If you were to ask people who have been in business a while what makes a successful businessperson, they will usually tell you two things;
1) Communicate as well as you possibly can, and
2) Keep your customers happy
They might not admit it, but a lot of people see business as a zero sum game, where they must scrap it out with others for the potential benefits available. In their highly competitive world, there is no room for mutual benefit. And yet, if there is not room for mutual benefit, then people have lost before they have even started. A business which doesn’t add to the greater good or benefit other people won’t last very long.
To keep your customers happy, or to find new ones, you need to able to understand the people you are dealing with, which involves being able to communicate with them effectively enough to see who they are; a person’s background, their intentions and their level of sensitivity all inform a tailored approach to engagement. What I’m saying is the essence of good business is communication.
The individual who has the ability to understand his customers and clients stands a far better chance of not only keeping them happy, but more importantly of finding harmonious business partners to work with in the first place.
A mismatched relationship can be pushed through to some sort of acceptable conclusion, but it won’t be mutually beneficial, it won’t be pretty and the results of the interaction won’t be long lasting.
The relationship ultimately ends in ‘divorce’, and each of you go your separate ways, disgruntled about the other’s behaviour. There was nothing wrong with either party, you just weren’t right for each other and couldn’t see it. Life works more smoothly when we find and work with people who are harmonious to our characters and our business aspirations.
93% of what you are saying is non-verbal
In the world of business, a great deal of importance is placed upon what is said, but as the majority of communication (as much as 93%) is non-verbal, shouldn’t we be trained to place a little more emphasis on the things that we and others don’t say?
I am of course talking about Body Language. The problem with body language, to those of us who don’t speak it, is that it is very hard to fake. We naturally and unconsciously show who we are to the world, we ‘exhibit’ externally how we ‘feel’ internally. Bill Clinton, when asked to testify about his “sexual relations with that woman” was exhibiting all of the body language of a liar, and to anyone well versed in the language, it was blatantly obvious. The rest of the world was listening to what he was saying.
A confident man in easy to spot; he walks with his shoulders back and his chest puffed out, his spine is erect and his chin is up. He smiles easily and genuinely, and makes direct eye contact with others as he does so. He strides forward with purpose as if on his way to his next important appointment, exuding a presence of authority that is attractive to others looking in. Without saying anything, he had said everything that we need to know; he is a winner, someone we want to be dealing with.
It is equally easy to spot a man who lacks confidence, he looks limp with a failing skeleton under his flaccid flesh, he shuffles about as if in no really hurry to go anywhere, because he is going nowhere. Head hanging low, he is permanently fixated on the pavement. Hands in pockets or even crossed across his chest to protect himself in his perceived feeling of vulnerability. His shoulders are hunched forwards and up into his neck. He is avoiding eye contact with anybody he comes across; he cannot even bear to look at puppies and grandmothers. He is at the bottom of the food chain, and he knows his place. Rather than a genuine smile, the best he can manage is a fearful grimace. He looks uncomfortable in his skin, like he is trying to curl up into a ball like a hedgehog until the ‘danger’ passes. He hasn’t said anything, and really he doesn’t need to. The world can see he feels like a failure, and people don’t want to associate with him.
Our body language is, of course, an external manifestation of how we feel, and as how we feel is also what we manage to achieve in life, people are naturally drawn to those who exhibit externally the attributes of success, even if they haven’t yet achieved it. A confident man is successful because he is confident, and not confident because he is successful. To individuals adept at ‘reading’ other people, words are the least important thing they are saying.
Can you Be Other than you Feel?
If you study body language, you can train yourself to overcome your natural tendencies to exhibit undesirable body language, but you need to be consciously aware of what your body is saying, and deliberately counteract your natural subconscious impulses, which can be a difficult task when your mind has so many other things to think about.
I frequently see people who work in sales, even sales directors making fundamental faux-pas in body language (for example, crossing their arms tightly across the chest in introductory meetings with potential customers), and I wonder why they are not given even the most basic training to identify the non-verbal cues to make their case a better one.
