Once when I was at a networking event, I observed two well-dressed business men talking. Even though I was across the room and couldn‘t hear what they were saying, I could tell the conversation was going badly.
An older man with a neat, salt-and-pepper goatee was talking and shaking his head from side to side while jabbing into the air with his index finger. He reminded me of the Uncle Sam ―I Want You poster. His gestures were aimed at a 40-something George Clooney look-a-like. This younger man appeared to be merely enduring the conversation and had his arms crossed and his body turned slightly away. He looked to be controlling his expressions with his ―game face‖ on, save for a brief rolling of the eyes.
I didn‘t have to hear what they were saying to know that they were not going to come to an agreement anytime soon. Their body language spoke volumes.
Numerous studies show that the non-verbal aspects of communication can convey 50 percent or more of your message.
Often, it‘s not what you say, but how you say it! How you use body language (posture, position, movement, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, etc.) will either harm or help your relationships. Using the Small Talk, Big Results NOSE-y method will enable you to connect with people more quickly and to be remembered as a great conversationalist!
The acronym NOSE stands for
- Open body language
- Eye contact
In short, the idea behind the NOSE-y method is to use body language to come across as a person who is receptive, non-critical, friendly, and trustworthy.
The acronym NOSE also means having an attitude of interest toward other people (being ―nosey‖ in a good way). When you walk into a room, what attitude do you have?
- The I-have-arrived ―”Here I am!” attitude?
- The I-wish-I-could-be-invisible ―”I‘m not really here!” attitude?
- Or, the a-stranger-is-just-a-friend-I-haven‘t-met ―There you are! I can‘t wait to meet you!” attitude?
The “Here I am!” attitude can be useful for adjusting your body language to project confidence before you walk into a room. Stand tall with your chin up and put a pleasant expression on your face—a slight smile, the kind that engages your eyes.
The “I‘m not really here!” attitude might be useful if you are a spy. But to convey an approachable, friendly demeanor, the “There you are! I can‘t wait to meet you!” attitude is critical. You can adjust the intensity of the attitude to fit your personality and the people around you. You don‘t want to appear fake or over-the-top friendly. If you are more subtle in your approach, simply adjusting your thinking to one of friendly anticipation will prime you for small talk.
You can learn effective body language, but if you don‘t have a “There you are! I can‘t wait to see you!‖ attitude, it will be difficult to apply. Your attitude will show in your body language. Trying to mask a negative or disinterested attitude is difficult and may lead to small incongruities in body language that people pick up on subconsciously.
Just as your attitude can affect your body language, your body language can affect your attitude.
Try this little experiment: slump in your chair with your shoulders slouched, your head down, and a sad expression on your face. How‘s your attitude?
Now, sit up straight, with your shoulders back, your head up, and a little smile on your face. Feel the difference in your attitude? There is interplay between body language and attitude, and you have the power to adjust both of them.
One caveat regarding body language: as my experience is largely in American culture, some of the techniques may not translate well into other cultures. For example, in some countries nodding your head up and down means no, and shaking your head side to side means yes.
It never ceases to amaze me how long I can sustain a conversation with a talkative person by merely looking interested, nodding, and making occasional murmurs of agreement (uh-huh . . . oh, uh-huh . . . hmmm). Once in a blue moon I do it just to see how long I can go without actually contributing much to the conversation. A few years ago, my husband and I had dinner with a prospective business partner, and I spent the whole evening seated next to the man, pretty much just nodding and uh-huhing. Not once did he ask me anything about my life or my interests. That set off warning bells, which I, unfortunately, ignored. The business relationship did not go well. But, I did prove, once again, that you can sustain conversation with a talkative person without saying much.
Nodding indicates that you are in agreement with what the other person is saying and that you are generally an agreeable person. You can also use nodding while you are talking to help persuade a person to come to your way of thinking. For example, say ―”Isn‘t that a great idea!” and nod while and after you say it. If you have developed rapport with the person you say it to, they will subconsciously want to agree with you and may even nod along with you. They have mirrored your actions and are internalizing the agreement.
If you and your conversation partner are “in sync” you will begin to mirror each other‘s body language and vocal expression.
Use this knowledge to your advantage to connect more quickly by subtly mirroring the other‘s body language. So, if you are talking to a quiet, introverted person, you will want to tone down your personality by making smaller gestures and being less intense. People can be turned off by a forceful personality but will open up to a more gentle approach.
Take the Aesop fable about the Wind and the Sun for example. The Wind and the Sun wanted to determine which of them was stronger by seeing which could get a man to take off his coat. The Sun went behind a cloud and the Wind blew as hard as it could. But the harder the Wind blew, the tighter the man held onto his coat. When it was the Sun‘s turn, the Sun came out and gently warmed the man, who soon gladly removed his coat. So be like the Sun and use a gentle approach.
