How to Improve Body Language Communication
Nick Morgan had to relearn how to process body language “naturally” when he was 17 and fractured his skull in a tobogganing accident.
He was in a coma for a week and when he woke up, Morgan was unable to process body cues the way people normally do, he explains. It took him a year of studying people around him to retrain on interpreting body language cues.
These days, part of Morgan’s daily work requires him to study body language. And, for collision-repair businesses, body language done the right way or the wrong way can make or break a sale, he notes. At the end of the day, those subconscious movements and actions can instill trust in the customer or damage a potential insurance company relationship.
Morgan, founder of Public Words, a consulting company, says that in every story, there are two conversations: the content and the body language. The body language will always win in telling the true story, especially in interactions with shop customers. For example, if a person says he or she believes in the story they are telling but look nervous and uncertain, then the other person will only believe the storyteller is uncertain.
Laura Dudley, program director of applied behavioral analysis programs for Northeastern University, agrees with Morgan in that when someone is “open” in a conversation, the other person does not find the person aversive. Dudley has been working in applied behavioral analysis for over 20 years and says “knee-jerk” reactions to body language can impact customer service.
Customers can interpret body language as a subconscious message to them. It is important to leave the previous call or client behind and make the next meeting about the next meeting, which can all be achieved as quickly as one minute.
The Way You Stand:
Morgan says that if a person doesn’t stand up straight, then he or she can appear withdrawn, weak or unhappy. So, the first step to communicate open-mindedness is to stand up straight, he says.
To practice fixing posture, Morgan says to find a wall and stand with one’s back to it. Then, the person should place his or her heel, backside, shoulders and back of the head against the wall. The process will mimic what it feels like to stand up straight.
The Way You Hold Your Arms:
The second part that people will notice when talking to a customer service representative is the person’s arms and hands, Morgan says.
Morgan recommends opening up your arms and hands to the other person.
The Way You Move:
Fidgeting is a definite sign of nervousness, Morgan says. Nervousness, in turn, can be interpreted as a sign of lack of confidence.
A person needs to stop twitching and stand as still as possible.
“We look to body language to understand someone’s intent, something we are closely attuned to,” Morgan says. “That’s how we can tell someone is joking, for instance, when they say, “Your hair is on fire!””
The Way You Hold Eye Contact:
Dudley says signs of an angry person include furrowing brows and shaking the head back and forth. A more pleasant conversation will include more eye contact and smiling.
After establishing an open body posture, the next step is to make eye contact with the person, Morgan says.
“But not fixed staring,” he says. “It’s normal to look at someone for three to five seconds and then to look away.”
The Way You Act:
In customer service, the customer will look for warmth of expression and positive effect, Morgan says. Positive effect can be conveyed through smiling and nodding, and attention to other people.
It is hard to be positive in customer service when someone has been in conversations with people that are upset all day, Dudley says.
“As a result, you might find yourself anticipating conversations, which could lead to you greeting or responding to others in a way that comes off as unwelcoming,” she says.
Morgan recommends orienting your body toward the person but to make sure to not get too close.
The Way You Talk:
“Some innocuous thing, like a song, a person, a smell, can begin to elicit strong feelings and emotions due to past experiences,” Dudley says.
A person may be trying to empathize with the customer by saying, “It sounds like this is very upsetting,” but this phrase could be misinterpreted as patronizing or accusatory by the customer who then develops feelings of anger, she says.
Morgan says to stop using nasal voices or phrases. Resonant vocal tones indicate positive effect better.