How far is non-verbal communication a factor when we are influencing someone – or being influenced ourselves?
We know that when we are attempting to persuade, any messages transmitted non-verbally will override the verbal message in the event there is discrepancy between them.
So the boss who tells you the new system is simple to use, thoroughly tried and tested, and completely fool proof, will be persuasive if his body language is congruent or harmonious with what they say, but will be doubted if they appear incongruent. Body language is a hugely important factor in influence.
What exactly do we mean by “Body Language”?
There are two types of signal to look for – macro signal such as folded arms, finger pointing, a big smile or serious frown; then micro signals, which are much more subtle, maybe the faint beat of a vein in someone’s temple, slightly “narrowed” eyes, complexion turning a little pale or a little red.
Of the two types, micro signals are the best indicator of what is really going on “inside” someone else, as these are usually both unconscious and involuntary.
Can we learn to “read” another person’s Body Language?
With care, and with practice, we can certainly increase our awareness of, and sensitivity to non-verbal signals. However, it is far too simplistic to say that a single action, e.g. folded arms, means that the person is “defensive” or “hostile”. Signals need to be noticed and considered in clusters.
Also, we should take care not to “mind read” from someone else’s signals, especially someone we don’t know well. A cluster of signals can indicate to us the kind of thinking or feelings going through someone’s mind, but it’s not helpful to assume we can read someone else “like a book”.
If you’re wanting to make a persuasive case, and you become aware of non-verbal signals that might suggest a “frosty” or hesitant reception, test your guess by saying something like, “I get the feeling you may have some reservations?,” then you can deal constructively with whatever they say.
What about the signals I’m sending? How do I make sure I look congruent?
Remember, it’s the clusters of micro signals that will tell the true story about your inner thoughts and feelings. Because micro signals are involuntary and often unconscious, the best way to send positive non-verbal messages is to make sure you feel positive inside, and that your personal thoughts are indeed congruent with what you’re saying.
There are several ways to achieve this, including Anchoring, which is an NLP technique and a number of other straightforward techniques for managing confidence and maintaining constructive thought and feelings.
If you’re interested to enhance your personal persuasive skills, whether as a presenter, salesperson, manager, or in everyday communications and meetings, do pay attention to Body Language as well as to the words you say and any slides or other visual support you use. In influence, a picture, as we know, is worth a thousand words. And in turn, your face can be worth a thousand pictures.