Your face is like a palette, but instead of being speckled with brightly coloured paints, it is a tapestry of signs and signals. Our mouths have a lot to say, even when they are closed. Smiles can range from lips pressed together and corners barely turned, to the open-mouthed, uninhibited laughter of children playing.
Downward turns of the mouth are often perceived as negative, while upward turns are seen as positive. Some people however, don’t move their mouths much. In a sales meeting, it’s not unusual for the prospect to try to hide their feelings about your product, meaning you have to work harder in order to see what they are not saying.
Look at their lips. Are they relaxed and soft, or tense and anxious? Are they pursed as though the person is thinking, or are they holding back an objection?
What about the client’s head? If it is straight up and down and their eyes are focused, it may seem like they are listening. However, when someone is really focusing on listening, they will often tilt their head slightly to one side, almost as if they are trying to help the sound get into their ear more efficiently. You can also tilt your head slightly to indicate you are listening to them and to mirror their behaviour (more on that later).
People often make unintentional gestures, even when they think they are keeping a poker face. In many years of studying human behaviour and deceit, Dr. Paul Ekman and his contemporaries have isolated many small, involuntary expressions (called micro expressions) that can help spot a lie. (These include very small muscular changes.) While they can denote deceit, they can also be the result of nervousness, so they have to be interpreted very carefully.
Some of the facial gestures include:
- Rubbing the eye (a sign that the individual wants you to ignore the deceit they are presenting, or an itchy eye)
- Rolling the eyes (a dismissive or superior gesture)
- Looking over the top of the glasses (critical)
- Rubbing or touching the nose (don’t like the subject)
- Hand or fingers in front or to one side of the mouth (can mean they are holding back something – a thought, an opinion, or even a lie)
- Stroking the chin (making a decision)
- Thumb under the chin with index finger pointing up the side of the face (critical judgment and/or negative opinion)
By understanding your client’s signals, you can adjust your presentation, provide more information, or simply learn when to stop talking. This way you can redirect your energy to relationship development and building trust, rather than coming across as pushy or overbearing.
Tips to Try
Identify your most frequently used gestures. Do you do anything that could be perceived as negative or intimidating to your prospects? Eliminate these gestures from your approach and see what happens to your results!
Facial expressions that demonstrate happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, and anger, seem to be consistent around the world. When we see those expressions, we know what we are seeing. There are some differences, however, when it comes to how often happiness is displayed. It doesn’t mean that the smile is different from one region to another, but it means that some communities express happiness more often than others.
Smiling is a great sales tool because it is easy to produce, although people who are skilled in reading body language can read a false smile quite easily. The false smile is characterised by the following:
- They are usually held much longer than authentic smiles.
- They may appear put together, in that the elements of the smile are added to the face separately, rather than being a natural result of the mouth curving.
- They tend to be confined to the lower half of the face, rather than including the muscles at the corners of the mouth and around the eyes.
- They may not be symmetrical. The neural pathways in a genuine smile create a symmetrical result, but a lopsided smile is produced by the face receiving mixed instructions as someone tries to hide their real feelings. Voluntary messages are telling the face to behave one way, which the individual is trying to mask their true feelings and suppress the genuine emotion. Oddly, people tend to react to the lopsided smile as though it is a genuine smile, perhaps because we are more concerned that people smile at us than we are about the motivation behind it.
The Eyes Have It
The eyes are often referred to as the most expressive part of our face. We often talk about people who smile just with their mouths as less attractive than someone whose smile extends up into their eyes. It is the telltale nature of our eyes that leads some poker players to wear dark glasses. It is also a good reason for sales people not to wear sunglasses!
Eyes will react to a variety of stimuli and some of these reactions are involuntary. If you ever wondered how, as a youth, your parents caught you in a lie, it might have had to do with the size of your pupils, which can dilate during a lie. (Of course, there are plenty of other reasons for your pupils to dilate, including an adrenaline event.)
Even a slight squint can impact what the listener sees on your face. Are you lying? Or do you need glasses?
As a frame to our eyes, eyebrows are also very expressive. Eyebrow expressions mean different things in different places, however. You might be used to both eyebrows going up when someone reacts with surprise. However, the Inuit in Northern Canada use the same movement to indicate “yes.” (They do not nod up and down as we frequently see in Australia, Europe & North America and other areas.)
In fact, the idea of nodding to say yes is NOT universal. In some countries, like Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines, the non-verbal signal for “yes” is tossing the head backward. In Greece, nodding your head up and down means “no” (as it does in several regions in the Middle East). Make sure you know your client’s customs and check with a travel guide to get things right.
If you or your staff would like help with presenting the perfect image at work. Contact us to see how we can help you.
Do our business etiquette quiz to see how well you know your stuff.