It is understandable that a sales person may feel uncomfortable selling something they don’t really understand, but if they exhibit poor body language, their interaction is largely a wasted effort. As I see it, they have two choices available to them:
1) Learn more about the product being offered for sale until they do feel comfortable, or
2) Work on their body language so that at the very least they don’t come across as awkward or uncomfortable in front of clients.
The basics of body language should be understood by all in business: In a cooperative meeting of two people who are looking to mutually benefit each other in some transaction, the success of their interaction rests upon their compatibility as equal partners. If you want to drive this point home, you need to understand and apply the basics: in this regard I recommend the brilliant book: The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease, for a basic grounding. It also explains clearly why ex-President William Clinton was lying at his impeachment trial.
There are a number of things you can discover about somebody the first time you meet them, and as is customary in the UK, shake their hand.
Here are five things you can look for when meeting others, and use to tailor your meeting approach accordingly.
1. The Orientation of Your Palm
The palm down gesture, as used by Hitler over his subjects, is a blatantly dominant gesture. The palm up gesture, as used by those begging for money or those trying to indicate openness in dealing with others, is a submissive gesture. Somewhere in the middle is the vertical palm of equality, something those who seek mutual benefit in an interaction will demonstrate.
If, when you shake hands with someone, they try to ‘gain the upper hand’, by twisting your hand so that their palm is on top of yours and your palm is facing up, you may be dealing with a power player who wants to send out a very clear message about your interaction. This is the sort of thing you might get from a neighbour who has just moved in next door, or someone who wants to take charge of your first encounter or to set the tone for your relationship moving forwards.
If you prefer equality in your dealings with others, such as you might expect in business, and someone plays this power move on you, you can reinforce your single handshake by bringing in your left hand, and attempting to ‘right the relationship’ from the outset by moving your hand into the vertical orientation; communicating that you want things to remain on a more level playing field.
If you want to convey a submissive stance, such as if you were apologising to someone, you might choose to adopt the palm up gesture. In most business interactions, a fair & balanced handshake is preferable for both parties; the premise of your interaction is that you are able to mutually benefit each other. If there’s more than that involved, and you dislike political power plays, then it might be time to find someone else to deal with.
Of course, people who are very good at body language can use their body language to lie, by giving out impressions of submissiveness, or openness to later go on to deliberately deceive you, but on the whole people are genuine and their bodies don’t lie. Equally if you are open and honest with others, those you interact with will tend to behave similarly.
2. The Firmness of Your Handshake
Given that some people use the handshake as a power play to assert their dominance over others from the off, it is not surprising that we sometimes encounter an overcompensating vice-like grip on shaking hands. For women, or those out there who enjoy using their fingers for dextrous activities such as playing the piano, such shows of strength are not appreciated, and if you get a shake like this expect either an insensitive individual with a clumsy but powerful approach to business, or someone overcompensating for other weaknesses.
Unless you are deliberately trying to come across as the dominant player, you should be looking to match your hand shaking partner’s grip in strength, and this will vary from person to person, so you will need to feel your partner’s shake and match it. If you use a very dominant almost crushing grip in your handshake with others, and fail to back up your bravado with words, you will look like a fraud; all show and no go.
If when shaking hands, your partner provides no resistance whatsoever; if you get the wet fish or the bunch of carrots then at least you were paying attention when you shook hands, and will have gathered enough to say that the other person lacks confidence, and may be limp or something of a pushover in negotiations. Again you may choose to tailor your approach to the intuition accordingly, or find someone else to deal with.
3. The Warmth and Moisture of your Hands
If you are nervous about an upcoming interaction, let’s say you are going into an important meeting or to a job interview, you might find your hands becoming cold and clammy as the blood supply to them is withdrawn and your palms start to sweat under pressure.
If you have this problem yourself, carry a handkerchief and keep your hands in dry and warm condition ready for when you shake hands with your business partners. If, upon shaking hands with another, you find their handshake limp, cold or clammy, they will not be projecting a confident, inspiring attitude. It’s a poor first impression that is easily avoided by putting your hands in your pockets to warm them up and frying them prior to meeting or parting.
If you can, visit the bathroom and wash and dry your hands. If you’re lucky they may still have a gloriously inefficient but life giving Warner Howard World Dryer to warm your hands up ready for your encounter.
