We don't mean to make you paranoid, but you should know that people are watching you. When you're talking, they're consciously and unconsciously interpreting your movements and gestures, and making assumptions about your mood, intent and competency. You're probably giving them plenty of juicy material to read, says executive coach Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, who points out that, in 30 minutes, two people can send over 800 nonverbal signals.
By becoming more aware of your physical presence, says Goman, a former therapist and author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, you can use body language to tell your story the way you want, with a happier and more satisfying ending.
We asked her to help us adapt her advice for life outside the boardroom.
The Goal: To Negotiate a Fair Price on a Big-Ticket Item Like a New Home
"It's important to realize that salespeople are either naturally good at using and reading body language, or they've been trained to be good," says Goman. She should know; she's one of the experts who do the training. Your real estate broker will be using her nonverbal skills to send you a hard-to-ignore message ("This house is your destiny"). She'll be watching you carefully for telltale signs of your intentions ("This house is my destiny, and I'll do whatever it takes to get it"). Being aware of your body language can guard against her picking up signals that disclose information you're not ready to share.
1. Strike a pose. Goman suggests this premeeting power pose: Stand tall like Wonder Woman, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Research from Harvard Business School has shown that holding high-status poses like this for at least two minutes can stimulate higher levels of testosterone, which is linked to feelings of power, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. "Even if you're feeling a little nervous, you can use this stance to trick your brain into feeling more confident," she says.
2. Shake hands like a pro—and release them like an expert. Making eye contact and clasping with a firm grip are taught in Body Language 101. Goman adds this extra-credit tip: When you release the hand and break eye contact, don't let your gaze drop. "It's a submissive signal," she says. Instead, keep your head up and let your eyes slide to the side.
3. Watch for cues that the salesperson is bluffing. Goman says that researchers using fMRIs to track brain activity have found that lying requires more cognitive resources than being truthful. Lying also triggers physiological stress responses that are hard to repress. Trained negotiators—those who sell houses, cars or wedding gowns—will have learned to avoid dead giveaways like breaking eye contact, but they may try to overcompensate by staring into your eyes for too long or with too much intensity. Similarly, a sudden lack of nonverbal signals from a high-energy person may also be a sign that she's trying to prevent her movements from giving her away.
4. Make a winning exit. After you've settled on a price, stand tall, shake hands warmly and "leave your counterpart with the impression that you are someone she should look forward to dealing with in the future," says Goman. You never know when you'll need another house—or a good salesperson.