Body language can speak more strongly than words. Make sure you say the right things with it.In 1961, when Joe Navarro was 8, the Bay of Pigs invasion happened six miles from his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and his family fled to Miami. The boy knew no English, so he relied on careful observation of his peers, neighbors and teachers to figure out how things were done in his new country.
That close reading of nonverbal clues turned into a lifelong pursuit. Navarro, 56, worked for 25 years as a counterintelligence special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and since 2003 he has been a consultant to the Energy and State Departments and the Institute for Defense Analysis, in Washington. His latest book, Louder Than Words: Take Your Career from Average to Exceptional with the Hidden Power of Nonverbal Intelligence, applies all his knowledge to the business world. Navarro believes that fluency in nonverbal communication can be as powerful a tool as masterful negotiating techniques or expert salesmanship. The starting point, he says, is what he calls "personal curbside appeal." Project yourself as a confident, welcoming person, and your clients, colleagues and bosses will be attracted to you, keen on doing business with you and on promoting you within your organization.
Curbside appeal has several components, starting with looks. Tidy, neat, conservative clothes are preferable, Navarro says. A good rule of thumb: mirror, don't shock. "Observe how upper management dresses, and follow their lead," he advises. "Casualness can kill credibility." Unless, that is, you work in a place where the top brass wear jeans and polo shirts, like, say, CBS Studios in Hollywood, where Navarro recently discovered he was the only person in a suit.
Even when the dress code is jeans, make sure they are not ripped or stained. Not only will trim clothes impress others; they will help you do a better job, Navarro maintains. "What we wear shapes our behavior and prepares our body and mind for what we need to do," he writes. "In the workplace, you put on the attire of a warrior for business, and that's your persona." One thing he insists on is polished shoes, in good repair. "Men often wear scuffed or worn-down shoes that subvert the effort they spent on the rest of their appearance," he writes.Gestures go a long way in conveying your personal message. One of the most appealing: Stand with your head slightly tilted and your hands clasped, and with a smile and a gaze that meets the other person's. The head tilt exposes the neck and says, "I am listening, I am comfortable, I am receptive," Navarro says. By contrast, if you touch your neck or cover the dimple at the base of it, you're saying you are uncomfortable, insecure or concerned.Sit back comfortably in a chair, with your hands interlaced behind your head, and you project control and dominance. But it can be a little much, too. In a meeting avoid it, unless you're the senior person there.
Steepling your hands means you are strongly confident in the message you are about to deliver. Also, aiming your thumbs up conveys a sense of confidence. Navarro likes it when fingers are interlaced and thumbs are aimed up. Hiding your thumbs--in your pockets, say--gives the impression you are insecure.
Navarro also stresses the importance of making a strong, positive impression on first meeting. This involves blending all his tips and putting them into action. The well-dressed, tidy employee or boss makes eye contact, smiles, gets up from behind his or her desk, approaches the guest either from a slight angle (men prefer this) or directly (which women like better) and extends a hand to shake in what Navarro describes as "a firm but easy grip, lasting a few seconds." Avoid the overly tight squeeze, the pump or any wrist torque, he advises.
FBI agents devote a lot of energy to establishing rapport with people, Navarro says. When he left the bureau six years ago, he was stunned to discover how many business people were clueless about forging effective nonverbal connections. "I wrote the book to give people that nonverbal edge," he says.