How many times have you heard that you shouldn’t cross your arms in a job interview because it makes you seem closed off or like you have something to hide? Probably enough times that you consciously uncross your arms and then sit there trying to figure out what to do with them instead of figuring out the right thing to say when the interviewer inevitably asks you where you see yourself in five years.
Body language is extremely important in how we communicate with the world. We may say what we think people want to hear, but often our bodies and facial expressions give away what we truly think. That’s why being able to read body language is considered a valuable skill in a business environment, and not just during job interviews.
Specifically, having the ability to read body language during a meeting could be a great asset to you and the people around you, especially if you’re the facilitator of that meeting. Imagine having an important client join you at a conference venue in NYC for a pitch meeting and being able to tell what impresses them and what confuses them without them saying a word. It would make a tremendous difference to what ideas and insights you give weight to throughout the rest of the meeting and it would help you when coming up with future pitches. And that’s just one example.
Body language can let you know when you need to elaborate or explain
Not many people want to interrupt a meeting to showcase the fact that they don’t necessarily understand something. However, if you’re able to read the subtle cues of body language, you may be able to see when someone isn’t quite on the same page as you and elaborate on the point you’re making or even pause and ask if anyone needs anything clarified.
According to an article by Fast Company, sign language interpreter Katie Fitzpatrick talked about how people who can hear perfectly don’t often think about non-verbal cues, even when they offer a deeper understanding of an interaction than the language used. These are things like people nodding their heads, not in agreement, but rather to let you know that they’re still listening. Or the use of “Aah” or “uhum’s”. In meetings, people may not want to respond verbally to show that they’re on the same page, but will do so by small movements.
Knowing whether or not people understand what you’re talking about and that they’re following your train of thought is important in meetings. It gives you the opportunity to ensure that everyone is paying attention and you’re getting your point across without leaving anyone behind.
By taking note of body language, you can tell when people want to speak
Many people struggle to speak up in meetings. It may be because they are shy, feel they’re too junior or new to have an opinion, or simply don’t know when the right time to speak up is. If you’re watching people’s body language while the conversation is progressing, you’ll be able to spot those people who have something to say and are struggling to say it. That gives you the opportunity to circle back to them when there’s a break in the dialogue and ask their opinion on what was said. This ensures that they both have the platform to speak and the motivation to speak.
If someone is physically restless and is moving around in their seat or opening and then closing their mouths, this is an indicator that they want to speak. They may also make movements intended to draw attention to themselves, like changing their posture.
Reading body language can help you identify resistance
Remember the crossed arms we talked about? Well, crossed arms and crossed legs can also indicate during a meeting that people are resistant to your ideas. So can raised eyebrows and intentionally prolonged eye-contact. By being able to tell when people are not buying what you’re selling (figuratively, that is) in a meeting, you have a chance to change their minds without them even voicing their opposition. You can steer what you’re saying in a direction you think they may find more agreeable or you can even ask if anyone is unconvinced, which gives them the opportunity to raise their issues and you the chance to argue your point.
Having the ability to read body language can be a serious asset to anyone in a meeting. And when you’re the facilitator, this great skill could help you really understand the non-verbal communication happening around you. It gives you a chance to win over the room, get people who want to be involved to start talking and clear up any confusion. So, before you plan your next meeting, read up about body language, practice during everyday interactions and learn the non-verbal cues that tell you what people want to say.