Researcher Albert Mehrabian famously suggested years ago that in certain situations, as little as 7% of communication is verbal, while 55% is body language and 38% is tone of voice. So if as a small business owner you are underestimating the effect that nonverbal communication can have on you as a representative of your business, you might be making the wrong impression and missing out on crucial deals and profits. Here’s what your nonverbal communication really says about your business.
Smiles indicate generosity and non-aggression, but be careful of smiling too much or too falsely, as that might cause you to come across as sycophantic, or even just downright creepy. The meaning of the smile also translates differently across cultures.
For example, according to translation agency London Translations, it’s considered polite to smile after someone’s misfortune in China, while in western parts of the world, to do so is considered highly disrespectful.
On the other hand, sustained eye contact in the US and western Europe conveys interest and confidence, however in Africa and Latin America, it translates as a challenge.
Not only does good posture improve your confidence, but it also helps you “exude greater confidence”. According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, when it comes to power, “we complement the other’s nonverbals.” In other words, if you’re adopting a posture which conveys power, then those around you tend to make themselves smaller in response.
So if you want your body language to communicate confidence, monitor your posture and strike a (reasonable) power pose. Keep your spine straight and your shoulders back, and your business prospects will likely remember you as self-assured, and by extension, sure of your business.
According to Vanessa Van Edwards, a behavioural investigator, “the amount of rapport you get from a handshake is equivalent to three hours of face to face time.” So it’s important to get your handshake spot-on in all of your social interactions, especially when it comes to your business dealings.
In much of the western world, a soft handshake suggests weakness and untrustworthiness. However, a strong handshake will likely not translate very well when used on Asian and Middle Eastern professionals, as they actually prefer a softer grip.
If you’re a woman, Van Edwards recommends offering your hand first if you don’t want to lose out on the opportunity. Since men are often unsure about whether or not to shake a woman’s hand, they often end up skipping the handshake altogether.
It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it
In much of social interaction the way you talk is just as important as what you’re talking about. So once you’ve mastered nonverbal communication, you should also learn to monitor your voice.
Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore believes that low pitched voices convey authority. She also notes that ending your statements on a high note may cause people to interpret you as “nervous, unsure and untrustworthy”. Whilst it’s not practical to change the pitch of your voice, try to keep your voice from drifting higher.