Depending on the study you read, anywhere from approximately sixty percent to ninety percent of communication is nonverbal. Let that soak in for a second. Now ask yourself this question, “Is my body language congruent with the words that I say?” If you answered “yes” to that question, how do you know? Unless you consciously practice your nonverbal communication and train your body to communicate what you want it to, you’re probably giving off different information than you think you are.
I’ve had the very good fortune to speak with some of the world’s leading experts in the field of nonverbal communication. Each of them are masters of their own area of specialization and they all say three things consistently:
- One Piece of Data is Not Enough
- Baseline the Data
1. One Piece of Data is Not Enough
Movies and television shows would have you believe you can read a lie or what a person is thinking with one single body language cue. False. The truth is that you need to see many cues, understand the context of the conversation or meeting, understand the room dynamics and potentially many other things to give you insight on what is going on inside the mind of the person you’re talking to. All of these data points are clues that lead to a hypothesis that need to be tested. Testing your hypothesis through questions, statements and reflective or complementary body language allows you the opportunity to validate whether your hypothesis may be accurate. One piece of data is not enough to determine intention, thought, or lies. You need more data points.
2. Baseline the Data
You must baseline someone’s behavior to determine what ‘normal’ behavior looks like for that person. Once you know what ‘normal’ looks like, your ability to confidently determine whether the cues you picked up are atypical to normal behavior allows you to understand significantly more information.
Reading and showing body language cues, like every skill, takes practice. Yes there are some who are more predisposed to it than others (like everything), but the only way to get better is to practice.
Now you’re thinking, “Okay, great, so where do I start?”
I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the most important nonverbal cues you need to practice, and why, below.
- Smile – Practice developing a natural and genuine smile that you can turn on and off whenever you need to. You want to create a real human connection that starts the trust building process right away. So practice your smile. Don’t be creepy about it. People’s bullshit meters are pretty good these days and they can read through a fake smile right away. Your face gives off micro-expressions that you may not even be aware of (Read Paul Ekman’s work on micro-expressions or visit my friend, Susan Ibitz at the Human Behavior Lab). That’s why it has to be genuine and natural.
- Posture – Confidence is SO important in negotiations. You may say, “Mark, I’m not confident!” My answer to that is, FAKE IT with good posture. Your posture says a lot about your confidence and your ability. I don’t need to teach you why it’s important, you know why, so work on it.
- Handshake – First impressions count, and a weak handshake screams of weakness and being uncertain. Practice a firm neutral handshake with 2-3 pumps. Any more than this gets weird and any less feels impersonal.
- Lean In – Show that you’re listening by leaning in slightly when the other party is talking and turn your left ear slightly toward them. Active listening is important, yes, but so is showing the other party that you are actively listening.
- Tilt your Head – As you lean in to listen, tilt your head slightly. This exposes your carotid artery and is a display to the other person that you are not afraid, that you trust them, and that you are trustworthy.
If you can master these 5 body language cues and use them at the right time, you are significantly more likely to build and maintain trust in a relationship because your body is telling the other party that you trust them and that you are trustworthy.
If you’re a freak about this stuff like I am, I highly recommend you read the work of the following people:
- Paul Ekman – Pioneer in the work of micro-expressions
- Joe Navarro – Body language expert and former FBI agent
- Jack Schafer – Former FBI agent and behavioral analyst
- Susan Ibitz – Face reading and nonverbal expert