When President Clinton sternly declared, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” body language experts fell off chairs like dominoes.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian is known for his breakdown of human communication into 7 percent spoken words, 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. While some disagree on those numbers, all agree nonverbal communication dominates verbal.
Understanding non-verbal communication is crucial for the entrepreneur. Your life and business are dependent upon successful communication with others. The inability to interpret a client’s body language could mean making an offer that’s not only premature, but potentially offensive.
Here are the key areas of body language, from head to toe, based off the work of Dr. Marvin Karlins and Joe Navarro, to pay attention to during your next important meeting.
Negative facial expressions (nervousness, dislike, stress, and contempt):
- Furrowed forehead.
- Nose crinkle.
- Eyelid flutter.
- lips pursing.
- jaw moving to the side.
- repeated touching of the nose or eyelid.
- a smirk, corner of the lip raised.
- looking in a different direction while verbally responding.
Positive facial expressions:
- Consistent eye contact.
- Raised eyebrows.
- A perked head position, nodding in agreement.
- A head tilt to the side is a submissive signal, exposing the throat and neck; it conveys inquisitiveness and interest.
Negative torso expressions:
- Shoulders slowly rising and turned inward shows a lack of confidence in what's presented, and a sense of discomfort.
- The “Lint-Picker,” looking down and performing an irrelevant action i.e. picking imaginary lint, is a sign of disapproval and dismissal.
Positive torso expressions:
- A ventral exposure—leaning inward is a positive sign of interest.
- An upright, but not stiff open chest that parallels the other person is a sign of congruence and agreement.
Negative arm expressions:
- Placed behind the back is a regal stance of authority and wanting distance.
- Arms across chest in any way is an expression of concern and threat.
- A noticeable freeze, stiffness, complete lack of arm movement, is an attempt to conceal, to deflect, and avoid attention.
Positive arm expressions:
- Arms at the waist, or slightly tucked into pockets with thumbs pointing forward is an inquisitive and interested stance.
- Arms rested across the belly-button is a relaxed and open position.
Negative hand expressions:
- Fingers interlocked with palms pressed together conveys stress or concern.
- Nail biting is a sign of insecurity and nervousness.
- Rubbing palms together shows doubt, stress, or the need for more information.
Positive Hand expressions:
- Hand stippling shows confidence and lack of threat.
- Palms showing conveys agreement and rapport.
Negative Legs and feet expressions:
- Feet withdrawn from the front to beneath a chair is a distancing reaction that conveys discomfort.
- A shift from foot jiggling to foot kicking (front to back motion) is a disagreement response.
- Feet locked behind legs or rubbing hands on legs is a stress response and attempt to conceal feelings.
- If someone’s feet are pointed toward the door, that’s exactly where they want to head.
Positive legs and feet expressions:
- The foot-forward position, body weight is shifted to one hip, and the lead foot is pointing toward the speaker, this is an expression of attraction and interest.
- In seated positions, legs uncrossed in a neutral position—not overly spread apart, nor are the knees touching together.
With reading body language, one of the most important elements is to establish a baseline. It the first few minutes of meeting someone, pay careful attention of their natural mannerisms. Otherwise, it can be easy to misread their behaviors as exaggerated when they are in fact normal.