A dismissive shrug of the shoulders. An impatiently tapping finger. A child with crossed legs, squirming like a centipede. These more or less involuntary movements speak for themselves: I don’t care; hurry up already; I have to use the bathroom right now.
If only all nonverbal cues lacked subtlety. Then you’d never be stuck trying to discern whether a prospect needs a little more hand holding or more breathing room; whether a client has one foot out the door or is eager to deepen your working relationship. You’d win every Saturday night poker game.
Last issue, we talked about the treasure trove of information hidden within facial expressions and head positioning. This time, we’ll take you by the shoulder and point your feet in the right direction.
Hands and arms make excellent shields. Tightly crossed arms convey defensiveness, gripping a drink with two hands creates a barrier between us and the person we’re speaking with, and crossed arms with rigidly clamped hands shout “I am unsafe, unwilling, and uncomfortable.” Nervousness inspires in us a desire to protect our most tender parts, and so we clutch a briefcase to our chest, hunch forward when sitting, or quite literally cup our hands over our genitals. (Unsurprisingly, the latter is a distinctly male trait.) If you need a clearer picture of what hostile, defensive posturing looks like, just ask the late stage, sadly belabored Richard Nixon.
True North of Intention
Think of legs and feet as the needle of a compass, swinging toward the true north of interest and authority. If you notice someone’s knees and toes aimed in your direction, chances are you’ve gotten their attention. If you’re standing in a circle with people who have one foot forward, chances are those feet are arrows pointed at the person perceived as the group leader. And if you’re sitting face-to-face with someone whose toes are trained on the door rather than on you, it might be time to rethink your strategy before you lose their interest completely.
If your goal is to increase your confidence and others’ confidence in you, take two minutes and try a power pose. Power poses are stances that convey strength and ease—standing with legs spread, palms on a tabletop, arms straight; leaning back in a chair, hands behind head, feet up on the desk; or the classic Wonder Woman: legs spread, chin up, and arms akimbo.
Dr. Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School measured the effects of holding a power pose for two minutes and discovered that, for both men and women, testosterone levels rose 20% (think increased confidence and assertiveness) and cortisol levels dropped almost 25% (think decreased anxiety). Furthermore, she says, “Power posing also increases people’s tolerance for risk and pain, and their ability to think abstractly. This isn’t about what your body language is communicating to others; it’s about what your body language is communicating to you: your body language is changing your mind, which changes your behavior, which changes your outcomes.”
As part of her study, Dr. Cuddy had subjects hold power poses for those two minutes, then put them through simulated job interviews. The impartial judges, observing these scenarios from outside the room, uniformly recommended hiring those interviewees who had power posed over those who hadn’t. They cited, rather than anything the participants said or their work experience, each subject’s impressive presence.
Mirroring and Matching
Hopefully, none of your prospects want to take flight, but if they do you’ll be forewarned. Or, even better, take notice of their disquiet and turn the situation around. One useful technique is called mirroring, reflecting another person’s gestures and tone. Mirroring is an amazing process that can foster powerful attunement if it’s practiced with skill and awareness. (We’ll talk more about mirroring in future articles.) They take a sip of water, or lean forward, and you do the same. If they are speaking softly, or gesturing with their hands, so do you. And if they jump up and start dancing the fandango, pull out your castanets and play along. You might just close a deal.