5 Ways to Manage Your Body Language and Close Deals

Often, the difference between success and failure in furthering your career lays in nonverbal communication, i.e. body language. It can be your biggest asset or your greatest demise, but learning to recognize your "tell" and managing your body language are essential parts of getting what you want. Here's how to do it.
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By: Natalie Gould

Six months ago, I was knee deep in the most substantial salary negotiation of my career. I knew what I was asking for was a long shot, but I couldn't shake the conviction that I was worth this dollar amount.

So I gathered up my carefully prepared spreadsheets and mustered up every ounce of courage I had to confidently walk into my boss's office and state my case. What happens next we can all relate to: I was prepared, I "got this," and the minute I opened my mouth, I was reduced to a nervous, skittish child who could barely get past the awkward hello. Only after I had come through on the other side did my boss enlighten me to my "tell," or my dead giveaway, for when he knew I was uncomfortable during our discussions: my red, splotchy neck.

Often, the difference between success and failure in furthering your career lays in nonverbal communication, i.e. body language. It can be your biggest asset or your greatest demise, but learning to recognize your "tell" and managing your body language are essential parts of getting what you want. Here's how to do it.

1. Practice in front of a camera or someone you trust

Kate Williams is the Career Services Manager at the Anderson School of Management in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Part of her job is working one-on-one with students to help prepare them for job interviews and salary negotiations. She says one of the best ways to recognize your tell in the first place is to practice uncomfortable conversations in front of a camera and review them meticulously.

That's how she found out that when she's placed in uncomfortable situations, her voice goes higher and higher and higher. She says that your body language isn't going to change the moment you recognize it. It can take several tries before you learn how to combat the bad habits. That's where the camera or honest friend comes into play.

Many people have a tendency to talk rapidly or fill every silent moment when they're nervous. This can be an instant giveaway, Williams says. "I think as a culture we're very scared of silence." My boss, Nate Henry Leudtke, agrees. "It seems like there's a need to fill the gap," he says.

Both say that one of the best things you can do is say what you need to say and then zip your lips. Don't try to fill the silence with small talk or other filler sounds. This is especially true when you're asked a question you don't immediately have the answer to. If you need to take a moment to consider the question and form an articulate answer, it's OK to say, "Thank you so much for that question. I'm just going to take a moment so I can answer it to the best of my ability," Williams advises. Give yourself the cognitive break you need.

2. Be mentally prepared

When the moment of truth is just through the conference room doors, panic starts to set in, no matter how many times you've practiced in front of a camera. Getting your mind right is your first line of defense. Mak Akhtar is a 27-year-old freelance writer whose circle of acquaintances includes friends, family, and oh, the Dalai Lama. Talk about important first impressions.

Luckily, Akhtar had been unknowingly preparing for that moment years before. "I've been meditating for the last 8 years ... it changed my life." Meditating is different for everyone, and it doesn't have to include the stereotypical image of sitting on the floor for hours trying to clear your mind of all worries. Meditating can be as simple as acknowledging your fears and casting them aside as best as possible. It's important to understand, however, that not all fear is a bad thing.

In Akhtar's case, she has learned to control her fears and use them for the better, such as going for opportunities she normally wouldn't (and accepting meetings with world leaders). "You have to be able to control your fear and not let it control you. Control it to your advantage," she says. In those moments before facing an uncomfortable situation, taking a minute or two to meditate and acknowledge your fear can make all the difference in the world.

3. Ground yourself, literally.

There's a lot to be said for making yourself look bigger than you are. Or that's at least what Vanessa Narad says. At 5'2" and just a whisper over 100 pounds, Narad says she looks like a doll. And in the corporate marketing world, that's not necessarily a good thing. Despite her already small stature, she has a habit of tucking herself in by wrapping her leg around the other's calf and appearing to take up as little space as possible.

After reading Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel, Narad realized that her body language was potentially sabotaging her authority in her position. To combat this, she now takes up as much space as possible by consciously placing both feet on the floor and keeping them there. She tells herself, "Keep your damn feet on the floor. You deserve the space." She found a fellow female worker to serve as an accountability partner who isn't afraid to tell her when she's "tucking again." Adopting a powerful physical stance forces you to imagine yourself as a strong, stalwart person, even if your nerves are trying to tell you otherwise.

4. Dress the part
Ever hear the saying, "Dress for the career you want, not for the one you have"? Turns out, there's a lot of truth to that. Narad tries to hide her petite figure by wearing neutral colors, and looser, less form-fitting clothes. She says she can almost always be found in slacks and a button down. This way, her clothes are not the center of attention, but rather her powerful statements and authority.

Women sometimes fall into the trap of dressing provocatively because they think it will help them get further when talking to men. While this may sometimes be true, it is definitely the exception and not the rule. Henry Leudtke says dress can get in the way of women getting what they want. When you dress in short skirts and low-cut tops, you're taking the recipient away from your message. "You're not engaging the person at that point. They're engaged with whatever they like," he says. Keep it professional. Wear moderate makeup and minimal jewelry. Keeping distractions to a minimum ensures the person you're talking to is focused on what you're saying, not what you look like.

5. Own it
Sometimes you can do everything right: you practiced, you meditated, both your feet are firmly planted on the ground, you dressed to impress, but in the end, your nerves are getting the best of you. In these circumstances, sometimes the best thing to do is just own it. "I think a tell is OK," Henry Leudtke says.

Being confident enough to acknowledge the uncomfortable situation at hand can put both parties at ease. Just be sure to do it tactfully. Know which circumstances it's going to be best received. A salary negotiation may not be the best time to mention, "Oh hey, by the way I'm super nervous about this," but it could certainly be effective in a discussion about performance or a communication breakdown. It's unlikely that only one person is nervous in these types of discussions, so acknowledging the tension can often be the way to go.

This article originally appeared on Savvy, a pocket recruiter for busy, professional women.

Natalie Gould is a VP at a Dallas digital marketing agency by day and a freelance writer by night. She writes on such topics as personal finance, customer experience, and small-scale farming.

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