BOOK REVIEW: Learn to speak body language

Without saying a word: Master the science of body language and maximize your success. By Kasia Wezowski and Patryk Wezowski

The basic premise of this book is that great communicators read body language. The gestures referred to below are mainly those found in business conversations, and are relatively easy to interpret.

The authors cite many studies of the subject. One study they conducted compared the video test for reading body language of salespeople from the Myo Company with their performances, and found that those with above-average scores noticeably outsold their colleagues.

A similar study of salespeople from a BMW showroom in Rome, found that high performing sales people scored almost twice as high on the test as low performers.

"Studying body language increases your emotional intelligence, which enhances the quality of all of your relationships," the authors believe.

Your body always wants to tell the truth about what you are feeling. Numerous studies indicate that our limbic system works faster than our powers of rational thought. That is why expressions and gestures tend to tell the truth before we can consciously adjust our behaviour.

Changing your body language without thinking about your underlying emotions is pointless.

Body language affects speech

To improve sales in a call-centre, the authors focused on body language rather than the scripts the operators where using. This is because even our speech is affected by body language and influences our results even when our bodies are not visible. They were trained in relaxation exercises to help improve their general mood with positive results.

When it comes to other people’s body language, the rule is simply that if you have to make a choice between what you hear (words) and what you see (movements), it is better to believe what you see.

A good knowledge of body language helps you to be more aware of what someone else is really feeling. There is a limited group of most common nonverbal signals that occur in everyday conversation.

The interpretations described in the book are accurate, but only in 60 to 80% of situations. If, for example, someone touches the tip of his nose just once during a conversation, it may be that he simply has an itchy nose. If however, within a few minutes he also rubs his eyes, covers his mouth, takes a step backward, avoids eye contact, or crosses his arms, there is a good chance that he either finds the situation stressful, or that he is lying.

Timing is also very important in reading body language. If there is a significant change in body language position when a new price is mentioned, that is relevant.

The body movements that stimulate trust and cooperation are opening the palms of the hand. Open palms are a sign of peaceful intentions. It shows that you have nothing to hide, and that you’re mentally open to what the other person is saying. Liars are more inclined to keep their hands concealed.

Women should interpret hard handshakes by men as a warning to be careful when dealing with this type of man. It is possible that his desire for dominance might hint at a latent disrespect for their opinions.

The handshake with both hands can be an expression of warmth, trust, and kindness toward a person. The higher you place your left hand on the other person’s right arm, the clearer you make your desire to get closer to her in your relationship. It is an expression of your good intentions.

Negative attitudes

You can identify a negative attitude towards you by another, through any one, or more, of these nonverbal signs. Folded arms, a doubtful stroking of the chin, hands behind the back, tense shoulders, clasped hands, or the body turned away from you.

When you smile at someone, the recipient will often smile back, which creates a positive feeling between the two of you. Research has shown that if you smile and laugh regularly your relations with other people will run more smoothly, last longer, and yield more positive results.

In the West, eye contact should be made with a conversation partner at least 70% of the time. More can be seen as staring and come across as aggressive, or just plain weird. In Asian cultures, as much eye contact can be seen as disrespectful and so is less frequent and for shorter durations.

You can speak the same sentences in every presentation you do, but the way these sentences are interpreted by the participants, will depend on your nonverbal communication.

Our body language will betray us when we are uncertain, or when we do not speak from the heart. To overcome this, it is useful to note your body language when you are relaxing with friends, and then try to transfer this to the podium. If you feel comfortable with yourself, your audience will feel comfortable with you.

In an American experiment, a speaker was asked to make a presentation to an audience with his palms up, conveying openness and sincerity. Another group listened to the speaker with his palms turned down, which signals dominance. The third group had a speaker who was continually pointing his finger at them. Of the last group one in three of the audience left the room before the presentation was over because they felt he has too aggressive. They could not explain exactly why, though.

Whether the interpretation of body language is grounded in science or not, is disputed. However, raising your awareness of how others are coming across can only be helpful in business and social relationships.

While some people may have a natural gift for reading body language, anyone can learn to do so. Reading a book about body language is a good start.

Readability       Light -+--- Serious

Insights                      High --+-- Low

Practical           High --+-- Low

·         Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works and Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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