Body language: business tool or manipulation?

Body language: business tool or manipulation?

Deciphering your customer’s body language can offer important insights, according to a recent piece in Manage Smarter. It’s also kind of fun. According to the article, here are some ways to read a person’s physical cues:

  • Nose or face scratch implies dislike.
  • Head tilted to the side implies interest.
  • Eye rub implies deceit.
  • Hand or finger blocking the mouth implies lying.
  • Thumb tucked under the chin with index finger pointing up on the cheek implies a critical attitude.
  • Chin stroke implies making a decision.

But then the article goes on to discuss how to make the other person like you more, how to fool them into feeling more comfortable with you, so you can make the sale. Is it just me, or does that seem to cross the line from interpretation to manipulation?

For example, body language consultants and sales trainers always recommend you “mirror” your customer’s gestures and enthusiasm. If he’s quiet and introspective, you’re supposed to act that way too. If she’s enthusiastic and extroverted, do that. Pretending to be like them supposedly reinforces how similar the two of you are, and makes the prospect trust you — at least long enough to write the check.

Here’s my question: Is it just me, or does that sort of behavior seem phony and manipulative? Do you see it as a legitimate selling tool, or does it simply contribute to the epidemic of fakerey in the world? Doesn’t the world have enough phony smiles and artificial friendliness? (Not to mention fake boobs, facelifts and nose jobs?)

What’s wrong with being genuine? Be who you are. Be nice, but be genuine.

Let’s take the idea a step further. If the client smokes cigars, does this mean you should ignore the health risks and fire up a stogie, just to be like him? If he likes to get plastered at strip clubs then drunk-drive his car back to work, should you do the same?

Besides, how do you keep track of who you’re supposed to be today? Let’s see, I’m calling on Carl this morning, so I need to act dignified and proper. After lunch, I have an appointment with wacky Jackie so I’ve got to be joking and smoking. Wouldn’t the client or customer eventually notice — and wouldn’t that damage your image and credibility?

The more you pretend to be like different people, it seems to me, the farther you stray from your authentic self.

If you really must adopt someone else’s demeanor, why not a professional’s? Does your lawyer crack jokes in an attempt to make you like him? Does your doctor enter the examining room and mimic your posture and gestures? No — she listens to your symptoms and complaints, asks pertinent questions, makes a diagnosis and recommends a course of action. That seems like the right behavior for a sales professional to mimic.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Please leave your comments below.

  1. elodie.kloeckner@hotmail.frelodie.kloeckner@hotmail.fr09-19-2007

    Hi. My name is Elodie and I am a French student. I found your article very interesting because I share the same point of view.

    I had to make a mini-study about Body Language. I had to read different texts about that and I am going to talk about “body language business”, explaining that people have to be genuine, and should not listen to all of these persons who to take advantage of their lack of assertiveness.

    I am very happy to find your article because it seems to be the only that talks about this industry.

    Have you ever written other articles about that?

    Goodbye. Hope seeing you soon on the Internet !

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