Does body language matter in business?

Ever since I learned that four out of five people couldn’t tell Stork from butter I’ve been sceptical of bland figures. That includes the statistic that only around 7% of communication is in the words – a figure that as a trainer I may have quoted often admittedly along with the appropriate “health warning”. But how far is it true?

Meeting Allan Pease (Mr Body Language) left me deliberating as to whether we can manipulate our own body language. He had some really good examples of how Putin and Angela Merkel are very careful about body language while, in one respect at least, G W Bush was not.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence was a crude (and slightly incredible) forcing of a smile with paper clips and an elastic band round the back of the head. He showed a photograph of the unfortunate subject of this experiment. The forced smile created a measurable improvement in how people related to him in the work environment! I always believed that feelings create body language. But Allan Pease was showing how positive body language, even when forced, creates positive feelings in ourselves and others. I have to admit that the forced smile was surprisingly convincing.

In the professional services sector, especially, we need to be mindful of body language. People in the west judge Putin without understanding a word of Russian, interviewers make selections on the basis of the initial impression (sometimes just the handshake) and we all know what “turns heads”. So maybe that percentage is not too misleading.

Like other professional services organisations, Employer Solutions’ business depends on trust and words barely come into it. Passion, empathy and truthfulness count and they are feelings. Being able to genuinely listen; being subtly conscious of body positioning; maintaining eye contact; are all non-verbal and part of that trust building. And, above all, actions that demonstrate that we can deliver speak louder than words!

So when it comes to body language in business – can we, or should we try, to “fake it”?
I wonder.

One of my favourite quotes is “When you talk, your words, feelings and body must be in harmony. To achieve this harmony, you first need to examine how you really feel. Express those feelings through your words, tone of voice and body language.” (Virginia Satir.)

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