Our Blog: The Podium

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.

Subscribe to our weekly email: Investor Relations Around the Web

Investor Presentation, Interviews, Investor Day, Investor Meetings, Presentation Training, NIRI, Media Relations, Shareholder Communications, Roadshow Planning, Investor Relations

Subscribe to The Podium!

Connect with your Investors

Establish a sincere connection with investors to communicate key messages during your Investor Day. Download our free e-book on effective presentation habits, and learn to deliver ideas with confidence and clarity.

Delivering Effective Presentations

When it's time for a change

Whether planned or sudden, it is crucial to communicate the succession of high-profile positions effectively. Download our three-part e-book and learn the best way to craft a plan for CEO, CFO and Board of Directors transitions.

Download Your Free eBook: Communicating Management Transitions 

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

With our new Proxy GamePlan, we create a year-round, data-driven strategic roadmap for effective shareholder engagement. Implement a best-in-class program rooted in a deep understanding of your company’s proxy practices, shareholder voting trends and peer landscape.

Learn More About Proxy GamePlan

Find Effective IR Counsel

Whether you’re seeking external IR counsel for the first time or evaluating your current provider, you need a firm that understands your strategy, adapts to your culture and tells your story. Download our free guide on how to assess the effectiveness of an investor relations firm.

How to Assess  an IR Firm

Activism Defense

No company is immune to shareholder activism. Sharon Merrill helps boards of directors and executive management teams identify the activist red flags lurking in your shareholder base, assess your governance risks and develop an action plan to prevent, detect and neutralize any threats. Download our free white paper, “Leveraging Institutional Shareholder Relationships to Reduce Activism Risk,” and learn how the best defense against activism is a strong offense.

Download Activist Defense White Paper

Captivate your Audience

Speaking persuasively is critical in today’s competitive business environment. Effective speakers use voice techniques and body language that project authority and credibility. Download our free e-book, “A Guide to Delivering Captivating Presentations,” for insight into good -and bad- presentation habits, and learn how to improve your skills.

Become a Persuasive Speaker 

Perceptions Matter

How do you ensure that investors clearly understand your strategy, growth drivers and market position? The most effective way is through a perception study. By periodically taking the investment community’s pulse you can avoid the knowledge gaps and misperceptions that hurt valuation. Download our free whitepaper, Why Perceptions Matter, to learn more.

Download your free copy of  'Why Perceptions Matter' 

Common Topics:

More topics