Body Language in Business

Did you know that body language accounts for over 90% of a conversation! Body language can be used to help conduct an interview, give a presentation or make that important sale: a conversation stretches so much further than speech.

Body language is the reason why selling face-to-face has a huge advantage over selling by phone, and why direct sales beat telesales hands down. Usually when we communicate with or see people, we only respond to what is being said, heard or generally seen. There is so much more involved and most of us do not pick up on it: it’s our body language and it can express a thousand words…

Our body language will give others an impression of ourselves or show our emotion, it is also an important aspect of running a successful business as we cannot always say what we really feel. This means we have to act positive in negative situations (and vice-versa of course). You can also identify other people’s body language and know what they really mean: whatever they may be saying.

You may immediately think of this as standing tall and up right as much as possible. In fact, it is the natural alignment of your head and body without the use of tension and ‘locking’. Everyone has a different posture and it usually develops through habit over the years. This may be slumping your shoulders forward or hanging your head: anything that has come to feel natural.

Your posture may show how you will approach a situation. For example, if you stand with your shoulders hanging, arms folded, and leaning to one side, it will look as if you aren’t ready for or interested in the task in question. Should you stand with strong shoulders, head up, arms out by the side and closed fists, you will look as if you are ready for anything no matter how much stress is involved.

Looking at a persons feet when they are sitting down will tell you who is an extrovert (out-going) and who is an introvert (withdrawn). Extrovert – toes pointing out, introvert – toes pointing in.

The Space Around You

Those who stand always look more powerful to those people who are sitting down. This is because they are taking up more space. So if you feel comfortable standing, use it to look as though you have a higher status then those around you.

When you move around, the more space you take up can make others seem threatened by your presence. This is because those around you may feel that their presence in the area is less significant. In such case, they may move around using as little space as possible.

If you are sitting, you can still give an image of power. If standing isn’t appropriate, use more space by stretching your legs out or by having your arms at the side of the chair. When you are on the phone and you need to be assertive, standing up will project your urgency.

Hand-to-Face Movements

Look out for customers that use hand-to-face movements such as holding their chin or scratching their face. This can usually show that they are thinking of making a purchase but they have a concern, for example, “can I afford it” or “what if a I pick the wrong size”, etc.

This may be a cue for you to move in before they leave and inform them that they can ‘buy on credit if preferred’ or that they can ‘exchange the product if it is not suitable’, etc. It is a fact that many customers do not ask to solve their queries and therefore leave if they are unsure: this is why it is important to recognise this common form of body language.


Doing one thing may mean another as the case may be. These are things that we should look out for, as it can easily give things away about both yourself and the observer. A simple touch of the nose could mean that you/they aren’t being truthful.

A lot of us move our heads when we are talking to get approval from others. If you want to look powerful, then you should try to keep your head movements to a minimum.

How much you show your underbelly (your front) is a way of showing how confident, secure or trusting you are. The less you cover up your underbelly with folding arms, crossed legs, raised hands, etc, the more appropriate the qualities may be. Folding your arms may look as if you are trying to defend yourself, and give a clear message ‘DO NOT APPROACH’. This will look bad to the other person. If you talk to someone who originally has folded arms, crossed legs and perhaps turning away slightly, you may think that they are uninterested and also feeling detached from your conversation. If they start to unfold their arms, uncross their legs, etc, it may be a sign that they are accepting your issue

Another gesture that we use is called ‘mirroring’. You may not know it, but we are attracted to those people who are similar to ourselves. A case may be where you are with an employee to discuss an issue and you both take a similar sitting/standing position. The discussion goes well, but if you had taken a different position, it may not have gone as well as it did. This gesture is often taken on by sales people who sit in a similar position as their customer.

A more common gesture is perhaps the one that is most annoying. It is known as ‘displacement activity’ and is used to get rid of physical tension in the body. Examples of this may include nail-biting, playing with hair, chewing gum, and teeth grinding.

Grooming gestures are those things we do to reassure ourselves. This may involve you perfecting your hair or fiddling with your clothes. We normally do this when we are around people we don’t know, and so we groom ourselves to make us look more presentable to lift our confidence.

Finally, our hands are used to emphasize what we say, from pointing and saying “over there”, to waving someone away and saying “go away”. Hands that are made into a pyramid shape (fingers and thumbs on both hands touching, with palms wide apart) mean power. If someone sitting across a desk from you talks to you with the pyramid gesture pointing to you, this will either be your boss, or your future boss

Facial Expression

A simple smile can make others feel more at ease where a frown can make people see that you are aggressive or unsure of something. We use facial expressions to get our points across in the right context. For example, your message would suffer if you were saying how angry you are with a huge smile.

Eye Contact

When someone talks to you, do they look directly at you or look away? Maintaining eye contact when talking (or listening) to someone gives an impression that you/they are confident and honest. Making little eye contact can say that the other person doesn’t like you, is nervous or shy, or perhaps believe that they are higher in status and think that eye contact isn’t necessary. And guys a ladies eyes are each side of her nose not level with her elbows!
Also, look out for it if you believe that someone isn’t being truthful, as most people can’t keep eye contact when they are bending the truth.

However, someone looking at you non-stop is stressful and in these situations you should throw your hands around a bit more or point to brochures and objects to distract them. Staring is basically seen as an aggressive act and can also be interpreted as being unbalanced.

If talking to people outdoors, avoid wearing sunglasses as this can be very uncomfortable for the other person and can give an image of trying to hide your identity (a shifty salesman, for example). In addition, try to blink as less as possible as this can make it difficult for the other person to understand you (due to being distracted). Blinking less also gives an image of confidence.

Body language comes in many forms, as you have seen above. Different people have their own ability to recognize body language and they will recognize it with different meanings to other people. So, when you use body language, one person may see it differently to the other.

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