January Newsletter

Body Language as a Sales Tool

What is your body language saying about you?

Body language can make or break any relationship. It can help to add credibility to what we say, or it can contradict our words. Understanding what signals we send, as well as reading signals from clients are crucial when it comes to sales and are additionally beneficial in any face to face interaction. After all, our ‘customers’ aren’t always external buyers!

Body language is the collective sum of all the things that we do not say – or at least the things that do not come from our lips. Most body language execution and reading are subconscious but tapping into that awareness can help you subtly take control of your situation and influence the results in your favor. Some major aspects of body language are:

Whether you are in a sales meeting or you are speaking with someone for other reasons, the space that you reserve for yourself and grant other people is important. The amount of personal space that we prefer has cultural aspects to it, in addition to its being a behavior that we grow up with and have our own ideas about.

We can think of space in terms of circles around us. The circle closest to us is considered to be that first 1 to 18 inches around ourselves. In North America, this is considered to be personal space, and we generally save that space for ourselves and people that we are intimate with.

Although we tend to blur the line between personal and professional interactions, we generally want about three feet (or a little less than a meter) between us for professional discussions. In some cultures (Asia and Africa in particular) three feet is a minimum; if you cross that line, you may be interpreted as intimidating.

Chris Bowden, a communication expert, uses peripheral vision to help us judge the appropriate distance. Peripheral vision is the edge of your field of vision. Bowden teaches that if you can see the other person’s feet in the lower range of your peripheral vision (without tipping your head down), then you are about the right distance away.


Your face is like a palette, but instead of being speckled with brightly colored paints, it is a tapestry of signs and signals. People often make unintentional gestures, even when they think they are keeping a poker face. In many years of studying human behavior and deceit, Dr. Paul Ekman and his contemporaries have isolated many small, involuntary expressions (called micro expressions) that can help spot a lie. (These include very small muscular changes.) While they can denote deceit, they can also be the result of nervousness, so they have to be interpreted very carefully.

Some of the facial gestures include:

  • Rubbing the eye (a sign that the individual wants you to ignore the deceit they are presenting, or are uncomfortable)
  • Rolling the eyes (a dismissive or superior gesture)
  • Looking over the top of the glasses (critical)
  • Rubbing or touching the nose (don’t like the subject)
  • Hand or fingers in front or to one side of the mouth (can mean they are holding back something – a thought, an opinion, or even a lie)
  • Stroking the chin (making a decision)
  • Thumb under the chin with index finger pointing up the side of the face (critical judgment and/or negative opinion)

By understanding your client’s signals, you can adjust your presentation, provide more information, or simply stop talking. This way you can redirect your energy to relationship development and building trust, rather than coming across as pushy or overbearing.

The eyes are often referred to as the most expressive part of our face. We often talk about how people who smile just with their mouths seem less sincere than someone whose smile extends up into their eyes. It is the telltale nature of our eyes that leads some poker players to wear dark glasses. It is also a good reason for salespeople not to wear sunglasses!

Eyes will react to a variety of stimuli and some of these reactions are involuntary. If you ever wondered how, as a youth, your parents caught you in a lie, it might have had to do with the size of your pupils, which can dilate during a lie. (Of course, there are plenty of other reasons for your pupils to dilate, including an adrenaline event).

Eye movements as indicators of specific cognitive processes is one of the most well known, if controversial, discoveries of Neuro-linguistic Programming (used by the FBI), and potentially one of the most valuable. According to NLP, automatic, unconscious eye movements, or “eye accessing cues,” often accompany particular thought processes, and indicate the access and use of particular representational systems. Below is an info-graphic that give 8 signals you (consciously or unconsciously) communicate with your eyes.

Arm and hand gestures can be used to help you to emphasize an occasional point or to express yourself. For the listener, there are some gestures that make you seem more trustworthy than others. In his work as a communication expert, Chris Bowden refers to something called the “truth plane” as an ideal place to have your hands and to express yourself with honesty. The truth plane is the area around the middle of your abdomen, above your navel. If you keep your hands in front of that area, you appear more trustworthy. It allows you to keep your elbows close to the side of your body and to use your hands to gesture in front of you.

If you use your hands in a symmetric pattern, it is a more trustworthy signal than having your hands do different things. If your hands are too high and obscure your face or throat, that could signal that you are not being honest. If your hands move too far from your body, it could be a signal that you are getting desperate to make your case or close the sale.

If your hands are clasped in front in a downward manner, in front of your genitals, this can signal that you are feeling vulnerable or have something to hide (as if you are protecting yourself).

Keep your hands in front of your abdomen for the best results, using them to emphasize without saying too much. You can fold your hands together in that position or put fingertips from one hand against the other to express yourself. Just be conscious if they start moving too much and distract from the conversation.

If you think for a moment about the people you normally see, what are their legs doing? More importantly, what are your legs doing?

Someone who sits with their legs well apart is displaying dominance. Some people sit facing their customers as if they had turned a chair around and were sitting across the back of it. The other extreme of this gesture is to sit with the knees together and ankles crossed. Both are equally submissive gestures.

