Body Language – silent communication that speaks volumes

Written by: James White

Becoming a sales expert is all about knowing your audience. In part, this means listening to the type of language they use in conversation with you. But critically, knowing your audience is knowing the unspoken language that they communicate with. Taken from Mehrabian’s 1970’s Communication Model, it’s understood that just 7 percent of successful communication comes in the words we verbalise, while a mighty 93 percent is how we deliver and package those words with our tone of voice and body language.

Understanding the human psychology behind body signals and gestures is how we unlock the key to becoming sales experts. I want you to not only hear the words, but to be alert to the visual signs and subtle personality complications that tell us how to approach and handle conversation in the best way. 

Perhaps you have found yourself here because a sales pitch recently didn’t go to plan. A prospective client who you had assumed was interested and likely to make a sale with you ended up declining your service. Not only was your time wasted, but you feel disappointed and confused.

In this article, we explore body language signs, looking at how you can interpret them to respond accordingly and communicate more effectively with prospective clients, optimising your sales pitch. Knowing how to read postures, gestures and movements can reveal people’s true attitudes and feelings, completing the message they intend to convey.

It may seem a daunting task to spot and respond to nonverbal signals while negotiating a complicated verbal interaction with someone, but just remember that you have subconsciously been reading these body language cues your whole life.  The only difference now is that you are consciously registering these signals to allow them to guide you through the pitch and ensure a successful outcome. We want your success in sales to be the opposite of the British weather- predictable and pleasant. So, stick around and I’ll show you how.


Eyes are the window to the soul, but they are also the window to sales success. The length of time that someone holds your gaze can be a great measure of how they are truly feeling. Generally, people tend to hold their gaze longer and more frequently with people they are drawn to. A person might try to come across uninterested, but their eyes will keep returning to something that attracts them.

Similarly, dilated pupils or widening eyes show definite attention. According to research, it’s best to keep eye contact between 60% and 70% of the time when building rapport.

Making eye contact just 30% of the time has been shown to significantly increase what people remember you say.

 If you are noticing eye contact avoidance then it’s likely that the client is either distracted or in disagreement. Similarly, if they gaze aimlessly past you, they are probably restless or even bored. It’s critical at this point that you rebuild the client’s interest to keep them engaged. Try saying…

‘Are we covering the key points that are of value to you?’


‘Would it help to grab a comfort break & allow everyone to get refreshed before we carry on?’

Eyes that narrow often show that the subject is finding something you have said either problematic or troubling. Surprisingly, there is also extensive research that suggests pupil size is a great visual marker of people’s emotional response. As a subconscious response, pupil dilatation is a great way to determine someone’s true feelings in that moment. Typically, constricted pupils show disengagement and cognitive difficulty, while dilated pupils are a sign that someone is feeling positively about the discussion.

Rubbing of the eyes, otherwise called a visual reset, communicates that someone is struggling with a situation that’s stressful. They are looking to show that discomfort in some visual manner. In the work I have done, when these disengagement signals appear, it’s a great opportunity to say something like…

‘I really want to make sure what we are providing here is solutions to help you get rid of any issues you’re experiencing.’


‘I know this can cause stress for lots of businesspeople like yourself, wouldn’t it make sense for us to look for a solution that helps you resolve these?’

Disengagement signs are a great opportunity for you to offer your services as a solution to the client’s discomfort. They are your cue to adjust your sales tactics and keep the pitch interesting. Keeping the prospective client’s attention is your primary goal to scoring a sales win. Don’t ignore the signs, be vigilant, be reactive, be successful.


A general rule of thumb in sales is the more open the customer’s body language, the more receptive they are to the sales process. Always keep an eye out for expansive and welcoming gestures that seem to occur naturally. When someone moves and reaches toward you or uses predominantly open-hand gestures, we can assume their positive interest. By contrast, people will often use protective body gestures such as crossing their arms or clenching their fists to express anger or discomfort. It’s important you stay alert through the whole sales process and look for any changes in hand and arm signals. If your client began the meeting with their hands openly resting on the table, but then withdraw them to under the table, you can assume there has been a negative change in tune.