4. The Texture of Their Skin
Our skin is the barrier through which we interface the world. The hands have an enormous amount of nerve endings, represented in the brain’s grey matter, and so our hands hold a great deal of information about what’s going on in our brains; what we are thinking as well as our innate natures. The condition of our nails, our specific dermal fingerprints, the length of our fingers, and how many rings we wear and where we choose to wear them, say a lot about us.
Many people think that skin texture is a function of career choice, and there may be some truth to that; if you choose to work with your hands you are more likely to develop calluses. But in reality, it is actually the other way around; the individual with coarse or grainy skin interfaces with the world at a more physical level, so a physical job outdoors is more their natural realm.
Someone with very delicate, almost silky skin, is extremely ‘touchy feely’; incredibly sensitive to the outside world. They can pick up on the slightest inference in vocal expression to read a situation and can ‘feel’ the mood or atmosphere of an interaction regardless of what is being said. Their sense of smell and taste is more acute, and they have a lower threshold for physical pain, preferring cerebral activities to those of a rough physical nature.
In business interactions, thin skinned people tend to be, well thin-skinned; sensitive to brash comments and bold displays of power or aggression, they may even find these situations bullying, uncomfortable or embarrassing. Typically having already read between the lines, they consider overt displays unnecessary or superfluous.
Needless to say, if you meet someone with soft hands (and they are predominantly found on women), they will be more intuitive, more sensitive to the situation you find yourselves in, and will not appreciate overbearing language, either verbal or body language. Sadly not everyone has the ability to discern understanding from the finer points of an interaction.
If, when you meet someone, they have very coarse skin on their hands, you are likely dealing with someone who is far less sensitive. Thick-skinned people may need a more direct approach in communication, if you are not the best communicator, you may need to SPELL IT OUT FOR THEM, or explain it to them in terms that they can understand. As they tend to inhabit a physical world, they find words less appealing than action, so finding an example via an analogy that they can relate to, would be useful.
Those with coarse and grainy skin on their hands will want to get on and do things, rather than sit there and think about options. You will tend to find them working outside, in a dynamic, hand-on role job where physical work is part and parcel of their daily activities. They have a much higher threshold to physical pain, enjoy being in the elements and ca tolerate ‘strong words’. They certainly won’t enjoy life stuck behind a computer screen, they’re better off located in a site based office.
5. The Size of their Hands
If skin texture indicates how people interface with the world, their fingers tell us about how they process information. In general, the longer the fingers the longer the thought processes. The fingers tend to mimic body shape; tall people with long legs will tend to have proportionately long fingers, whereas shorter people will tend to have proportionately short fingers.
Picture in your mind, a stereotypical wise man; a thinker, a sage, or a philosopher. Isn’t he likely to resemble a tall, wiry wizard like Gandalf. The shorter sausage fingered Dwarves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination are far less prone to navel gazing, and prefer action to long drawn out thought processes.
Meanwhile back in the real world, Consultants are tall, willowy, long fingered and very comfortably inhabit the realm of thought and future possibility, while those who prefer getting on and doing things tend to be shorter, physically stronger and more rugged, and naturally inhabit the realm of hands-on action.
So small people have small hands, and big people have big hands. If you meet someone who has disproportionately small hands, and this is something you will notice if you start paying attention when you shake hands with people, then you should expect someone intense, impatient, and somewhat manic. They will thrive in situations where there is no time to think, instead they use their gut reactions to guide their decision-making. They like to act on their instincts, and are extremely unlikely to think things through to the finer details, relying on others around them to do their ‘due diligence’ for them.
If you meet someone with disproportionately big hands, they will be the extreme in the other direction. They will have very well established thought processes, and will be seen as ‘deep’ slow and interested in the finer details. Though they are good with details, they do not react well to crises, needing time to gather themselves before responding.
So, the next time you meet someone, have a feel for the person you are dealing with, and see if you can’t tailor your communication approach accordingly for a more satisfying encounter.
For more insight into people either via their hands or their body language I recommend the following books, available from Amazon (click on the covers to go to the page)