I’m the president of my neighborhood association. It’s sounds like an honor but its little like being the subdivision RA.
Our neighborhood is known for our garage sale. Every spring we host one of the largest garage sales in the county. Our neighborhood also operates a community pool. A few weeks ago we decided to use the garage sale to promote the community pool.
Standing in the Street
Using the garage sale to promote the pool was my idea – mostly because everyone else was smart enough to stay away from it. I had decided that while our neighborhood was hosting a 1,000 guests that I would stand in the street, outside our pool entrance, and try to entice passerbys to visit the pool. My goal was to convince these strangers to stop their rummaging long enough to tour our pool, and maybe purchase a pool membership.
There I stood, flyers in hand, next to a large sign reading “Pool Open House” greeting people as they walked by. I’m naturally friendly. I consider myself warm, gregarious, and nonthreatening, but a funny thing happens when you stand in a public space and try to talk to strangers – people start looking uncomfortable.
Don’t Look at Me!
How did I know they looked uncomfortable? Well first, some people refused to make eye contact. They’d see me. They’d see the sign and they’d look anywhere but my face. I suppose this is a by-product of our consumer culture, people are so afraid of being “sold” that they don’t want to engage anyone who looks like they may be trying to sell them something. I found this a bit ironic at a garage sale, which is entirely about buying, selling, and negotiating, but then again, I was promoting pool memberships, not second hand baby clothes and furniture. It’s important to know your audience’s priorities.
Of course even when people did make eye contact there were other signs of disinterest – immediately looking away, speeding up as they walked passed me, the subtle wave of a hand as if saying “no thanks”, or the rare person who actually said “no thanks.”
What Yes Looks Like
Like most sales situations I heard “no” more than I heard yes, but “yes” did happen. I could see a yes almost as clearly as a no. My yes-people would always make eye contact. They would slow their pace, and orient their bodies to face me. They’d usually come closer and smile. I often opened with a friendly joke or warm welcome as a way to gauge their receptiveness. Their reaction to my first few words were usually enough to tell me if they’d be willing to take the time to tour the pool.
Yes looked open. Body language is a physical reflection of our subconscious reality. If you can learn to read the cluster of cues, body language can provide insight into someone’s state of mind. There are many cues to consider, but fundamentally, body language can be broken down into two types of gestures: open and closed.
Open body language indicates comfort, honesty, and relaxation. These gestures emerge when we feel comfortable, engaged, and safe. Closed gestures indicate insecurity, discomfort, and deception. These gestures present themselves when we feel unsafe.
Look for the Clusters
It is important to note that you can’t look for just one gesture when interpreting body language. Body language works a little like words in a sentence, an indvidual word can be powerful but it makes more sense when placed in context with other words. Just as we need a few words to make a complete sentence, we must look for at least 2 – 3 cues working in conjunction to provide us a clearer understanding body language.
Would you like to learn more about open and closed gestures? Are you curious about how to identify clusters? Are you interested in learning how to better understand the cues others are giving?
If you want to learn more about body language, check out “What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed Reading People“, by Joe Navarro.[hr toTop=”false” /]
About the author:
Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways. Learn more about Mitch »