You're talking to the client sitting before you when you notice his head is down and he has angled his chest away from you. The client's body language is saying he's “closed.” He can no longer hear what you're saying, so you may as well stop talking.
What to do? “Relax, take a breath, and start asking questions,” says Anthony Wilder of Wilder Design Build, Bethesda, Md., who coaches his own team in how to read body language.
Tuning in to body language is one of the most important things you can do in business, Wilder says. “We all go off on tangents and forget to pay attention to the person we're talking with. I see it in myself, and I've been doing this work a long time.”
The solution is to look out for basic cues, says Patti Wood, one of the country's experts on body language, whose clients range from Coca-Cola to the U.S. Army. For example, learn to spot the “closed” cue, when a client turns his head away from you, crosses his arms or legs, places an object between the two of you, or closes his eyes.
When that occurs, she says, ask yourself, “What happened just before he did that?” Maybe you pushed for something that scares him. Or he may have concerns about price or scheduling.
The mistake many people make in that instance is to rush ahead, when they should slow down, saying, “Let's talk about any concerns you may have about that,” Wood says. “If you identify that there's a concern, then they feel like, ‘Oh, he gets me.'”
You can even try to subtly mirror behavior. For example, briefly cross your arms, breathe slowly with the client for a few moments, then uncross your arms, all the while maintaining eye contact. “If you've done it in sync,” Wood says, “they'll come right along with you.
Alice Bumgarner is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.