Speaking Body Language
By Robert F. Abbott
I observed an almost surreal event when I was a business student.
At the front of the classroom, an entrepreneur was practicing a
pitch he would make later to venture capital firms. Specifically,
he was talking about a technology his firm had developed, a
respirator which had the potential to save the lives of many
When he talked about the potentially great financial returns,
the audience, made up of business students, sat back passively.
But when he talked about getting babies through critical moments
with his respirators, every single person in the classroom sat
up, alert and fully focused.
As he went back and forth between stories of saving babies and
talking about financial results, almost every student in the
classroom moved with him. And what’s more, it was almost as if
the students’ movements had been choreographed.
We sat up together when the entrepreneur talked about saving
babies, and we sat back in unison when he discussed the numbers.
And, by the way, I did it too until I become aware of how we
were responding as a group.
Since that event I’ve been a firm believer in body language,
which is the idea that people unconsciously show what they’re
feeling or thinking through gestures or body movements.
As you know, the art of interpreting body language is hardly a
science. But, we do know a few basics that can help us read the
emotions of others. A few examples follow.
Crossed arms, as almost every salesperson knows, means the
person on the other side of the table is defensive or not
receptive. On the other hand, if that person leans forward and
keeps his or her eyes on you, then you do have a receptive
If you watch novice speakers, you’ll probably notice how they
keep their arms close to their bodies, indicating a lack of
confidence. As they get more practice speaking in public, you’ll
see their arms move away from their sides and become active
tools for conveying messages.
Arms wide open indicate trust and openness, as do open hands,
while arms held high above the head show a sense of victory, and
clenched hands indicate anger.
Curiously, one of the most difficult interpretations of body
language involves lying. Researchers have probably spent more
time on this aspect of body language than any other. And their
conclusions? The only surefire way to know if another person is
lying is to observe very small and fast wrinklings of the brow.
If you haven’t yet spent much time studying body language, I
recommend that you add it to your to-do list for communication
development. It’s invaluable not only for speaking and listening,
but also for negotiating and leading.
Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott’s Communication
Letter. If you subscribe to this free ezine, you will receive
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