader. Make sure you read the article on handling difficult personalities to complement the tips on this page.
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