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Don't Forget Non-Verbals When Working on Your Sales Communication Skills

Imagine your body has a straight vertical line running from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  We’ll call this your midline.

This table contrasts two body positions, one closed in around the midline and the other expansive and opening up from the midline.





Slightly bowed

Held high



Directly making eye contact



Thrust slightly forward and up


Rolled inward

Thrown back


Close to the body

Outreached, sweeping


Held close in, tops showing

Away from body, palms outward


Slightly bent forward

Drawn in by erect posture


Close together, nearly touching

Slightly apart, natural stance


Right together

Shoulder-width apart


Enclosed, protective around the body

Expansive, large gestures away from body


Stand up and try this. Adopt all the closed positions and see how it makes you feel. Exaggerate for affect. Then switch to all the open positions and compare how that makes you feel.

Did you do it?

Sales Communication SkillsNow imagine how you might react to another person who presented with all (or even some) of the closed positions. How would you respond to that individual? How would you perceive them in terms of their authority, confidence, trustworthiness, competence, and leadership capacity?

How about the person who demonstrated most or all of the open positions? How would you feel about that individual and what would you think about their capabilities?

Although it’s patently unfair to judge people by simple, outward body language, we do. Without even thinking about it, we make decisions about people based on little more than these first impressions.

In selling, what you project through your body language can dramatically influence how buyers perceive you, too.

The Bare Bones Basics of Non-Verbal Communication

 In addition to understanding what you’re projecting with your body language, it’s important to also build skills for reading your buyer’s non-verbals. We’ll cover that in a future post in the CONNECT2Sell Blog.   

Non-verbal communication includes:

  • Facial expressions
  • Body position and posture
  • Gestures and movements
  • Head position and movement (tilted, nodding, etc.)
  • Eye contact and eye movements
  • Touch and receptiveness to it
  • Distance when interacting with others
  • Audible sounds (sighs, throat clearing, etc.)
  • Physical signs of stress or emotion (sweaty palms, tensed muscles, clenched jaw)
  • Mannerisms (hair twirling, knuckle cracking, leg shaking)


As with any communication, the person receiving it will attempt to interpret it and add meaning. It may not mean anything at all when you fold your arms. Or it may mean that you’re cold. Others, however, tend to interpret crossed arms as self-protective and standoffish. Your awareness of how others will perceive you gives you control over the choices you make.

Everything you do, just like everything you say, can impact what your buyers will think of you. Their ability to trust you, accept what you’re saying, and move forward with you will be affected by your non-verbal cues.

What’s more, you body language also affects the way you see yourself. That’s why it’s so important to understand it and to take charge of it. In the open or closed body position exercise you just tried, you probably felt an instant surge of confidence and energy when you opened up your body position. You felt slightly better about yourself. This works in any situation! 

To learn more about the profound impact of body language, watch this TedTalk from Amy Cuddy, a top researcher in this field. 

How Body Language Enhances All Your Sales Communication Skills  

 Here are three specific ways that selecting appropriate body language can enhance your communication in sales.

Reinforce (or Undermine!) Your Message

Your body language and non-verbals should match and complement your spoken words and tone.

If you contradict yourself, your buyer will be confused and unable to trust you.

For example, we sometimes nod when we are excited and affirming an important point. Imagine what it would be like if, instead, someone shook their head “no” while saying things that were positive. The mismatch would set off alarm bells.

An incongruence in the spoken and unspoken messages you send will usually be more subtle than that. Even so, people are savvy at subconsciously picking up on these mixed messages. If you’re saying something you don’t fully believe, chances are that your body language is betraying you.  

When you use body language and non-verbals that match your words, you’re reinforcing and strengthening your message. That makes it more believable, and it makes you more credible.

Substitute for What’s Not Said

Sometimes we don’t (or can’t) say everything we’d like to. In these situations, our non-verbal signals substitute for the spoken word. A raised eyebrow, a quick inhalation, a shift in position, or an averted glance all have meaning.

Words alone won’t be as effective as words plus context provided by non-verbals. This is why it’s often more difficult to build relationships and advance sales by phone.

Emphasize Key Points

To accent or underscore the most important point you’re trying to make, add emphasis by inserting an appropriate gesture. Maintain eye contact when you want to compel attention to a question you’ve asked. Lean in when sharing something important. Convey emotion with your facial expressions.

This is not to suggest that you should manufacture extra body language or non-verbals. People read that, too, and you’ll come across as inauthentic. Your non-verbals should be a genuine expression of what you’re thinking and feeling. Your awareness of what you’re thinking and feeling is the best way to control your body language. You can, of course, make an effort to suppress negative body language. But don’t try to replace it with inauthentic fakery.  

As you develop this awareness regarding your own body language and how its influenced by your thoughts and feelings, you’ll also be developing an improved ability to read others’ body language more accurately.

That will give you yet another tool for enhancing your communication skills. Reading others helps you identify inconsistencies and probe what’s really going on. It will help you empathize and connect with others. And it will help you know when buyers are not serious about proceeding but are, instead, just trying to nicely get rid of you.

What to Do When You Feel Self-Conscious about Your Body Language or Presence

People notice your gestures and body language. The best way to move through self-consciousness about this is to develop confidence-inspiring body language. The open position described above is a good starting point. Additionally, avoid body language that people interpret as signs of weakness including:

  • Soothing self-touch like smoothing your own hair, covering your mouth, rubbing your arms, or grasping your hands in a closed position makes you seem protective and fearful.
  • Restlessness and fidgeting. Shifting frequently, tugging at your clothing, bouncing your leg, tapping your foot or fingers, or any other repetitive motion makes you seem insecure.
  • Hiding your hands in your pockets, in crossed arms, in your lap, or elsewhere looks like you have something to conceal.
  • Excessive nodding makes it seem that you’re rushed or overly agreeable. Either way, it may seem that you’re not receptive to deeper dialogue and/or that you’re unwilling to engage in an exchange of opinions.


Even when you’re not completely confident in sales, you have to create a situation where your buyer can be confident in you. Here are some tips for taking charge of your body language in authentic ways so that you can move through the initial awkwardness:

  • Master a firm handshake, delivered with a smile and eye contact.
  • Keep your shoulders back and chin up.
  • Widen your stance and take up more space.
  • Show your palms with open-handed gestures
  • Sit still and maintain composure
  • Focus mentally on ways you can help your buyer
  • Remember that your buyer wants to be liked and accepted, too!


All communication, including non-verbal, requires practice and focus. The more you are aware and the more you practice, the more natural and easier this will become. Use these simple tips to get started.

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Topics: soft skills for sales professionals, Sales Communication Skills

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