“The body never lies. ” ~ Martha Graham
Research has shown that the words we use in face-to-face communication only contribute 7% of the message we send when we communicate with others. Wow! So what can speak louder than words? The answer is our body language. It accounts for a whopping 55% of our message. Tone of voice takes the rest. Don’t think it’s true? Well think again. Let’s say I am telling a story and you approach me, yawn, roll your eyes, shake your head and walk away. Did you say a word? No. Did I understand what you wanted to say? Yes. You did not like my story and found it boring. Amazing! You delivered your message without saying a single word.
There are several components of body language: eye contact, facial expression, body movement, and personal space.
Making eye contact
Eye contact is one of the most important ways in which we communicate. Just by making eye contact you can change the way the customer perceives you. When you establish good eye contact with a customer you are seen as trustworthy, confident and knowledgeable. It also shows that you want to listen to what the customer has to say. People who avoid direct eye contact are presumably nervous, lying, distracted or just not interested.
However, don’t overdo it. Don’t stare at the customer; you’ll scare them away.
A genuine smile is the best facial expression. It makes you feel better even on the days when you are feeling under the weather. With a smile on your face you look friendly and approachable. Smiling makes other people feel good too. Smiles are contagious and it’s the best way to put your customer in a good mood and open up.
Sometimes, however, the customer is upset and angry, so in this case listening to them with a smile on your face would aggravate them. Read your customer’s body language and respond accordingly.
The way you are facing the customer tells a lot about you: Are you interested in what the customer has to say? Do you care about their problem? Are you happy to see them? Standing straight, nodding and giving the customer your full attention shows that you are actively listening. Leaning on the wall, turning your body away and multitasking indicates that you don’t care.
Hand gestures are very important. How many of us were shown the index finger when asked for directions? Doesn’t it feel disrespectful and rude? It’s like you were shown to a corner for something that you did wrong. I encourage open-handed gestures, which are professional and inviting.
It’s important to pay attention to the space between the customer and yourself. If the customer is moving away, don’t try to move closer, it’s a clue that they wish to have more space to communicate comfortably. Generally the comfortable distance is between half a meter to a meter. Do keep in mind though – what’s considered comfortable personal space in one country can differ in another.
Body language is a powerful tool in communication. Understanding and using it appropriately will make you successful in business situations and personal relationships.