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How Do I Know You’re Lying? Your Body Told Me So.

5 Useful Tips for Reading Body Language in a Business Environment

By Dennis Walsh, Senior Consultant & Director of Social Media at Sharon Merrill

In business, people aren’t always completely honest. I know…stop the presses! As investor relations professionals, we are constantly playing a poker game with Wall Street. So how do you know if someone is not being completely truthful with you? Read their body language.

Nonverbal communication, or body language, often sends a different message from the spoken word. The way a person shakes hands, gestures while talking, or even crosses their legs, sends subtle but clear signals about the real meaning behind the message. Even a simple touch of the nose may indicate that a person is being untruthful.

Many Wall Street firms have hired body language experts to train analysts and portfolio managers to identify the nonverbal cues that executives give. So it’s beneficial for CEOs and CFOs to recognize these signals, to ensure they aren’t unwittingly conveying the wrong message.

NIRI Boston’s November educational session featured Jan Hargrave, an expert and author of several books on nonverbal communication, who provided many useful tips on how to interpret body language in a business setting. Hargrave has earned a solid reputation working with blue-chip clients, and has even been engaged as a body language expert for several high-profile court cases. She says that 55% of all communication is nonverbal; 38% is related to voice inflection; and only 7% comes from the spoken word. What’s more, there are 800 body language gestures given off during the span of the average conversation.

Here are 5 useful tips that we learned from Hargrave that you should watch for when analyzing an in-person meeting:

1. Use of the left hand is a key indicator that a lie is being told. Examples include scratching of the nose or left eye, tugging the left earlobe or covering the mouth. The use of the left hand is important because it is controlled by the right side of the brain, which is the “creative” side that is often used to create a story, rather than the left side, which is known to be the “logical” side of the brain.

2. A handshake says a mouthful. As we have been told many times before, a firm handshake indicates confidence. But do you know how many pumps are considered to be acceptable? It’s three. A limp handshake may indicate a lack of self-esteem. When someone places the free hand on your arm while shaking, they are indicating that they are fully committed to the introduction or conversation…think politician. Ever notice someone’s finger pointing toward you during the shake? They want the last word in the upcoming conversation.

3. Never cross your arms during a negotiation. It closes you off to the other individual. If the person you are negotiating with has their arms crossed, it is not a good sign for you. Offer them something to hold, like a printout or coffee, it opens them up. If you must, cross your arms with your fingers showing. This is perceived as more of a resting, or coaches, position.

4. Keep a steady tone to express confidence. Variations in voice inflection may indicate that a person is straying from the truth. When analyzing witness testimony, Hargrave’s research has shown the pitch in a person’s voice is often higher when telling a lie.

5. Body language can be positive as well. Palms facing upward indicate acceptance. If you use your hands while you speak, make note of the directions your palms are facing. You want the other person to feel you are welcoming their participation in the conversation. When the hands are in the “steeple” position, a person is indicating that they are positive and confident about what is being said. Careful though, if the steeple position follows several negative cues, the person may be confident in their rejection of your offer.

BONUS TIP: Women really can knock a guy’s socks off. According to Hargrave, when a man adjusts his socks in front of a woman, he is interested in her. A useful tip for those single IROs out there, I suppose.

In investor relations, anyone who represents the company should be a seasoned presenter. But in addition to what you say, it’s also critical to be aware of what your body is saying, too.

Dennis Walsh is Senior Consultant & Director of Social Media at Sharon Merrill. He counsels clients on a broad array of investor relations and corporate communications issues such as market research, competitive intelligence, earnings announcements, investor targeting, roadshow planning and social media.

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