Body Language Expert | Motivational Speaker | Keynote Speaker | Communication Expert | Presentation & Speaking Skills Trainer | One-On-One Coach

The great phase of man’s advancement is that in which he passes from subconscious to conscious control of his own mind and body.

F.M. Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance


By Patti A. Wood, MA

Imagine you are going on a sales call or to meet with a customer. Ten to ninety seconds after you walk into the room, before you’re even comfortable in your chair, you may have won or lost the sale. You may spend an hour answering questions and explaining your company or product or job qualifications, but studies indicate that purchasers form a strong bias for or against you within seconds of greeting you. What are they observing in those critical seconds? Your nonverbal communication.

When we meet a stranger, we’re unsure how to interact with him—we don’t know his temperament or opinions—basically, we don’t know if he bites! So we very quickly assess him, place him in a category, and respond accordingly. While you may study and work and plan what you will say to your customer, your nonverbal  ommunication—the silent sell—may deliver a message you had not intended to send.

You can send up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than one minute of interaction with a customer. Your customer is using those cues to assess you and make decisions about whether or not to do business with you. According to current sales research, 70 percent of the prospect’s impressions of you come from your body language and image, 20 percent from your voice, and 10 percent from what you say. While you cannot control all your nonverbal cues, it is important to be aware of them and do what you can to create powerful body language.

After forming a first impression of you, a prospect tends to gather information that confirms the decision he has already made. Although he can change his mind, it makes your job harder if that initial impression is negative. If a customer looks up from her desk as you stand in the doorway, tells you to come in, and then looks down and continues to process paperwork without even raising her eyes as you walk into her office, much less stand to shake hands, she has sent you a message about her first impression of you. You know about those first impressions.

If your gut tells you that the prospect is interested in detail, then you respond to questions in a detailed manner. If it says this person is warm and personal, then you give long responses. In the silent sell you need to monitor how YOU are coming across to the customer. Notice whether the prospect makes eye contact with you and whether she orients the front of her body toward you. If not, ask yourself, “Did I just say something about my product or service she didn’t like? Did I just say something to turn her off?” In this situation, you have the opportunity to recover by changing your Page 2

nonverbal message or bringing it up to the verbal level. You can say something such as, “What else would you like to know about our service contract?” Or, “What else can I tell you that will help you make this decision?”

The most important thing to remember in any interaction is to let your body language reflect who you are because you want someone to buy from you or hire you. If customers are going to buy your product or service, they need to believe in and trust you. Many times people seek information about body language because they fear being themselves and feel the need to put on an act or disguise their real nature. But this chapter isn’ t meant to give guidance on how to be an actor. Rather, this is guidance on how to be more confident about yourself and more confident with others— and how to let others know it. Using effective body language simply means you reduce negative cues and increase positive ones. Here are ten body language tips for using effective body language in sales:

1. Think and Wait “Up”

When I go in to meet clients, I will often stand. I feel stronger and more powerful if I am already standing up when someone comes to greet me. You actually have more energy standing than you do when you sit. The balance of having both your feet on the ground gives you more power and strength.

Sometimes the person with whom you have an appointment will be the one who greets you. If you are nervous, you are better off standing than sitting. That way, you can walk around. If you must sit, sit at the edge of the chair with your feet firmly on the ground, so that when the person comes out to get you, you can rise up very quickly out of the chair instead of being sunk down into it. Place your briefcase by your left side so that you can pick it up with your left hand and shake with your right. Even better, get up, shake hands, and then pick up your case.

If you are giving a sales presentation at a meeting where you might normally sit, try standing. The research says you will look more like an authority on your topic and you will be given more attention and respect. To make this upright position more comfortable, give yourself an excuse to stand up. Put posters or a flip chart on the wall and use it to chart numbers or gather responses, or stand to give the heavy data portion of the presentation that might otherwise be ignored in a sit-down presentation.

2. Match them in the first few minutes

Match the friendliness or the formality of the greeting you receive. Match the energy level. Pay attention to the pace and match it. Most people are uncomfortable with strangers. We like people who are like us and we are more comfortable with someone who is similar to us. By matching, you are showing the prospect that you are like them. And the research shows we are more likely to purchase from someone like us.

If a prospect answers the phone and says “ hello” in a soft, low voice and you respond with a loud energetic voice, you will sound strange and different. People will shut down or shorten the interaction to get rid of that which makes them uncomfortable— you. If you are on the phone or face to face with your prospect, match and mirror that person in the critical first few minutes. If the customer talks slowly with a lot of long, silent pauses, don't interrupt or jump in with your fast-paced, rapid-fire repartee. Match the customer’ s relaxed communication style. Here is the formula:

a. Start with your own comfortable, confident body language.

b. Stay present with the customer; observe nonverbal cues.

c. Consciously match those cues to establish rapport. Page 3

If the customer is uncomfortable or shows any closed off cues, slowly and subtly move in to match those cues, then notice the internal click when you "get" how the other person is feeling. Slowly move out into a more open and relaxed posture. Once you have matched them and shown empathy, the customer will subconsciously feel more comfortable and be ready to match your more positive posture.