Our hands are also a major player in the body language of anxiety. If someone leaves their hands in plain view, this is historically a sign of peace, amicability, and agreement. Like their hands, the client has nothing to hide, is calm, and is receptive to new thoughts and ideas. Unsurprisingly then, when someone hides their hands, they are mistrustful, afraid, and wish to express some level of reservation. A client might hide their hands in pockets, under the table, behind their back, etc.

Though it may seem obvious, the crossing of the arms is an age-old sign of defence. If you see this, your prospective client is likely protecting themselves and perhaps even projecting some anger or anxiety. So, you’re at a sales pitch and you see this sign and you think ‘what do I do now?’ Rather than keep on with the sales pitch, it may be time to change the direction. You might want to ask questions such as…

‘Hey, am I covering the key issues you wanted me to today?’


‘I’m keen to ensure this is a great use of your time, tell me more about how you’re feeling?’

Keep your palms open and your body language warm and receptive to encourage them to be open and honest. Ultimately, you are trying to break down the barrier that those crossed arms are creating between you and a positive rapport developing. Whether it’s a lack of trust or they are feeling anxious, you should take this opportunity to adjust your tone. Be empathetic, engage with and understand them. Ask them leading questions to show your interest in them and the work they do. Reassure them…

‘This sounds like an area that could be of some use to you, so let me suggest how we can put a plan together that can help you get those results.’

You are looking to diffuse the situation, and the crossed arm response to really get through to the customer and settle their anxieties. So remember, if you see the arms crossed think about what this is signalling and what you can do to get that person feeling better and more willing to engage in meaningful conversation.


If your mouth hasn’t said it, your face definitely will. We use facial cues every day to express how we truly feel, and in sales, knowing how someone truly feels is key to refining your approach.  In the many years I have been doing this, a facial cue that surfaces often is the head tilting to one side. This is a signal that you may not have picked up on before but is a great one to look out for. As one of the most vulnerable parts of the body, the neck is used in this case to show someone is listening, prepared to look at something differently and try something new.

Head tilting communicates a sense of openness about the subject, a receptiveness to new thoughts and ideas.

As a salesperson, this signal is your cue to follow in on the conversation, suggesting some form of positive progression for the meeting. For example, you might ask…

‘This sounds like an area that could be of some use to you, so let me suggest how we can put a plan together that can help you get those results.’

Don’t ignore the signal. When someone is being open and trying to share some information with you, it’s your chance to find out more, probe about what’s going on in their world and what’s behind their thinking process. Used in the right way, you could use a chance like this to find out more about the client’s challenges/desires and utilise that in your sales conversations to move the business opportunity forward and make a great success of the meeting.

During any sales pitch, some of the most informative body language signals to monitor are disengagement behaviours. These can show defensiveness, disagreement, and even hostility.

If you notice the client rubbing their neck, this often indicates insecurity or even feelings of stress and anxiety. Something is off, and as a salesperson, it’s your job to first find the reason behind this and then to rectify the situation. By asking questions like…

‘I’m sensing that this may not be quite right for you, tell me what you’re thinking?’

You should reassure the client that this is a safe space for them to communicate how they are truly feeling. The salespeople that choose to ignore these disengagement signs often then proceed with proposals and continue to invest time, work and effort where it’s actually unwanted.  Remember, be aware, be cognizant, be sensitive. Subtly adjust your actions to resolve the problem for that person and always work to create a space where they are open to doing business.

Rubbing of the ear also often links to feelings of stress where the recipient is rejecting information they have just received, or perhaps even regretting something they have said in the meeting.  They are likely in need of some reassurance and that is what you should give to them. Make them feel more comfortable so that you can positively move the conversation forward. Try saying…  

‘Whatever we’re discussing here is really between us and we want to help you solve these issues, so let’s talk about how we do that for you.’

Lastly, lets discuss the fake smile. A facial cue that’s always a joy to see is the relaxed facial expression that breaks out into a genuine smile – with eyes wrinkled and cheeks bones high. A fake smile is something else entirely.  Generally, when a smile lasts longer than 4 seconds or shorter than 2/3 of a second, this is an indication that it’s disingenuous. If you take this signal no deeper than surface level, you may potentially think of it as a positive sign when in fact it should be the opposite.

It may be time for you to enquire into how the client feels with the direction of the meeting thus far. Perhaps use a question like…

‘What are your thoughts on what we have just discussed?

