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You Talkin' to Me?
Learning the Fourth R -- reading body language
e-Connections speaks with Jan Hargrave, CEO of Jan Hargrave and Associates
One of the most iconic scenes in American film is Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver as he practices a planned confrontation with another man. De Niro, as Travis Bickel, stands in front of a mirror and says, "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"
Each time he says the phrase, he changes his inflection. But that's not all. He raises his eyebrows. He squints menacingly. He moves into the mirror. He leans back casually away from it. With each gesture, he conveys a slightly different message.
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Thankfully, most of us will never encounter a psychotic character like Travis. But every day in our business and personal lives, we deal with people who tell us much more through their body language than through the words they say.
To find out more about nonverbal communication and how to use it to your advantage, e-Connections recently spoke with Jan Hargrave, CEO of Jan Hargrave and Associates. Here's what she had to say.
e-Connections: Why is there sometimes a disconnect between what someone says and what his or her body language reveals?
Jan Hargrave: Actions really do speak louder than words. As much as 55 percent of communication is nonverbal; 38 percent is voice inflection; and only 7 percent comes from words. Body language is the subtext of a conversation. For example, if someone says, "It's great to see you," but the body language conveys something else, you may get an innate feeling that something is wrong. The better you understand body language, the more successful you are at dealing with people.
e-Connections: How can you tell if someone is lying to you?
Hargrave: The eyes are the windows to the soul. If someone maintains eye contact with you, he or she is telling you the truth and interested in what you're saying. If someone looks away, closes his or her eyes longer than necessary or blinks excessively, that person is concealing information.
Other signs that someone's lying to you include gesturing with the left hand, rubbing the left index finger up and down the left side of the nose, tugging an ear (mostly with the left hand) or unnecessary yawning. The left side is important because it's controlled by the right side of the brain, the creative side.
On the other hand, a huge, huge honesty gesture is someone putting the right hand to the upper chest. Displaying the palm of the hand when speaking reveals that person has nothing to hide.
e-Connections: What are some communication differences between men and women?
Hargrave: When a man speaks, his hand gestures tend to go away from his body, while a woman's go toward her body. A man stands up to command attention, but a woman puts herself inside a bubble, crossing her arms and legs.
If a woman wants to look larger in a meeting, she should put one arm up on the back of her chair or spread out her books or other meeting materials on the table. Plus, she should avoid light colors, since they make her look softer. You can't take command in a meeting or an exhibit booth wearing a pink dress.
A woman likes to be approached from the front, because someone coming at her from the side feels threatening. But a man is more comfortable being approached from the side, since someone coming at him from the front seems confrontational to him.
e-Connections: How should a woman communicate differently with someone of the opposite gender?
Hargrave: If a woman leads a meeting where there are lots of men, she should adopt some of the more powerful gestures, avoid small talk and be direct, in the beginning at least. If she's introduced to a group of men individually, she should come on strong and shake hands the proper way. (A man should also know how to shake hands correctly.)
When you shake hands, your hand should face straight up and down, since a palm down is a sign of control while a palm up indicates submission. Hold the other person's hand firmly, because this says, "I'm confident and feel good about myself." Grip the hand web-to-web, and pump the hand up and down three times.
If you want to keep someone's attention, anchor the other person by touching his or her forearm with your free hand. Be careful not to go as high as the shoulder, since this is getting into that person's "space." Placing your second hand over the shake is like a miniature hug and says, "I want to work with you."
e-Connections: What are some of the hidden messages we convey in our everyday lives?
Hargrave: Crossed arms indicate dismissal: "I'm putting something between us, and I don't want to hear from you." If this happens to you when you're trying to sell someone something, hand the other person an item, like coffee or a brochure. This "opens up" the body, which in turn opens the other person's mind. This is why exhibitors should always give booth visitors a bag for their giveaways. If you do, they won't hold the items across their chests and shut themselves off.
Crossed legs mean different things. If someone crosses a leg over toward you, that means he or she likes you. If the leg is crossed away from you, the person doesn't care for you.
If a man rubs his chin back and forth, or a woman has her finger up to her chin and tilts her head, it's a sign that person's evaluating what you're saying and how much of it is true. If a man rubs his chin downward -- and he doesn't have a beard -- he's telling you that you're talking so long, he has enough time to grow that beard. If anyone puts his or her whole head in his or her hand, you're boring that person.
e-Connections: What is the "five-point body scan"?
Hargrave: This is when you read someone from head to toe. The head tilted toward you is a sign of interest in what you're saying. A smile involving the entire face, not just the mouth, shows receptiveness. The body leaning forward also indicates interest. The hand displaying the palm is a good sign. Someone sitting with the ankles locked under the chair conveys self-control. But if the feet are turned in the opposite direction from the body, that person's not interested in what you're saying.
e-Connections: What are some examples of body language that exhibitors can use to be more successful on the tradeshow floor?
Hargrave: No crossing your arms, and don't slouch in the booth, no matter how tired you are. You have to look excited and confident in order for people to stop by and stay awhile. For this reason, you should have a number of "fresh" people working in the booth at all times. Rotate them if possible.
Always be prepared before someone comes to your booth. Don't go into your purse or briefcase to retrieve something. Have everything you need out on the table where you can access items easily and quickly to show you're confident, prepared and ready for business.
When you speak to someone, don't rearrange yourself. No tugging at your sleeves or tucking in your shirt. The less time you spend on unnecessary gestures, the more successful and confident you look. And absolutely no fiddling with your hair. That's a sign of flirting.
Remember you're not the only one who can read body language. Other people can, too, even on a basic, innate level. And just like you, they make judgments like "Do I trust this person?" or "Do I like this person?" very quickly and based in large part on body language.
Jan Hargrave is a professional speaker, distinguished lecturer and author of four books on nonverbal communication: Let Me See Your Body Talk, Freeway of Love, Judge the Jury and Strictly Business. A popular guest on the Maury Povich Show, Talk Soup, she also frequently appears on The Montel Williams Show and The Learning Channel.
Hargrave received her bachelor's, master's and specialist degrees in business/psychology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston. She is the CEO of Jan Hargrave and Associates, a Houston-based consulting firm, and provides seminars and specialized training to corporations such as Merrill Lynch, Rockwell, Exxon Mobil, Chase Manhattan Bank and NASA.