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Body Language, Reading People and Selling

Posted: 27 June 2017

In sales, the visual element is highly valued and a colourful and informative POS display can certainly assist in getting a customer’s attention. Where difficulty arises is in what comes next. A highly qualified salesperson can ask all the right questions and give all the right answers and still misread the situation thus losing a sale. The reason for this is a lot of communication between people is non-spoken. Communication involves more than verbal communication and learning how to read a person’s body language is essential to understanding how a conversation is going.

How People Communicate

UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian famously said that body language accounts for 55 percent of your response when communicating about topics such as like or dislike. While there has been a longstanding debate on the merits of these results the underlying theme of the importance of body language should not be ignored. For a salesperson, they should carry themselves with open, nonthreatening, and communicative gestures. This makes a customer more relaxed and increases the chances that they will be responsive to what the salesperson is saying.

However, nonverbal communication is a two-way street and while many sales people carry themselves with a well-practised poise they still may not know how to read a customer's body language. Here is a brief list of common physical gestures and how to read them.

Reading Body Language

  • Spotting A Fake Smile: fake smiles are relatively easy to read. A real smile reaches the eyes and causes the wrinkles around the eyes to crinkle. When people say a smile looks plastic or fake this subtle physical cue is what they are picking up on.
  • Eyebrows: raised eyebrows are often a sign of shock, discomfort, surprise, or fear. If someone raises their eyebrows when speaking to a salesperson this is a sign the discussion is not being well received.
  • Vocal Pitch: shifts in vocal pitch or tone indicate interest. Raising pitch, lowering pitch, or a sing-song inflection is a sign that a person is engaging in a conversation. People become far more animated when they're interested in a discussion and its topic.
  • Mirroring: when a person is enjoying a conversation or agreeing with its content they often mirror the speaker’s mannerisms to a small degree. Copying hand gestures, posture, or conversation tone are good signs.
  • Eye Contact: different types of eye contact can mean different things. Normal eye contact is a sign of engagement and that the other person is not intimidated or put off. However, holding eye contact for too long or a lack of blinking is a sign of dishonesty.
  • Posture: when someone is comfortable the posture shows it. This can be in the form of relaxed leaning back on their heels, arms loose, and chin slightly lifted.
  • Defensive Body Language: defensive or guarded body language is not a good sign. It shows a person is not interested in a conversation and wants to be left alone. Crossed arms, lack of eye contact, clinched jaw, or a furrowed brow are all signs of stress or discomfort.


When dealing with customers paying attention to what they say and how they say it is important but body language cannot be ignored. Many customers may feign politeness and small talk while at the same item being completely disinterested in what a salesperson is saying. By being able to read body language effectively a conversation can be redirected to generate real interest and a sincere response.



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