Papers rustle. The occasional nod. A chuckle. Eyes gaze out the window. Keys click on a computer. Nails tap the screen of a smartphone. A phone vibrates the table. Heads turn.
These all tell us something. Are you hearing what isn’t being said?
Whether I’m participating in a meeting or am the presenter, I actively look for nonverbal signs from the attendees. Some of the most important information I get is what isn’t being said. It allows me to gain more from the conversation and adapt accordingly. Here’s what I have learned:
- Nonverbals are rarely intentional.
Most of the time they are unintentional and that makes them even more valuable to the receiver. Some people are easier to read than others. Some are more subtle with their nonverbal communication while others “speak” loudly.
For example, if the key decision maker in a client meeting is fully engaged and displays positive body language, we’re probably on the right track. Conversely, if they are distracted, maybe checking their phone or not participating in the conversation, it could be telling us something else. It’s really important to look for these nonverbal signs – they could be telling us more than what is being said.
- People always provide some element of feedback.
When meeting with a prospective client, an employee group or an owner for a potential acquisition, I pay attention to who’s taking notes and when, who’s fiddling with their phone, who’s leaning in and who’s asking questions. When there is a pause in the conversation, I also watch for who people look to for the answer. Almost no one sits and does nothing – they’re always telling you something.
- When you see an opportunity, take it.
One of my most memorable sales presentations was when I anticipated a formal business meeting with a prospective client. I went in wearing a suit and tie and immediately noticed the audience was very informal. So the first thing I did was remove my jacket and tie to better mirror the attendees. We won the business and found out afterwards that one of the biggest influencers was when I acknowledged the audience and adapted. I was glad the competition missed that one. If you see something and do nothing, you miss an opportunity.
I regularly jot down notes about people’s nonverbals during a meeting. I learn as much from nonverbal body language as I do from the words that are said. People will tell you how interested they are or not, even if they don’t say anything. But you have to pay attention. I encourage my team members to watch for what’s not being said because so often, it tells a more comprehensive story. So watch and listen closely – it’ll make you a better communicator.