Use Body Language to Build Rapport

Posted by: Today’s Tip Contributor on November 3, 2010

People don’t buy your products, your services, or your brand. They buy you. Whether you’re negotiating with suppliers, managing staff, or speaking directly with customers, it’s vital that you create congruency between your words, your body language, and your message so that you are sending the signals you intend the listener to receive. If done successfully, you will lay a foundation for honesty, integrity, and fair dealing as a key dynamic in the business relationship. Here are the three most important body language tips to help build rapport:

1. Establish natural eye contact. Refusing to make eye contact communicates discomfort and can even suggest that you can’t be trusted. Natural eye contact demonstrates full engagement and facilitates emotional connection with your listener. If it starts to feel unnatural, glance away for a few seconds and then resume contact to show that you are earnest and actively listening.

2. Open your hand. Hand and arm gestures enable you to emphasize a specific point. Gesturing palm up, with an open hand, communicates acceptance and inclusion and welcomes the listener to a trusting, two-way conversation. This movement works well in one-on-one conversations and is particularly effective if you are speaking to a group from the front of a room.

3. Make distance work for you. Using your personal space is a powerful way to communicate a message. When showing that you care, move closer to your “audience” (whether it consists of one person or 20). If you were originally 10 feet back, take a few steps closer; if you are sitting across the table from someone, lean forward an inch or two. Be aware that shifting away from someone can communicate that you are anxious or lying, although leaning back naturally can display confidence.

The most important thing to remember when using body language is that it should create congruency between what you say and what you do. In other words, it’s not enough just to speak confidently; your body needs to show it, too. While this may come easily to some, it takes practice for most people. Don’t be afraid to try techniques in front of a mirror or to film yourself to make sure your body is delivering the same message your words are communicating.

Keld Jensen
Center of Negotiation at Copenhagen Business School