A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Nonverbal Communication Help for Salespeople
Dear Sue: I am fairly new to an outside sales position and am
looking for information about non-verbal communication. I am interested in
learning about office settings. Any other information that can help me to
'read' a situation better would be appreciated.
Sue Says: During the average 30-minute sales call, a buyer and
seller exchange approximately 800 different nonverbal messages, yet most
salespeople focus on the verbal part of the sale, according to Jan
Hargrave, a body language consultant and author of the book, Strictly
Business Body Language.
Salespeople who pay attention to body language typically focus almost
exclusively on facial expressions. However, the way words are spoken and
the speakers face all provide information about how the sales call is
going. The voice and face are only part of the picture. The body is the
communication channel over which we have the least control and understand
the least, but has the most impact.
Where you sit and how the furniture is arranged can either encourage
friendliness and cooperation or confrontation. Hargrave says that sitting
across the table from a person during a negotiation creates a defensive,
competitive atmosphere and can lead to each party taking a firm stand on
his or her point of view. The table becomes a solid barrier between both
parties and allows for a distinct division of ideas. Massive desks create
a physical barrier, and serve as a visual barrier as well.
If you can't see someone from the chest down, you don't know if the
buyer's legs are crossed, if he's tapping his foot or cleaning his nails.
Office furniture can be arranged in a way to give a person as much power,
status or control over others as they wish. Just sitting behind a desk
conveys a sense of power and positioning because all who enter must look
across it, which gives the person behind it control. Increased status and
power can be achieved with:
- Low sofas for visitors to sit on.
- A wall covered with photos, awards or qualifications that the
occupant has received.
- A slim briefcase; those who do all the work carry large, bulky
- Red folders on a desk marked "Strictly Confidential."
- An expensive ashtray placed out of reach of the visitor causing him
inconvenience when ashing a cigarette. (I do not recommend smoking on
a sales call, however.)
If you are in a buyer's office and are free to choose where you sit, it
is best to chose a seat beside the buyer's desk rather than one across
from it. The height of the chair can raise or lower a person's status; the
higher the back of the chair, the greater the power and status of the
person sitting in it.
You are wise to take in a person's environment to learn more about that
person. If you are having trouble communicating with someone, moving to a
new location, changing positions or getting him or her to come out from
behind a desk can change the dynamics of the interaction.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
email@example.com or visit her web site at
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