Secret Language

Imagine success in a business deal hinging on your seating choice. Do you choose the seat to the right or the left of your business counterpart? Why does it matter?

Being able to interpret nonverbal clues and use the information to your advantage can give you a huge edge in business, says Kevin Hogan, author of the 2008 book The Secret Language of Business: How to Read Anyone in 3 Seconds or Less.

Say you’re trying to close a big deal. You take a look at your counterpart’s desk; the right side is neat with nice square piles and the left side is kind of a mess. Most likely, he or she is right-handed. Logic is found to the right and emotion to the left.

So how do you use this information? “If your counterpart is righthanded, you will be received better and have a far greater likelihood of making the sale if you are seated to that person’s right,” Hogan says. “When right-handed people look to the right, they activate more of the left brain, predictive of feeling more at ease and comfortable. When right-handed people look to the left, they engage the right brain, home to autobiographical and emotionally charged memories … feelings like anxiety, fear or nervousness.”

Hogan, who has his doctorate in psychology, offers these additional insights:

Mirrors of the soul. “Watch for pupil dilation,” he says. “Pupils contract noticeably when you are angry, unhappy or perceiving something as negative or suspicious. They dilate noticeably when you are excited, happy or your brain is involved in problem-solving activity.” If you are trying to close a sale and you notice constricted pupils, you are likely to get a no, Hogan says.

Listen eye to eye. “Maintain eye contact with the person who is speaking 100 percent of the time,” he says. “If you are doing the speaking, keep eye contact 50 percent of the time, but when you break eye contact, don’t look from side to side, at other people or things, or up. Only look down, defocused and then bring your eyes back up to the other person,” Hogan says. But be prepared for a reaction. “It can be disarming because no one ever does it and it conveys respect and liking.”

Don’t invade personal space. Always leave four feet between you and the person you’re speaking to, and let that person come to you. Leave your arms down at your sides to invite people into your space. “If people get closer, chances are they are comfortable with you,” Hogan says. And guess what? The sale is looking good.

Smiles indicate honesty. Unless you’re a pathological liar, it’s difficult to fake a smile when you’re being deceptive.

Common misperceptions. The average person is only right about nonverbal communication 50 percent of the time, Hogan says.

Some common miscalculations include: Arms crossed, which doesn’t necessarily mean defensiveness, and could just mean the person is cold and trying to stay warm.

Nervousness, which doesn’t mean the person is lying; nervous can just mean nervous.

Eye contact, which doesn’t mean someone is telling the truth; many deceptive people are capable of great eye contact.

What not to do. Don’t touch your face. Nothing good can come of touching your face, says Hogan. Ditto for parts below your waist— men in particular are guilty of this mistake. Never point. And when you’re nervous, keep your hands tighter to your body.


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