7 Non-Verbal Cues and What They (Probably) Mean

Body language experts translate common gestures into business vernacular.
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This story appears in the May 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We asked body language experts to translate some common gestures into business vernacular.

  • Crossed arms: A closed-off posture implies resistance. "People might just be cold, but the stereotype is that they aren't listening," explains Ronald Riggio, director of the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College.
  • A brief touch to the hand: This captures your attention and forms a quick connection. But toward employees, make sure the action doesn't appear condescending.
  • Check This Out:

    To learn what facial expressions tell you -- and what they don't -- visit entrepreneur.com/shortcuts.
    A nose rub: This motion is often linked with deception. If you notice people doing this while you talk, you could be coming across as disingenuous.
  • A barrier: Personal space is sacred in Western business culture, so back off if clients put up a barrier, like a purse, says Carol Kinsey Goman, president of Kinsey Consulting Services. "I've seen managers and salespeople who didn't pick up on that cue and lost the deal."
  • A hand placed under the chin: When you see this, a decision is being made. Don't oversell if someone looks interested afterward, but if you spot negative signals, bring up your second-best idea--stat.
  • Feet pointed toward the door: The feet are the most honest part of the body, so no matter how mesmerized people seem to be, this proves they're actually over it.
  • A back-of-the-neck scratch: Your client might have an itch, but it could mean he still has questions and concerns.
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