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Management Practices

The Language of Body

Leon Alexander | December 28, 2015 | 7:02 PM

In business and in our personal life, it isn’t the brain people see, it’s our body language and it has either a positive or negative effect. How we stand or greet someone gives people an impression. We are fortunate in the beauty industry, because it enables us to interact by touching other people and our non-verbal communication emits signals to consumers. Equally, it enables us to see what mindset the customer is in.

Non-verbal communication accounts for 50 to 90 percent of our communication with each other. The objective is not only to communicate, but also to connect with people. Understanding body language will help you read clients and do business more effectively. There are very few people who can instantly connect with others, where immediately both parties are comfortable in the presence of each other.  In the absence of these rare connections, a combination of gestures and expressions will convey volumes of information. Reading these signs better equips you to begin and navigate through a conversation.

Your clients are constantly telling you exactly what they think and feel and it often has nothing at all to do with the words they speak.  Body language tends to reveal underlying motives and emotions – fear, honesty, joy, indecision, frustration – and much more. The tiniest gesture, the way they stand or enter a room, often speaks volumes about their confidence, self-worth, and credibility. Many times we don’t pay attention to the clear signals of others or we are misreading those signals because we fail to evaluate them correctly.

In a previous article, “The Future is Embedded in the Present,” I wrote, “in the future nanotechnology will be able to snap together blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in most ways permitted by the laws of physics.” The cells in your brain make you who you are and control everything you do, think and feel. The same is true about our body language. It controls and expresses what we are thinking.

Whenever we call someone ‘perceptive’ or ‘intuitive,’ we are referring to his or her ability to read another person’s non-verbal cues and to compare these cues with verbal signals. In other words, when we say we have a ‘hunch’ or ‘gut feeling’ someone has told us a lie, we mean their body language and their spoken words do not agree.

Women are generally more perceptive then men. This has given rise to what is commonly referred to as ‘women’s intuition.’ Women have an innate ability to pick up and decipher non-verbal signals, as well as having an accurate eye for small details.

This female intuition is particularly evident in women who have brought up young children. For the first few years, the mother relies solely on the non-verbal channel to communicate with the child and this is believed to be the reason why women become more perceptive negotiators than men.

Inborn, Genetic and Learned Body Language

Body language is a combination of all three gestures. For example, most primate children are born with the immediate ability to suck, indicating this is inborn or genetic. When you cross your arms on your chest, do you cross left over right or right over left? Where one feels comfortable, the other feels wrong.

Most men put on a coat right arm first; most women put it on left arm first. When a man passes a woman in a crowded street, he usually turns his body towards her as he passes; she usually turns her body away from him. Does she instinctively do this to protect her breast? Is this an inborn female reaction or has she learned to do this by unconsciously watching other females?

As verbal language differs from culture to culture, non-verbal language may also differ.

Faking Body Language

Is it possible to fake body language? The general answer to the question is ‘no’ because congruence is likely to be missing between the use of main gestures, body micro signals and the spoken word. Open palms are associated with honesty, but when the faker holds his palms out and smiles at you as he tells a lie, his micro gestures give him away. His pupils may contract, one eyebrow may lift, or the corner of his mouth may twitch. The receiver tends to not believe what he hears.

The human mind seems to possess a fail-safe mechanism that registers ‘tilt’ when it receives a series of incongruent non-verbal messages.

Territorial Gestures

People lean against other people to show territorial claim to a person or object. Leaning can also be used as a method of dominance or intimidation when an object belongs to someone else. When you take a photograph of a friend’s new car, you will inevitably find he leans against his newly acquired property, it becomes an extension of his body. Couples hold hands or put their arms around one another in public and social situations to show others the claim they have on each other.

People form 90 per cent of their opinion in the first ninety seconds of meeting you, and as the saying goes, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’.

Mirror Imaging

The next time you attend a social function or go to a place where people meet and interact, take note of the number of people who have adopted the identical gestures and posture of the person with whom they are talking. This ‘mirror imaging’ is a means by which one person tells another he is in agreement with his ideas and attitudes. This unconscious mimicry is interesting to observe. Two men talking at a bar who are in agreement, will copy each other’s movement.

Facial Expressions

One of the most effective forms of communication involves nothing more than the contraction of facial muscles. Everyone understands what a smile or a frown means. It has been shown facial expressions can be recognized across countries, regardless of language or culture. Something as simple as a hug can ‘speak’ volumes about how much we care for someone. Who needs ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when a movement of the head does the trick? These basic examples show how powerful body language can be. If we understand how to read and use body language then we can see why it is not such a bad thing to be lost for words.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker

We’ve all heard about body language in the romantic setting. The old saying is ‘love at first sight’ not ‘love at first word’. Their eyes meet across a crowded room. He winks at her and she raises an eyebrow. A connection is made without any words needed. These displays of body language say it all. In fact, sometimes they can say more than words can.

Our body language is a display of our motives. We are like walking advertisements for what we are thinking or feeling. Each of our behaviors is a way of alerting others to our inner workings. It is also a way of eliciting a response in someone else. We act; they react; and so on. For example, if someone smiles at us, we typically respond with an action of our own. Therefore, communication has started, the same as ‘normal’ conversation.

So, if you are your own advertisement, how can you guarantee to be a best seller? By being aware of what language your body is talking. For example, how do you sell yourself during a client consultation, or a retail sales presentation? Start with the packaging. Clothes can make an important statement. Once you’re packaged appropriately, it’s time to concentrate on what’s underneath the wrapping. Nerves have a way of making the body act in certain ways, and they can be pretty sneaky about it. Watch the nervous foot bouncing; it’s letting everyone know your heart is going a mile a minute. Don’t barricade yourself in with crossed arms. Be open to new experiences. Make eye contact! You may be feeling nervous, but you want to think confidently, and this is the message you need to send to the customer. Use the language of the body to impress.

As body language can let others know information about us, it can also alert us to their intentions. However, it can be confusing when people are saying one thing with their mouth and something else with their body. Have you ever seen a movie, which has been dubbed?  Or a video with a sound delay? The mismatch between what is being said, and the movement of the mouth can be off putting, same as between the words and body language. Do we believe a person when he says he is not angry, or do we believe the tense muscles and clenched jaw, which barely allow him to get the words out in the first place?

It’s important to look at body language. It can give you hidden signals about how others are actually feeling. For example, it’s good to be able to tell when someone else is aggressive or angry. They may sound calm, but is their body saying something else? If so, then now isn’t the time to ask for something.

Body language is an important tool to help you navigate other people, read your clients stories, and take care about how you are writing your own.

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