Research from Dr. Albert Mehrabian (Nonverbal Communication, 1971) shares that when your words, body language, and tone are in conflict, that your actual words will break the tie in only 7 percent of the situations.
In 38 percent of the situations, the tone will prevail. That leaves 55 percent to be impacted by body language--so that's pretty significant.
There is a common mistake most of us make when working on body language.
Common Body Language Cues
What does it mean when someone folds his or her arms? How about when they look up and to the right? How about to the left?
If you study body language, you'll learn various elements of communication that might give you an indicator of what's going on with the other person.
I had the good fortune to speak with Mark Bowden, one of the most respected experts on the planet about body language (the full audio interview is included at the end of the article).
He has written three books on body language and he's the person world leaders come to for help with their communication.
Control Your Own Body Language
Bowden shares that the biggest mistake most people make with body language is trying to read others.
"When someone has their arms folded, it could be they are not open to your ideas. It could also mean they are cold. It also might mean that they fold their arms when they are intently focused," he noted.
You have a much better chance of monitoring and influencing your own behaviors than you do decoding the behavior of others. Some of the most basic communication elements have little to do with body language at all.
Be Interested Early
If you want to earn someone's interest, then you should first demonstrate interest about them.
As we were deplaning from a recent flight, a parent was excited to introduce her children to a U.S. congressman sitting a row ahead of them. The first thing the congressman did was get down to the kids's level and ask their names. He joked, "We congressmen aren't too popular these days."
He asked them about their hobbies and their favorite subject in school. He demonstrated humility about the current political climate and expressed interest in them rather than talking about himself.
As he departed the plane and went on his way, the parents and other passengers commented about how amazing he was.
Behave Like a Buyer, Not a Seller
One of the great revelations in my interview with Bowden was the notion of seller and buyer interactions.
"Buyers have been conditioned to not trust salespeople," he told me. "If you demonstrate classic salesperson traits, that will trigger a defensive response."
Instead, Bowden suggests that you should behave more like a buyer. What does that mean?
Ask questions about why it makes sense to even make this purchase. Discuss what could go wrong that would make this not successful. Unconsciously, the buyer will see you as one of them--working from the same side of the table.
This does not mean that you should use this method to operate without integrity. Rather, if you sound pushy, you'll get pushed away.
If you work to uncover the right fit, then you'll build trust. It also means you'll realize some deals are not a good fit. That's a good thing.
Put This To Work
The next time you have a big meeting, ensure that you are aware of your body language and communications. You can make a huge impact on others without having to decode their cues.
It's Your Turn
When has your body language or someone else's completely ruined the message? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter or LinkedIn.