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Using and Understanding Non-verbal Communication to Make the Sale

Editor’s Note: This article is based on a presentation from Janine Driver, best-selling author and body language expert for the Body Language Institute. Driver spoke at the 80th Annual American Architectural Manufacturers Association Conference, held Feb. 12-15 in Phoenix. For more information, visit


Product testing, literature, demonstrations and aesthetics could pique a potential customer’s interest. But none of these selling points will consistently make the sale. Often, how the customer feels toward a certain product based on their experience with the salesperson makes or breaks a sale. Based on fMRI studies, when evaluating brands, “consumers use emotions over information when making decisions," says Janine Driver, best-selling author and body language expert for the Body Language Institute. Because of this, it’s important for salespeople to know how to read and use body language to develop and maintain good relationships with customers.

According to Driver, people spend a lot of time worrying about the impression they make with the clothes they wear, but “of everything you put on today, what will be judged the most is your body language,” she says. The words a person uses and how they speak to people matter. But, equally important is their body language. The two go hand-in-hand when presenting ourselves and the products, services, businesses, and the industry we represent, she says.

“Even just a couple minutes of interaction can make a big difference when it comes to your body language,” says Driver. “This industry matters. Watch how you present yourself to better represent the importance of the industry.”

To ensure that body language is in line with intent, a salesperson must first understand common body language tells and what they convey. Below are a few to consider.

1. Raised eyebrows
Raised eyebrows are a good indication of surprise. A true look of surprise only lasts a few seconds.

2. Upward palms
Using a "palms up" gesture instead of a "palms down" gesture appears more open and inviting.

3. Tented fingers
Tenting fingers in a "power steeple" indicates power and authority.

4. Shrugging shoulders
Shrugging shoulders indicate uncertainty, and shrugging coupled with a definitive statement negates the statement.

5. Forward-facing body
We point the front of our bodies toward people we like, admire and trust. To appear open and trusting, fully face the person you’re shaking hands with when greeting a group.

6. Genuine smiles
Real smiles happen in the eyes, which crinkle up at the corners showing the "crows' feet." The mouth is also drawn up toward the ears and not straight backward.

7. Eye contact
Eye contact is important, but anything more than 80 percent will intimidate most people. Look away occasionally during conversation.

8. Folded arms
Folded arms can mean someone is attempting to solve tough problems, but it can also look closed off, unapproachable, uninterested and angry.

9. Separated limbs
To keep an open, confident posture, keep arms apart (think standing with hands on hips) and legs apart (at least shoulder-width).

The second step in reading body language is to listen. Driver warns salespeople to not make hasty decisions based on interpretation. She emphasizes the importance of asking customers questions. If something seems off, ask about it, then WAIT, which stands for ‘Why Am I Talking?’ Stop talking and wait for an explanation.

“This step of due diligence is very important,” says Driver. “Think like a CIA operative and investigate when something in someone's body language is inconsistent with their speech.”

Beyond reading basic body language, Driver emphasizes that salespeople should work to make their customers feel comfortable and cared for. Driver suggests knowing customers' favorite hot beverages—hot, not cold, as the concept of embodied cognition, the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind, produces more positive results with warm drinks. “Also, you want your customers in the most comfortable seats possible,” Driver says.

Finally, learning to be aware of and intentionally use body language is an ongoing process. It takes awareness and practice to improve what’s being said—and not said—to customers. “We leave money on the table when we don’t understand verbal and non-verbal cues,” says Driver.


Bethany Stough

Bethany Stough

Bethany Stough is senior manager, digital media. Contact her at