Master the Non-Verbal Language of Business

Master the Non-Verbal Language of Business


Studies show that your words account for only 7% of the messages you convey. The remaining 93% is non-verbal, based on what people see and transmitted through tone of voice. In a business meeting, therefore, people can see what you are not saying. That’s why it’s important to make sure your body language matches your words if you want them to ring true.

Look Them in The Eyes

Maintain eye contact about 80% of the time. Less than that can be interpreted as discomfort, evasiveness, lack of confidence or boredom. Overdo it and you may seen as too direct, dominant or forceful, which can make the other person uncomfortable. Avoid looking over the other person’s shoulders as if you were looking out for someone more interesting.

Speaker, trainer and author Lillian Bjorseth says focused eye contact displays confidence on your part and also helps you understand what the other person is really saying verbally. “Looking someone in the eye as you meet and talk with him/her also shows you are paying attention, she says.

“Listening is the most important human relations skill, and good eye contact plays a large part in conveying our interest in others.” She advises looking at someone as soon as you engage in conversation and maintaining eye contact throughout. Be sure to maintain direct eye contact as you are saying goodbye as it will help leave a positive, powerful, lasting impression. “Imagine an inverted triangle in yourface with the base of it just above your eyes,” Bjorseth adds. “The other twosides descend from it and come to a point between your nose and your lips.That’s the suggested area to look at during business conversations.”

Take Up Space

One of the first key things people notice is how you carry and present yourself. What you learnt in primary school applies here. Sit or stand up straight if you want to be seen as attentive and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair, you look tired and uninterested and no-one wants to do business with someone like that. A drooping posture can turn people away without you even realising it. When you walk or stand, don’t slouch. Pull your stomach in, keep your shoulders back and lift your head up.

Command respect by standing tall and claiming the space which you occupy. Anyone who practices yoga will tell you that planting your feet firmly on the ground, hip distance apart, gives you an enormous sense of being grounded and balanced which is a great way to start any interaction.

Have a Friendly Face

Facial expression is a key component of non-verbal communication. A smile sends a positive message and exudes warmth and confidence. Smiles show interest, excitement, empathy, concern; they create an upbeat, positive environment. But don’t overdo it. To gain respect, first establish your presence in a room, then smile.

Your mouth gives clues, too. Pursing your lips or twisting them to one side can indicate that you are thinking about what you are hearing or that you are holding something back. The position of your head speaks to people. Keeping your head straight, which is not the same as keeping your head on straight, will make you appear self-assured and authoritative. People will take you seriously. Tilt your head to one side if you want to come across asfriendly and open. An occasional nod is another way to confirm that you are listening.

Watch Your Limbs

Arms crossed or folded over your chest say that you have shut other people out and have no interest in them or what they are saying. This goes for your legs too.

Control your hands by paying attention to where they are. In business, your hands need to be seen. Keep them out of your pockets and resist the urge to put them under the table or behind your back. Having your hands anywhere above the neck, fidgeting with your hair or rubbing your face, is unprofessional.

Work psychologist and business consultant James Borg warns against making judgements about people based on a single twitch, hand movement or posture. He advises looking for clusters of three postures or movements – for example, someone who sits with their knees facing away from you, their arms crossed and not making eye contact is probably not that keen on you or your views, or is feeling tense. You also need to look at how their movements deviate from their normal behaviour before you can make assumptions. “You can get paralysis by analysis,though. I don’t go around analysing people. A lot of the time I use my gutfeeling,” he says.

Best Body Language Books

Body Language: 7 Easy Lessons to Master the Silent Language
Author: James Borg
Publisher: Prentice Hall Life

The Definitive Book of Body Language: How to Read Others’ Attitudes by Their Gestures
Authors: Allan Pease and Barbara Pease
Publisher: Orion

The Body Language Bible: The Hidden Meaning Behind People’s Gestures and Expressions
Author: Judi James
Publisher: Vermilion

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.