When I started working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I wasn’t good at communicating.
Out of the 40 or so customers I interacted with every day, I probably succeeded in ruining 39 of those interactions with some sort of “failure to communicate.” As you can imagine, at a company that consistently ranks as one of the best in customer service, this did not go over very well. I was with the company for a year and nine months so that’s roughly 25,236 customer interactions for those counting (leap year taken into account). Well, after about 5 customer complaints (it was my first month, okay!?), I knew I had to do something to change my ways.
I realized quickly that the problem was all in my body language. After all it accounts for 93% of what you say. My mouth wasn’t saying the wrong “stuff”; my body was. I had to learn what my body language was saying to right the wrongs of my poor customer connections.
Body language – what an interesting topic! (I promise I will make it fun).
Your body language makes an impact every time you open your mouth. And even if your mouth isn’t open… then your body language is STILL making an impact. So let’s just say it’s being perceived every time you are with someone else.
Fun fact: The widespread effect of body language was first noticed following the Nixon-Kennedy debate. It was the first televised presidential debate and Nixon, who was recovering from an illness, didn’t wear much makeup. He was said to havelooked uncomfortable. This was a stark contrast to a composed Kennedy. The people watching the debate on the tube thought that Kennedy won. And the people listening on the radio thought that Nixon won. What made up for the difference of opinion? Body language! Ooooh. Ahhhh.
So you want the goods? I’ll bet a dollar you didn’t know some of these. Keep in mind that these are behaviors that will effect interactions on a subconscious level so someone may never consciously realize the unconscious effect they have. But that’s why you are here!
- The Size-Down:This one is sadly overlooked by almost every guide to body language I have ever seen. In any case, when you approach someone, how do you size them up? Do you look them over with a bottom-up approach, or a top-down? What I mean is, do you start with their shoes, and work your way up (bottom-up) or start your way at their eyes, and work your way down (top-down)? Unless you have made a conscious effort to change this, you ARE using the top-down approach (It’s in our primal nature). And that’s BAD. Guess what it means….
Between Man and a Woman and vice versa: Well you are staring at their eyes first, and then you work your way down. You have to work your way back up. It’s called “Elevator Eyes.” And it’s also called “checking them out…” Oh and if you are a manager? BIG OOPS!
Between Two Woman or Two Men: It’s actually an attempt to establish dominance. Not something you really want to project on a first impression to anyone.So what do you do about it? When you need to, change it! Use a bottom-up approach. Start with the shoes and work your way up to the eyes. It’s a submissive behavior and it is good for any interaction with someone you don’t know. The power in a relationship comes from letting someone else THINK they have the upper hand.
- The Upper-Hand: Speaking of the upper hand…. remember the handshake article? I talked about the dominant handshake. It’s SO important that you remember this one. Unfortunately, as I am still screaming at the top of my lungs from a VERY SMALL mountain, the entire working world hasn’t gotten the just yet. So let me repeat it again:never, never, NEVER come into a handshake with your palm down. For more info on this, I did write an article.
- The Slouched Shoulders: – Everyone has heard this one before but no one seems to be fixing it. Aside from ruining your back and posture, and making you look like a wimp, you come across as someone that will allow themselves to be walked all over. A person confident in themselves holds their shoulders back and lifts their chest up. Of course, if it was easy to fix, I wouldn’t be sitting here YELLING about it. Luckily I do have an easy fix – pick one: 25 push-ups a day or take up yoga.
- Your Own Personal Barriers to Communication: This is one of my favorites. I can go to any given social event and watch 99.7% of the attendees do this. Avoiding this behavior makes me look like a rock star. Putting any part of your body between yourself and your conversation partner is what I like to call creating a personal barrier to communication. You don’t look cool holding that drink out in front of you or across your body. Crossing your arms at any point isn’t telling me that you are cold. Hold that drink by your side and get a warmer shirt.
A variation of this is what I call “cutting your buddy out of the conversation.” You don’t want to do this to a friend. But it is even worse to do to a colleague and abhorrent to do to a boss, investor, etc. It involves placing any part of your body between that person and the person you are speaking with. This could your whole body, or just an arm.
- Leaving the Conversation Early: There are many times that you want to get out of a conversation but can’t (here’s how to do it). But what about the times when you are in a conversation and your body subconsciously tells the other person you really don’t want to be there. Believe me, it happens more than you think and it makes the other person think you are an asshole. The most frequent thing that happens to us all is that our eyes begin to wander around the room. You can usually tell when you are looking somewhere else than at the other person but what you don’t notice is when your feet give you away.People intrigued by a conversation usually are completely facing each other. However, when your mind begins to wonder, your body language begins to open up, and your feet may turn outwards. Be careful of this…. because you don’t want the other person thinking you are completely bored with them, even though you are.
- The Table Dance: Here is another one that most people don’t realize. This is not actually body language per se, but I honestly didn’t have a great place to put it. However, you should definitely be mindful of this.When you sit at a table, you have the ability to say a lot and influence the future relationship by where you choose to sit. For example, in a business situation if you were to sit directly across from someone at a rectangular table, the table sitting between you creates a barrier, and thus, an offensive /defensive or competitive relationship. The person closest, or with their back to the door, is in the defensive position. Instead, sit in a “cooperative position.” That means adjacent to the interviewer or colleague, etc. See picture. Oh, this is also helpful on dates too.I am sure you already know that if you are not the boss, or the host of a party, never sit at the head of the table. It’s incredibly rude.
- The Phony: I am not the most influential business person and I haven’t written a book on etiquette but, I am of the technology generation. This means, of all people generations, I am the most attached to my Blackberry.I recently read a story published by one of the top 4 business schools saying that checking your Blackberry during meetings and interactions was becoming more and more acceptable. And here is what I have to say to that: NO!If you and I are having a conversation and suddenly, in the middle of your sentence, I turn to my friend and start talking to him, how would you feel? How is pulling out your cell phone doing the same thing any different? If the person on the receiving end of your message is that important, why aren’t you with them instead of the person in front of you?
- The Distorted Mirror: There is a very cool thing about two people who have established rapport. Their body language mirrors each others. Subconsciously. Go out and watch two people who have been talking for a while… it’s true. But there is also an important corollary, if you are not relaxed and your body is not quiet (eg. fidgety) this subconscious symbol of rapport will not occur, and the person you are talking to will be thrown off and uncomfortable. Therefore, if you are nervous, or otherwise extra “movemental,” make sure to eventually consciously mirror the other person’s body language. It will make interaction go SO much better.
- The Question: What are some interesting behaviors you have noticed? Comments are OPEN!