Networking with Body Language

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By Gail Stolzenburg

Nonverbal communication comprises 70% or more of one’s communication skills.  If people make up their minds in eight seconds and if they want to continue the conversation, then what is their body language saying?  Have you looked for a dictionary on body language and found very little information on the subject?

A good starting place for body language is the eyes.  They provide a lot of information.  However, rather than what some people believe, very seldom can you tell if someone is telling a lie.  Have you ever been in a staring contest with someone and it became uncomfortable?  How long should you keep direct eye contact?  Should you look at the space between their eyes rather than directly in their eyes?  One technique that speaking coach Rod “The Storyteller” White teaches is to focus on the person’s left eye, the eye which activates people’s creative side.

Can you tell from someone’s facial expressions if they are happy, angry, excited, or fearful?  These expressions are universal, regardless of culture.  In the September 2014 issue of Small Business Today Magazine, I discussed the differences between the way men and women network in my column titled, “Business Networking & Sex – Not What You Think!”   Women laugh more, smile more, and are more open than men.  Men shake their head more, show anger more, and are more closed off than women.  We are talking about business networking but sometimes a person’s smile is interpreted as an invitation.  Focus on being professional.

One of the first things taught in Tai Chi classes is that people’s shoulders tend to rise when they are tense.  Next time you are talking with someone, first check your own shoulders, pull them down and relax, then check the shoulders of the person you’re talking with and help them relax by asking questions.  More is accomplished when they feel comfortable talking with you.

When someone’s arms are crossed, they are less open to conversation and ideas.  Handing them a conversation piece, like a business card, forces them to change their posture.  Another technique is copying someone’s body language.  This is called mirroring and matching such as a hand or arm position.  It should never be obvious but you may find the person is saying to themselves, “I’m unsure what it is but there is something I like about that guy.”

To keep the conversation on a positive note, always keep you hands above your waist.  It has an uplifting effect.  Hands down at you sides can indicate disinterest.  Also, leaning forward shows interest and leaning back may reflect disinterest.  An abrupt change, such as moving, can help alter the other person’s attitude.  Are you a “toucher”?  Some people resist touching but many people have found that a light touch has a positive effect.  When shaking hands, sometimes I lightly put my other hand on top of both our hands.

What is your comfort zone, your space?  How close do you let people get to you before you become uncomfortable?  Everyone is different but you will know quickly if you are invading someone’s space.  They will back away or at least demonstrate some body language showing discomfort.

Remember, body language is not an exact science; it differs from person to person.  The only way to improve nonverbal conversation is to practice and business organizations and service clubs are great places to practice.  So the next time you meet someone, try using some of the techniques above and work on reading the nonverbal cues.

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Gail “The Connector” Stolzenburg’s new book,CONNECTIONS:  Contacts to Clients” was just released.  For more information, Gail can be contacted by phone at 281-493-1955, by email at [email protected], or visit his website at www.GailStolzenburg.com.

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