Reading body language is an art form, not a skill. There are so many intangibles — is someone agitated or just nervous? Is there a project that is causing irritability with someone or just hunger pains? How we read these signals can make all of the difference in terms of our own success at work, how we work as a team, and even if we are well-liked in an office.
This is especially true in any business conversation. There are the words you hear and then the body language you see. Often, the two are not in cohesion. If you want to read people correctly and know if they are listening and interested in what you have to say, or if they don’t want to talk to you at all and have other things on their minds, look for these clues.
1. Tapping foot
Some of us just have nervous energy, and that’s okay. I’m well-known as a foot-tapper, but it doesn’t mean I’m not listening. It’s a way to avoid sitting in silence for too long. At least I’m
doing something. During a business meeting recently, I was tapping my foot so much it almost seemed like I was at a rock concert. It’s an impulse move.
However, for most people, tapping a foot is a clear sign of annoyance or disinterest. It means the person is one moment away from standing and walking away.
2. Looking away constantly
If you catch someone in a hallway conversation or in the break-room, and they keep looking away, pay attention. It usually means someone is scanning for an escape route and planning a way to detach from the conversation. Maybe there’s another meeting that’s about to start, or maybe the topic isn’t that interesting. Obviously, if you are the boss and you need to direct someone on a project, you’ll need to corral the conversation and keep the discussion going. It might mean pausing and even directly asking — are you with me?
People who don’t really want to have a conversation will interrupt you often. It’s rude and even condescending, but at least they are giving you a “tell” that they want to table the discussion. Let’s say you are in sales and you are talking to a prospect. Interrupting is a way to control the conversation or even end it. It might be better to find someone who is more interested in what you have to say. This will lead to a better chance of finding a future customer.
4. Talking too fast
There are times when I’ve been known to talk fast, especially when I’m in a hurry. My normal speech delivery speed is more measured. I like to process what I’m saying. However, one
giveaway in any conversation for me is when I start talking faster. I’m trying to wrap up the conversation. You may notice this tendency in your conversations. If the other person starts
talking faster and faster, it’s a clue that things might be winding down.
5. No eye contact
Here’s a well-known body language clue that is a major giveaway. It’s important to realize why we even make eye contact in the first place. It’s a way to show undivided attention. What you are saying is worth our primary focus. (As humans, we have to work hard at this.) Not making eye contact is a way to signal that our primary focus is elsewhere. It’s also a sign that the person lacks confidence or is nervous, but in everyday conversations with people that are normally good at making eye contact, it’s a clear signal. Time to move on.