A small, subtle way to see if you have rapport with a prospect is to nod your head as you say something positive about the product or service. If the prospect nods too, he or she is with you! This technique is also a way to create agreement on an issue or price, as we release positive chemicals in our brains when we nod our head and we think, "Yes."

3. Get a Grip

Practice your handshake!

1. Smile and stretch out your arm towards the other person as you approach, indicating that you want to shake hands. An arm that is held too closely to the side of the body indicates timidity and a lack of confidence.

2. Offer an equal handshake, full open palm towards the other person with your thumb on top, rather than palm down which makes you dominate.

3. Place your palm against the other person’s palm so that the palms have full contact. Do not arch your palm; lay it flat. Lock thumbs and squeeze firmly but briefly.

4. Pump up and down an average of 3-5 times, the fewer the pumps the less formal the greeting. (Match the number of pumps to the corporate culture.)

5. Don’t feel the need to crush the other person’s hand or to shake with both of your hands. The rule is to match the pressure or gauge it not more than two additional steps in pressure. Don’t have a shaking contest.


If you have a problem with clammy hands, don’ t forget to wipe them on your handkerchief or tissue before you shake hands. And, at social functions, hold any iced drinks in your left hand, so your right hand will not be cold and damp when you need to shake hands.

If you are a man and you are wondering what to do in terms of shaking hands with a woman, simply match the firmness of her grip. Do not grab her hand too lightly. Business women don’ t mind a firm handshake. In business interactions women prefer to have their grip matched. They do not like wimpy handshakes any more than men do.

You want palm-to-palm contact in the grip as well. The opposite of a good, strong palm contact is the weak handshake when you just get fingers. My research on handshakes and greetings shows that having palm to palm contact is the most important part of the handshake. The palms of the hands are read subconsciously for messages of honesty and self-disclosure. Full contact indicates subliminally, “ I am willing to be honest and self-disclosing.” It is not the lack of a strong grip but the lack of palm to palm contact in a wimpy handshake that will cause someone to think, "What is he hiding? What is he keeping from me?" Page 4

4. Get Comfortable, Be Open

A general rule is to be comfortable. If you’ re standing, be relaxed. If you’ re in a chair, don’ t fold up and get tense. When you are in a sales situation, you may feel nervous, especially when your prospects fire those difficult questions or objections. During these times, stay open. Don't close down your body, don't cross your legs, don't take up very little space, and don’ t cross your arms. As soon as you do these things, your body becomes more tense, and you begin to feel emotionally tense as well.

Body language is highly symbolic. If a rabbit and lion are coming down a jungle path, which one gets tense and small? The rabbit. You want powerful-lion body language. Just don't eat your prospect. Your posture and demeanor affect your image and the quality of your interaction. So don’ t cross your arms. Relax slightly and take up some space. If it is comfortable, try to keep your legs uncrossed. It’ s okay to cross your legs at other times during a sales call, but if you are asked a complex question, uncross them. It is easier for us to process information with both feet planted firmly on the ground. That’ s another reason I tell people to stand in the waiting room— because you can think faster.

The most important general recommendation is to keep your body from getting tense. Hold your body in a relaxed and confident manner, and you will begin to feel that way emotionally. This position may involve sitting on the edge of the chair or sitting way back. It depends on the nature of the interaction.

What you don’t want to do is to be more relaxed or more tense than the person you are with. Remember the importance of matching in the first few minutes. Stay unfolded. A folded position closes you down from revealing information and taking in information. In our culture, people tend to interpret that posture as defensive.

5. Smiling Eyes

When we tell a customer to "have a nice day" with no eye contact and a smile as flat and closed as a sealed envelope, we are sending a nonverbal message that is different from our words. When the message we send nonverbally is different from our verbal message, the customer is going to ignore the words and believe the silent sell. An insincere message does not make a customer believe you. Generally, it is helpful to smile. Every sales book tells you that, but you may not know why. There are actually several reasons:

a. You create positive chemicals in your brain when you smile

b. Smiling is a "harmless" cue that makes you look less threatening and more friendly (looking friendly and harmless is especially important in cold calls and over-the-counter sales);

c. The customer is likely to mirror your smile and feel good too and associate that positive feeling with purchasing from you.

Here is a caveat: Women have to be careful. When women share serious information in a sales presentation, such as their statistics about growth of the market, the safety features of a product, or the price, they shouldn’ t smile. Otherwise, the information is not viewed as credible and is not taken as seriously as it is when communicated by a man. Men expect women to smile; most women have heard, on their nonsmiling days, Why aren't you smiling?" Page 5

Maintain as much eye contact as possible. Eye contact is a basic cue of friendliness. A window to your thoughts. We need to look at the eyes to tell what a person is going to do next. A lack of contact from you makes others wonder what you are keeping from them. Don’ t worry if you find yourself looking off to find the answer to a question. That is quite natural and everyone expects it. But after you have thought of your response and are relating it, make some eye contact.

