It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning; what have you done that involved a screen today? If you’re like 4 out of 5 people 18 to 44 years old, odds are you started your day by opening your eyes and reaching for your phone. Next you probably got cleaned up, dressed, ate breakfast (aka had a cup of coffee) and checked your social media on a tablet or laptop. From there you drove to work and possibly read some emails on the drive (heaven forbid), made it to your office and turned on your computer. Here you may sit for the rest of the day until it’s time to disembark, but are you prepared to interact with a human being once you leave?
Many of you will head out to meet friends for a drink or maybe even dinner if it’s late enough (or supper if you’re from Wisconsin). If you’re an average American, you probably went home and spent 2.8 hours watching TV, among other things, after you finally got home. Sure, you spent time with friends or family, and naturally you talked to them, but can you say that you talked with them? After how long did your attention fade before you decided to fill silence or boring conversation with the dull comforts of your favorite technological vice?
Now, take this average employee and put him/her in a meeting with a group of people or an important prospect and what happens? Mediocrity or even chaos! Aside from underdeveloped small talk skills, there’s a good chance that this employee has little experience managing their body language. According to regularly (mis)quoted statistics from studies conducted by Albert Mehrabian:
7% of communication is word choice
38% of communication is tone of voice
55% of communication is body language
Now you’re 93% up that famous creek without a paddle. Fear not though, for I will share with you my top four tactics for talking face-to-face within the business world! These are straight-forward, simple notions that, with practice, will make you more comfortable in intimate conversational settings with new acquaintances.
First, be consistent in your grip so that your hand is never a variable. Given this you’ll be able to tell a lot about the mood or personality of the person you’re meeting with. For example, someone with a usually firm handshake who shakes your hand weak or quickly may be having a bad day full of distractions. Another specific example of handshake insight is the dreaded ‘dead fish’ shake. If someone gives you this, they are potentially pompous with deep insecurities. Understanding this will allow you to cater your conversation to their personality.
Humans play with things to manage their nerves–watch what they’re playing with! A bouncing / clicking pen is often a sign of boredom. A shaking foot is regularly a sign of nervousness, and if they light a cigarette or start fidgeting like they need to go to the bathroom, then you know they’re looking to escape the situation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a down-turned cell phone signals respect and interest in your conversation, and the spinning of a pen around a thumb often coincides with someone increasing their concentration. Remember these notions for yourself to make sure you’re giving off the right signals to the person you’re talking with.
So much goes into the subconscious psychology of posture that it’s impractical to go over it all in this short blog, but there are a few powerful poses to remember. Leaning forward in a chair with arms on the table signifies engagement and getting down to business. Leaning back in a chair signifies ease and relaxation. Open arms encourage open minds.
You don’t regularly have to listen actively to a computer screen, but you do have to listen and respond to a person. Listen for words and their tones that indicate particular feelings, and adjust your posture appropriately to control their mood. Remember not every statement needs a verbal response; a head nod or facial reaction subconsciously indicates to the speaker that you have vested interest in the conversation. By listening and keeping good eye contact, you can get through any conversation with confidence.
There’s much more that could be said for building face-to-face relationships like surveying the environment, researching the person you’re meeting with and taking note of what clothes they’re wearing, but these are topics for later blogs. For now, go forth with courage and practice, practice, practice!