Be honest with me, I don’t want to waste your time.’

Their fake smile is likely an attempt to appease you as a salesperson, so don’t be fooled. A smile is a great disguise for someone who is feeling very differently inside. Often a genuine smile will be paired with a nod as you speak. This is how the client shows you they are not only in agreement, but they follow you and the progression of your ideas. Aside from the fake smile, other disagreement cues to look out for are a furrowed or lowered brow, pursed lips, clenched jaw, and slight tilting of the head away from you to cause side eye contact.  These are all typical facial signals that we are familiar with, but don’t be complacent. Act quickly to redirect the meeting in a positive direction.


Personal space is another communicative tactic to look out for. When someone agrees with you, they tend to lean more toward you and take up more space. Unsurprisingly then, when they draw away to create a greater space between you, they are showing some level of uncertainty or disagreement. Similarly, when someone turns to face their upper body away from you, they have likely lost interest or are intending to show their disagreement. They are, in other words, giving you the cold shoulder. Full interest and engagement can be reflected in a client’s effort to face their torso directly towards you. This bold, frontal stance should be positive reinforcement that you have their undivided attention.

If the client begins to mirror your behaviour and gestures, you can assume that you have made a positive connection. In this case you should keep a firm eye on their orientation, moving slightly to see if they follow.  Mirroring behaviour is a way of expressing agreement with someone, so take this as a cue to keep on as you are. Maintain their interest, and you should have yourself a deal.

Their fake smile is likely an attempt to appease you as a salesperson, so don’t be fooled. A smile is a great disguise for someone who is feeling very differently inside. Often a genuine smile will be paired with a nod as you speak. This is how the client shows you they are not only in agreement, but they follow you and the progression of your ideas. Aside from the fake smile, other disagreement cues to look out for are a furrowed or lowered brow, pursed lips, clenched jaw, and slight tilting of the head away from you to cause side eye contact.  These are all typical facial signals that we are familiar with, but don’t be complacent. Act quickly to redirect the meeting in a positive direction.


Now I know what you’re thinking. We’re discussing feet? In a sales advice blog? But hey, communication happens at your heads, shoulders, knees and well…toes. Interestingly our feet fall into one of the major indicators of the fight or flight survival response we have to difficult situations, responding faster than our conscious thought.  So, by noticing people’s feet, we can be made aware of their immediate thoughts and feelings.

If you find that the client’s feet are crossed tightly and pulled up away from you or wrapped round the chair legs, you can assume some level of withdrawal or discomfort. A more positive response would be when their feet are stretched out towards you. This open gesture implies the client too is open to discussion.

A high-energy sign to look out for is relentless leg and feet tapping, which is likely an anxiety response that shows some level of heightened anticipation. This is often paired with other constant, compulsive movements such as lip biting and hand fidgeting- again showing discomfort and restlessness.  

one will be positively open to doing business with you when their heart is racing faster than their mind can keep up with. It’s critical that at this point you should look to comfort, reassure ad calm the client. Find out the root of their nervousness and try to offer them some resolve. Why don’t you try asking…

‘I want to remind you that this is a conversation that should benefit the two of us. I’m sensing that something may not be sitting right with you, how can I help you in some way resolve this?’


As salespeople we are always looking out for ways to optimise our approach.  Whether you want to enhance the customer’s experience, increase sales, or build loyalty, knowing how to comprehensively read your customer is key to achieving business success. Think of body language as another notch on your belt to tighten your performance and make your time more productive.

Nonverbal signs and signals tell us as businesspeople when it’s time to open up that conversation, or maybe even close it down. No one wants to be chasing dead-end business opportunities that expend time, energy, and effort where it’s not wanted. Your time is your most precious asset as a business owner, so protect it.

Sales is a craft, and if you are to master it you must be passionate, be responsive and take ownership. When you become an expert in the science of people and how they operate, you will unlock the key to winning business. Be observant without giving yourself away and always trust your gut, it knows what your head hasn’t figured out yet.

And remember, you are a novice at this. Humans have been successfully reading body language since the start of their existence. The best salespeople have simply turned this survival tactic into a successful business device.

Publish date: 6 October 2022

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