Written by: Anthony Awerbuch, Body Language on Purpose
It’s a bit ironic that we use the metaphor of ostriches burying their heads in the sand, to allude to our tendency to ignore dangers; ostriches do the exact opposite. They stick their heads in the sand to turn their eggs, which ensures survival of their young. We, on the other hand, are often guilty of having our heads firmly buried in the sand, ignoring our client 's nonverbal behavior.
Nonverbal cues are always more honest than verbal statements. If we know how to listen with our eyes, then we will find that our clients really do mean exactly what they say, nonverbally. Body language is less filtered than our carefully selected words since our brains process thoughts ten times faster than our rate of speech. Also, most of our nonverbal behavior is unconscious. Like any discipline there are a few rules that will keep us from jumping to the wrong conclusions when attempting to read body language.
First, we must consider context. If someone scratches his nose that could be a sign he is lying. However, scratching the nose could simply be a response to a physical condition, such as allergies.
Second, we look for clusters of nonverbal cues before forming a conclusion. If your client scratches her nose, sticks her tongue out between her teeth and stops gesturing with her hands, then you have a perfect cluster and a definite lie.
This doesn't mean that we should discount key moments where only one cue was observable. In that case, one should gently probe to see if there is more to the cue.
Third - and perhaps most important - we always look for a change from the baseline. If you observed your client (who we just accused of lying) demonstrating all these behaviors during the rapport-building phase of the sales conversation, then there was no change in baseline and therefore no deception.
Admittedly, if this was the case, she may have deeper problems than lying.
The consequence of ignoring nonverbal cues ranges from placing yourself in mortal danger to falling for the waiter who just gave three signs of lying about the soup being amazing.
Misreading cues in a sales conversation won't kill you, but it could kill the sale - or your profit margin.
Here are some examples of what could occur in your sales conversations with prospective clients:
1. Yes is No. You ask a prospective client, Lisa, if she is happy with her current provider and she answers "yes." What do you do now? Maybe you decide that you can compete on price and so you offer to match your competitor's service at a lower price. That may be a good strategy if Lisa's "yes" was real, but what you didn't notice was that as Lisa said "yes" she also nodded "no" ever so slightly that it was hardly noticeable. Lisa is not ready to admit that she has reservations about her current provider. You should ask if she is getting what she wants / if there anything that she would change if she could, assure her that there is no pressure and relax your own body language so that she doesn't feel pressure. Lean back in your chair, cross your legs (European style; knee over knee, not in a figure 4 with ankles over the knee), orient your torso toward her, smile and show your hands (preferably the palms).
2. Residual Anger. You ask a prospective client (Michael) about how well their current provider handles their warranty claims. His response: "Well, dealing with manufacturers in China is never smooth sailing but we generally get the issues resolved." That sounds good but did you notice Michael's clenched his fists and/or jaw? If you did, you would know that there is some residual anger. Michael may feel that he has to accept inferior service or he might not be ready to make a change. You could ask more pointed questions and assure him that while there is better warranty service available he should feel no pressure about changing. See also the body language tips above.
3. Control the Conversation. Before the conversation even gets started, your prospective client, Sam, shakes your hand with his palm down over yours and pats your shoulder, as he tells you take a seat in the boardroom. If you had any illusions that you will control the conversation, then you have just been given notice: this client is in charge. If you want to get back into the driver's seat, you will need to work hard to develop trust and rap port. It might not hurt to throw in a bit of ego stroking to get Sam to soften up. Tip: You could counter his dominating handshake by placing your hand over his and holding it the for the duration of the handshake. Reading body language helps us gain deep insights into what is going on for our prospects and clients beyond their words. Perhaps equally important, is the way we manage our own body language. Body language goes beyond good posture, eye contact and a firm handshake. As sales professionals, we can adopt man y nonverbal behaviors to create a fantas tic first impression and positively engage with prospects and clients.
When we master both dimensions of body language, we know how to truly listen with our eyes and talk with our bodies.
In the next issue, we'll discuss some more in-depth scenarios and practical advice for improving sales conversations.
This article originally appeared in the Oct 2017 issue of B-Tank written by the author Anthony Awerbuch.
Anthony Awerbuch is a certified Body Language Trainer. He served in The South African Army College where he had his first encounter with body language in a military police interrogation. He traveled and worked extensively in the Middle East and has more than 20 years of experience managing and mentoring people. Today Anthony writes about body language and conducts his own training programs for sales and management team members who are looking to improve communication, trust and rapport.