A young man recently asked me what I considered to be the most important skill he would need to develop if he wanted to become a successful FBI agent. I told him that emotional intelligence—being able to pick up on the moods of others—would be one of the most essential skills he would need.
The ability to accurately pick up on the stress and vulnerability of people gives you an immediate advantage in how to move forward most successfully. It varies from, “Maybe this is not the right time to pitch a new deal” to “This is the perfect time to push harder on this issue.”
It’s the one thing that allows you, as a business owner, to speak to the needs and desires of others.
Most business owners understand what empathy is, and some are good at reading other people’s needs and desires. When people feel they are understood, they respond in positive ways.
FBI agents need people to cooperate with them in their investigations. Forget what you see in movies and read in books—the tough guy approach of blackmail and coercion works best in fantasy, and not real life.
When we reach people in a way that touches them deeply, we help them tap into their best selves and achieve amazing results. Successful business owners understand the importance of engaging their talent, and they are savvy about how to read body language to gage the emotions of others.
If you are looking to grow your business, here are 9 things you should look for when reading the body language of others:
1. Smile First
Very few people are actually happy to see an FBI agent. But, a fake smile can be seen a mile away so I knew I needed to proceed cautiously no matter how glad they sounded about meeting me.
TIP: Dump the botox and live with creases around the eyes—those lines are essential if you want to give a real smile and signal that you are genuinely happy about seeing them. If you don’t see crinkle lines around their eyes when they are smiling, watch your step.
2. Eyebrow Flash
The second body language message that alerted me to the real emotions of the person I was meeting was a lack of eyebrow flash. We subconsciously raise our eyebrows a bit when we’re genuinely pleased to see someone. This is especially true for people whom you know or have met before.
TIP: Think twice if the person does not raise their eyebrows when they see you, even if they verbally indicate everything is OK.
3. Mouthy Movements
When people are stressed, their lips start to disappear! Paul Ekman has produced a lot of information on micro-expressions, but my rule of thumb is to watch the mouth as a conversation unfolds because it will subconsciously signal what the person is feeling.
TIP: When lips disappear, the person is stressed. When lips purse, they are disagreeing with what you said or are considering another idea.
4. Nervous Hands
When hands cover the mouth, the brain is trying to suppress the deceitful words that are being said. Professional liars and politicians train themselves to lie without exhibiting the tell-tale gestures that goes with it.
TIP: When the hand touches the face at any time during your conversation, pay attention to what was said and how often the gesture is repeated.
5. Head Tilt
Most FBI interviews begin like this: the other person answers questions while sitting in a rigid position and holding their head straight. After they become comfortable, they will usually tilt their head as they engage in conversation.
TIP: A head tilt is a powerful way to convey that you are comfortable with the conversation. It is incredibly hard to tilt your head when you’re experiencing negative emotions.
The face is used more than any other part of the body to cover up lies. The more ambiguous the expression, however, the more difficult to look for accurate body language. Then, it’s important to look for clusters of gestures. For example:
6. Clenched Hands
I’ve been in many meetings where the person speaking is clenching their hands in raised position (usually elbows on the table or hands resting on the table) and smiling while they’re speaking.
TIP: This is a sign of frustration and the person speaking is holding back a negative attitude.
7. Neck Scratch
Many times a person who is being deceptive in their answers will scratch their neck with their index finger.
TIP: The average number of scratches is about five and it is a signal of doubt or uncertainty.
8. Chin Stroking
When you’re making a suggestion or sharing an idea, many times the listener will bring one hand to their face—this is called an evaluation gesture. The most common form of evaluation gesture is a chin stroke.
TIP: The chin stroke is a signal that the listener is going through the decision-making process. Watch for the body language that follows: arms and legs crossed means they are not favorably impressed, while leaning forward and open arms means they’re open to your idea.
9. Restless Feet
My former FBI colleague, Joe Navarro, is an expert on body language. He says that our feet, along with legs, are the most honest parts of the body. Most of us are trained to control our facial expressions. How many of us heard, “Get that look off your face” while growing up? But no one pays attention to what the feet are doing—except skeptical FBI agents.
When we are happy and content, our feet will bounce or move. In the same way, when the other person’s foot is turned toward the door when you’re talking to them, it signals they want to leave.
TIP: Pay attention to what a person is doing with their feet. If they are bouncing, chances are good that they have happy feet, and all is going well.
Successful business owners know that to get the most from their teams, they must learn how to read body language accurately so they can reach team members on an emotional level.
This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Author: LaRae Quy is a Mental Toughness Coach.
Image: Employees talk at offices in downtown Madrid. REUTERS/Susana Vera.