If I am talking to a more extroverted person, I‘ll up the energy. I‘m not talking about being fake. I‘m talking merely about adjusting your empathetic antennae. It‘s all about improving your ability to relate to others. When people relate to you, they are more likely to like you and buy into what you are saying (and to buy from you).
Mirroring body language can also help you bridge a cultural gap. If someone greets you with a slight bow, you can do likewise. If a person takes time to carefully look at your business card, you can do the same with his or her card. Before you say a word, your body language speaks volumes.
2. Open body language
Body language encompasses posture, position, movement, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions and more. Open body language subtly shows a friendly confidence.
- Folding your arms. This indicates a defensive attitude.
- Putting your hands in your pockets.
- Fidgeting with any part of your body or clothing/jewelry.
- Touching your face. This indicates discomfort.
- Licking your lips. This can indicate lying.
- Running your fingers through your hair. This can indicate nervousness.
- Leaning away or angling your body away.
- Getting too close. Being closer than an arm‘s length away risks invasion of personal space.
- Slouching. This makes you look like you lack confidence.
- Watching the clock or looking at your phone.
- Tapping your foot or drumming your fingers. This indicates impatience or nervousness.
- Open with a firm, web-to-web handshake.
- Consider your attire and grooming.
- Face the other person with your hands visible.
- Lean in slightly to indicate interest.
- Have appropriate facial expressions to show empathy.
- Pay attention to the other person‘s body language.
- Mirror the other person‘s stance, gestures, etc., but subtly.
Combined with appropriate eye contact, a genuine smile is the most important tool in your body language tool box! Nothing says ―”I‘m friendly, open and non-critical” like a smile. Most people do not smile enough. So smile more!
In conversation, unless the topic is a somber one, smile like Mona Lisa. Instead of keeping your mouth in a neutral position (which actually looks more negative than neutral), try to keep a small, half smile ready to burst into a grin or even an open-mouthed laugh.
Because a smile is so important in conveying an open and friendly attitude, it‘s important to make your smile the best it can be. So consider getting your teeth whitened, straightened, or repaired cosmetically, and be sure to brush and floss regularly. You, your smile, and your relationships are worth it!
4. Eye contact
Have you ever watched TV with the sound off? Try it sometime and watch the actors‘ eyes. Eyes are very expressive. The way you look at someone can convey many different things: honesty, compassion, interest, confidence, affection, hostility, boredom or disdain. Not only are your eyes used to express emotion, they are also used to maintain the flow of conversation. You use your eyes to obtain feedback on how the other person is responding, so you can adjust your own response.
A lack of eye contact can indicate low self-esteem, dishonesty, lack of interest, or disrespect.
As a mom, when annoyed at my children‘s apparent disrespect, I‘ve sometimes said to them, ―Look at me when I‘m talking with you.”
Your eye contact gets noticed! In an informal poll of my Facebook friends, the number one complaint concerning conversation was “poor eye contact.” Eye contact that is unfocused—a vacant stare—is not good eye contact. The number two complaint was “rolling the eyes.” Rolling the eyes indicates a disdainful attitude. This is actually one of my own pet peeves, as it pains me to see a wife or a husband roll their eyes at their spouse.
You can also make too much or even the wrong type of eye contact. If you have unwavering eye contact, you can appear to be staring or glaring, especially if your face is serious (a Mona Lisa smile will soften your expression if you tend to overdo the eye contact). It‘s important to adjust your eye contact (occasionally look away) to the person you are speaking with.
Some body language speaks so loudly we can‘t hear the words. It really is not so much what you say, but how you say it! How you use body language can either enhance your relationships or endanger them. Nodding, open body language, smiling and eye contact convey a friendlier, more engaging personality.
Remember: be a NOSE-y conversationalist!
Conversation, like networking, can happen anywhere at anytime. You can network with people at a ball game, a buffet, or a boardroom. But, if you want concentrated practice in networking, attend networking events! You can find networking events online or in the business section of your local paper. But don‘t just show up. You can significantly improve your success in establishing relationships and future business by a little preparation. Prosper with pre-talk planning!
This article is an excerpt from Diane Windingland’s book: Small Talk, Big Results! and has been published with the author’s permission.
About the author
Author of Small Talk, BIG Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success! and co-author of Perfect Phrases for IceBreakers, Diane speaks for organizations that want to help their people have better, more profitable conversations.
An engineer by training, Diane has owned several small businesses and has trained business owners, corporate employees and non-profit volunteers on how to become better networkers, better conversationalists and better presenters. In addition to speaking engagements and private clients, Diane teaches a weekly speech class for home-educated teens.
Visit www.smalltalkbigresults.com to know more about Diane.