You’re talking to the colleague sitting in front of you, when you notice his head is down and he has angled his chest away from you. What should you do?
The person is sending you body language that says he’s closed. Whatever prompted the reaction, he no longer hears what you’re saying, so you may as well stop talking.
Tuning in to body language is one of the most important things you can do in business situations. Unfortunately, most of us become so wrapped up in what we’re saying, we forget to pay attention to the person we’re talking with.
The solution is to look out for basic cues, says Patti Wood, a top expert on body language. For example, learn to spot the “closed” cue, when a person 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 happens, she says, ask yourself, “What happened just before he did that?” Maybe you brought up something that he has concerns about.
The mistake many people make in that instance is to rush ahead, when the right move is to slow down, saying something like “Let’s talk about concerns you may have about that.”
Says Wood, “If you identify that there’s obviously 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 colleague for a few moments, then uncross your arms, all while maintaining eye contact.
“If you’ve done it in sync,” says Wood, “they’ll come right along with you.”