6. Work Close

Space and territory are critical in sales situations. You will have no difficulty finding where the limits of a prospect's personal space lie. The moment you approach, the prospect will exhibit one of the “ you-are-trespassing” signals: hunching, rocking, turning or looking away, drumming fingers, masking, and, most frequently, moving or leaning away to reestablish distance. There are several advantages to working close:

a. Typically we sit and stand near to people we are close to on an emotional, personal level. When you get near, the prospect rearranges his or her impersonal, unemotional relationship with you to accommodate the change in physical proximity.

b. You're better able to see and read the prospect’ s signals.

c. The other person is better able to read all the strong, confident, and believable signals you are sending.

d. Distance suggests fear. Go in as close as is appropriate

e. Your proximity forces prospects to pay closer attention; they pick up on more of your crucial sales points.

7. Hands Down

Don’ t put your hand to your mouth. If you are unsure of your response or if you are not very confident about it, you want to make this motion with your hand. Don’ t do it! It is perceived as being deceptive. Be careful of moistening or licking your lips after an important statement. Although we sometimes do this when we are nervous before we say something, if done after we say something, it is often viewed subliminally as a sign that what we are saying is a lie. Our lips and tongue are erasing the lie.

Gestures are fine, but avoid repeating the same gesture over and over. Few gestures, done once, are bothersome, but repetitive gestures can be annoying. Try to keep your palms open. Open palmssymbolize you are open and willing to self-disclose. Make sure to avoid showing the backs of your hands, slicing the air with your hands, jabbing, or pointing. These signals are read as symbolic weapons, and the prospect may think you are shooting him, stabbing him, or cutting him to pieces, all of which might make him a little uncomfortable.

8. Leaning for Meaning

When you feel emphatic about something and you want to indicate that you are charged about it, lean forward. When you want to show that you’ re knowledgeable and confident, say something important and then lean back in your chair. These movements will show you are confident with your expertise. When you tell someone the price or ask for the sale, be neither too far forward or back. Take your middle position, and then freeze. If you lean forward after you make a request, you may seem too aggressive. If you lean back, you signal a retreat, and the prospect will debate the price or turn down the sale. Page 6

We all tend to tilt our heads to the side as we listen to people. It is not necessarily a bad habit. However, women have to be especially careful because it is natural for them to tilt their head when listening, which can be seen as subservient. When women talk, they should try not to tilt their heads because it appears as if they are unsure of themselves. If you do it too much, it will detract from your power. In some animal groups, subordinates tilt their heads to bare their neck to the dominant male of the pack. The symbolism is significant. A head straight on and straight up is powerful, but a head tilted to the side is not nearly as strong. Tilt your head only to listen to something important the customer has to say.

9. Sounds of Silence

Do not be afraid of silence. Some interviewers and executives deliberately create silence to see what you will do with it. Silence is a profound nonverbal communicator, and some people try to see how comfortable you can be with it and how you respond to it.

There are two instances when comfort with silence is critical. The first is when you ask what questions a customer has (note the wording "What questions do you have about…?" is more open than "any questions?") Though many people will have questions ready, certain people will need eight to fifteen seconds to think of a question, analyze whether it’ s a good question, think about how it may be received, word it, and practice the delivery in their heads. This particular type of a communicator is likely to be more technically oriented. Engineers, scientists, or computer technicians are famous for leaving that long awkward silence after a question. Be comfortable with it. You can say "Let me give you a few moments to think about what else you would like to know about the product…" Or if there is a group, you can ask them to turn to someone next to them and collaborate to come up with a question.

Silence is also important when you ask for the sale. Imagine you have asked for the sale, the contract is out, you have a pen ready…then silence. Resist the urge to fill up the awkward pause with words. Let the other person feel awkward. The only way the feeling will stop is if they say something! If the silence occurs at other times and is truly uncomfortable, rehearse comments you might want to offer or questions you might want to ask.

10. Get Up and Go

When you leave, stand up straight and tall, shake hands, and then pick up your things. Make sure the handshake is strong. Practice what you are going to say and have your closing well rehearsed. Keep orienting your body toward the prospect as you are exiting. As you get to the exit, turn and say, “ Thank you.” Make significant eye contact as you are saying your thanks, and then turn and go. Don’ t feel that you have to back out of the office.

The key to the silent side of communicating is to stay calm and relaxed throughout the process. You can always speak up if you feel you’ ve lost the sale. Bring it up to the verbal level and say something about it. Now that you have learned the steps to the silent sell, take this self-evaluation tool to assess what you are doing to create powerful body language. Page 7

Ask yourself: What are my three best qualities?




How do I express these qualities nonverbally when I am selling?

What am I doing and what can I do to create powerful body language in the silent sell?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patti Wood MA is a Professional Speaker and a Communication and Body Language expert based in Atlanta, GA. Patti’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and associations, and she has written seven books. Patti is currently finishing her newest book People Savvy. To learn more go to the People Savvy Web site