You have to sit in a way that is comfortable for you, of course. More importantly, you also need to sit in a way that is also comfortable for your client or customer. This means that you should avoid a gaping view of your crotch. As well, keep your legs comfortable, but no wider than about six inches or so, unless you are trying to aggressively control the conversation.

We recommend not crossing your ankles, even for women, since this can appear submissive. This may also expose the sole of your shoes, which is rude in some cultures. As well, keep in mind that the bottoms of our shoes are often dusty or dirty. Showing the bottom of your dirty shoe in contrast to your polished suit sends a mixed message at best. Sit so your feet are flat on the floor.

A successful sale is often the result of a lot of research, preparation, execution and sometimes, plain old luck. But there is no denying that our ability to understand the body language of others as well as the way that we present ourselves is very important. Thankfully, many experts on human behavior are saying the phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ actually does hold a fair amount of truth to it. Individuals can dramatically boost their confidence, even if they don’t feel it at first, with simple body language techniques. We can use body language to get an extra edge in a business dealing using the following techniques:

Matching and Mirroring are almost self-explanatory exercises in body language. It is generally very easy to subtly match another person’s body language, such as their posture, breathing rate, and gestures.  If they lean back, you might do the same (subtly, a few moments after they do so). Or, you might perform a reciprocal movement by mirroring their behavior; that is, if you start tapping your pencil, I might subtly start tapping my foot in the same rhythm. If they tilt their head to the left, you might tilt your head to the right. Of course, you should only mirror the aspects of their body language that feel natural to you.

Voice Characteristics- Never, ever attempt to do an imitation of a person’s voice or to match their accent. This is almost always insulting. You can, however, mimic some basic voice features, including:

  • Volume of their voice
  • Speed (fast or slow)
  • Tone (high or low)

Pacing techniques can help you achieve a deeper level of rapport. Part of pacing is the matching and mirroring techniques that we just discussed. Another part is including true statements in your conversation to give more credibility to other statements. (Research shows that you must use at least three true statements in a row for this to work.) Hearing several true statements in a row also lowers their guard and makes them more open to agreeing with you.

Imagine that you’re at a seminar listening to a sales pitch. In Scenario One-The speaker starts out with, “Thanks for coming! I’m going to tell you about my new product that you’ll just love.” Does that grab your attention? Are you convinced that you’ll love this product? Or do you feel as though someone is trying to sell you something you do not want? Now let’s try a different approach in Scenario Two-The speaker says:

  • It’s a beautiful sunny morning!
  • It’s really early.
  • We’ve all come here for a reason.

Then, he might move into some more speculative statements:

  • I know you’re all happy to be here because I can see it in your faces.
  • I imagine that you’re interested in our new product.
  • I bet that you would like to do more in less time.

Next, he might introduce the statements that are new to you:

  • You are going to love this product.
  • It comes in several sizes, so you can get the amount that you need.
  • You won’t want to wait to get your hands on this.

Once you have established rapport, you might be able to influence the other person’s behavior without them realizing it! Test your control of the conversation this with a small gesture, like adjusting your posture or tugging your earlobe. If the person mirrors or matches your gesture in some way, you’re all set to continue leading! If not, you’ll need to deepen rapport some more.

If the person that you are communicating with is now in a receptive state, you can use your body language to influence their state of mind. For example, if they seem to be disengaged from the conversation, you can try leaning forward and using more gestures (both engaging behaviors).

Remember that the key is to incorporate influencing behaviors subtly and naturally so that the other person isn’t offended or annoyed.

During the important first few minutes of a new relationship, a handshake is usually the only body contact between two people. It can communicate warmth, a genuine concern for the other person, and an image of either strength or gentleness. It can also communicate indifference and weakness. Developing a professional handshake is one of the most valuable business skills you can cultivate.

The message that you communicate with your handshake is determined by several factors.

Degree of Firmness- Your grip should be firm and friendly. A weak handshake is a really poor form of introduction, so you need to aim for something that portrays confidence but won’t hurt the other person. Be considerate if you are shaking hands with someone in a receiving line and has many more hands to shake, someone wearing a lot of rings, or someone who is obviously elderly and perhaps fragile.

Dryness of Hand- We all prefer to shake a hand that is dry, but some of us also sweat more than others. While you typically don’t want to obviously dry your hands before greeting someone, it is perfectly acceptable (and even expected) to wipe your hands on a napkin if you have been holding a cold glass or eating at a cocktail party.

Depth of Grip- A handshake should be completed palm to palm. Place your hand so that the web between your thumb and forefinger meets the web of the other person’s hand briefly. Your hands should remain perpendicular (straight up and down) to the ground. If your palm is facing up, this may be construed as a sign of submissiveness. If your palm is on top, it can be seen as a sign of aggressiveness. Avoid merely grasping fingers, which is a sign of weakness.

Duration of Grip -The perfect handshake lasts for about three seconds. You can gently pump once or twice but it is not necessary. Pull back your hand after that contact, even if you are still talking.

Eye Contact- In North America, we expect the person shaking our hand to make eye contact with us, but this varies from one culture to another.

To master the whole introduction process, make sure you have something to say as you shake hands. You don’t have to be witty; you can even use the old standard, “Pleased to meet you.” These few words can set the stage for the small talk that is often at the beginning of a new business relationship.

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