Interpreting body language is a special skill that allows you to read a person’s intentions and emotions.

People often try to mask their true thoughts and feelings by appearing calm or amiable. However, to the trained eye, their words and actions can give them away. This means your emotions often betray you by giving out signals or emotional “reflectors”. These signals are what we know as body language.

If a person is really unhappy or depressed, however hard he tries to conceal that emotion, it will eventually show up in his body language. For example, if he is depressed at work, he might be able to mask this emotion by forcing a smile and acting normally. However, throughout the day, you will notice that this person may walk more slowly, and do things automatically. 

 He talks less, has few interactions with his colleagues and sighs heavily. At lunch, his appetite is poor, and he leaves most of his food untouched. These are clues that reveal how he is really feeling.

In sales, knowing how to read body language is extremely useful during a negotiation or sales call. Sales people often wonder after the sales pitch if they did well or not. Quite often, the customer will say: “Let me think about it and get back to you.”

If the sales pitch has failed and the customer has decided not to buy from the salesman, he will not know that he lost the account even before walking out the door.

However, by asking probing questions, the salesman can instantly get a reaction from the customer and know if he should stay on the meeting for just a little while longer to answer any query and subsequently close the deal.


Tell-tale signs

I have observed how many sales people are pre-occupied with rattling away the features of their product without any regard to whether the customer is listening.

The fact that your customer is losing interest in your sales talk will be reflected in his body language.

Look out for these signs:

•   You customer avoids eye contact with you and is flipping through your brochure aimlessly.

•   His head may be facing you but his body is facing in another direction, indicating his desire to “escape”.

•   His arms are folded, a sign of defensiveness — he may not like “being sold to”.

•   He gives you one-word replies and does not ask any questions.

Body language cuts across all cultures, although there may be some differences.

But a smile is a smile in all cultures. Anger is displayed with the same facial expressions in any country.


Words matter too

On top of reading someone’s body language, doing a statement analysis gives you an even more accurate reading of his state of mind.

Statement analysis is the art of analysing and decoding the emotions and thoughts through the expression of spoken words.

For example, if a woman says that “all men cannot be trusted”, you can infer that she has had at least one very bad experience with a man. Thus, she makes a sweeping statement that all men cannot be trusted.

If someone says “rules are meant to be broken”, what he is really thinking is “it is okay for me to break the rules”. If you hire someone who thinks this way, he will eventually break office rules and you will find it hard to manage him.

In sales, statement analysis can reveal a customer’s thoughts. If he says, “Thank you for your demonstration, I will have to review other offers too”, then don’t hope too much that you have a strong foothold on this deal.

Statements like “You really have a good product, but allow me to see the other offers as there is a proper evaluation procedure” offer better chances that you have clinched the sale.

What you would like to hear best is “I really like what you have, let me ponder over it and get back to you”. If a person uses the word “I”, he is bringing himself into the picture.

Customers will avoid using the personal pronoun “I” if they want to distance themselves from something. Study body language clues in your interactions with colleagues and customers and you will be able to communicate with them and engage them with better success.


Article by Christian Chua, a motivational speaker and body language expert with Richard Gavriel Speaker Management. He speaks to corporate executives and helps organisations to raise their productivity and sales performance. His e-mail: