How body language can kill a deal

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“I’m telling you I made $2m last year,” says Mark Bowden with his arms and hands lowered to his sides gesticulating. “Now I’m telling you I made $2m last year,” he repeated, his hands brought up chest high, hands open in expression.

“What are you more likely to believe? Hands lowered makes your reptilian brain think I am disappointed or perhaps hiding something when I give you that number. When my hands are up here, open, it sends a message that ‘I am not a threat, I can be trusted.”

“It’s not often what you say – but how you say it that gets results,” said Bowden, who has trained Fortune 500 CEOs and G8 political leaders, demonstrating how perceptions can be completely altered by a simple gesture or action.

“Something as simple as your smile – if you see a client on the street and only flash them a quick smile, the reptilian brain needs to see that smile for three full seconds to fully evaluate if you are friend or foe. If the smile is too quick, or only half-hearted, there isn’t enough information for the brain to process, so it ‘fills in the gaps’ so to speak, and decides that there is something ‘going on’ behind that smile.”

And when you do sit down with a client, closing a deal can be decided by a few inches just by the way you position yourself at the table. 

“You need to be the length of your hand away from the table when seated,” said Bowden. “That way, you are exposing your midrift. When you show this area (pointing to his stomach) you are leaving your sensitive organs open to attack, which is a prehistoric way of showing trust to others – showing that you trust them not to kill you.”

And of course you should heed your mother’s advice – sit up straight, he added.

On the listening side, we may use our ears for hearing – but it is our eyes that show others we are truly paying attention.

“I look at you and nod my head – the universal signal that ‘food is good,’” said Bowden. “You need to show that engagement, nodding, smiling and maintaining eye contact.”

It may sound like simple advice to many, but it is not easy when a broker is under the gun to meet targets, or trying to work while not feeling well.

“They are very simple things to do, but in a sense, not so simple to do,” said Bowden. “It isn’t easy to smile when you are under pressure or just don’t feel like smiling. But it is necessary. People’s brains use these visual cues to make decisions – and whether you realize it or not, a client will make a decision on whether they want to do business with you in the first few seconds.”