Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

In a hilarious episode of the classic television series “Seinfeld,” Jerry is trying to have a healthy breakfast and accidentally squirts his grapefruit in the left eye of his friend, George Costanza (Jason Alexander). George goes around the entire day winking at the worst possible times when asked specific questions, causing people to think he is either covering up for someone or flirting.

His body language unintentionally sends the wrong message. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, philosopher and speaker, said, “What you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.”

Body language is the process of communicating through non-verbal signals. It includes things like posture, facial expressions, gestures and more. The first Friday in October (Oct. 7) is National Body Language Day.

As a life-long envelope salesman, I am well aware of body language. It’s extremely important to be able to read the body language of your customers and prospects. I’m reminded of a cartoon where a prospective customer is shown sleeping with his head on a desk, while the salesperson across from him comments, “Your body language says you’ve lost interest.”

“Body language is a very powerful tool,” said Deborah Bull, an English writer and broadcaster. “We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.”

Body language is one of the only languages that you usually can’t see or hear yourself communicate. However, I can clearly see what your body communicates. You can see what my body communicates even when I am unaware of the messages you are receiving.

Being aware of body language can make all the difference on how you perceive people, and they perceive you. You can say a lot without actually speaking, like how you dress and walk.

What can people’s movements and physical behaviors tell you about what they’re thinking? The Cracked website offers these insights into other people’s thoughts:

  • Mirroring. If someone is genuinely paying attention to you, they’ll start to mirror your movements and gestures.
  • Head tilt. This can signify interest in what you’re saying – the other person tilts his or her head and leans an ear toward you.
  • Hands. People who feel strong and confident spread their fingers wide. People who are insecure will tighten their fingers or hide their hands altogether.
  • Doodles. People who doodle predominantly with straight lines tend to be more fact-oriented. Curving strokes signify that the person is more creative and flexible.

For example, you are communicating moods, feelings or intentions by your actions. If someone approaches you and your arms are crossed and you are avoiding eye contact, you are communicating a message of not being approachable. This may be totally inaccurate, but it’s how you are perceived.

You can work on changing your habits to become a better non-verbal communicator. Changing habits can be very difficult. Check in with yourself or others to see what kind of messages you are communicating.

When video conferencing replaces in-person meetings, body language presents a new challenge. Looking off-screen, squirming in your chair, background distractions and even video glitches affect body language messages. When there are multiple attendees participating from separate locations, it becomes more difficult to interpret the physical messages. Maintaining focus can be a bigger challenge when you aren’t in person, so check your location and background before you connect to minimize distractions.

Similarly, phone conversations can convey body language through your tone and even how long you pause or how quickly you interrupt. I always advise people to talk in front of a mirror until you are familiar with whether your voice sends competing non-verbal messages.

Body language takes on a huge role for public speakers, whether you are presenting to a board meeting or an auditorium of hundreds. Did you know that your body language can make up 55 percent of your message? Making eye contact with your audience is essential, and your posture lets those in attendance know that you are prepared and enthusiastic. Practice in front of objective friends until you are confident that your physical movement isn’t overpowering your verbal remarks.

Don’t let how you move, your facial expressions, and general demeanor get in the way of your intended meaning. A carefully crafted message deserves to be delivered in a complete package. You can’t just put your best foot forward – be prepared from head to toe!

Mackay’s Moral: Listen to your body language. It speaks volumes.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.