Understanding body language, both your own and that of others, can help you negotiate more effectively on each side of a transaction.

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My chair made that loud and distinct noise that only leather does as I adjusted my position. I had been sitting for a while, attentively listening to a patient tell me about what’s been going on in his life since our last session, but despite him sharing what seemed like every possible detail, I knew he was leaving something important out.

How did I know?

Well, this may sound hokey, but I knew he was leaving something out because of his body language. It just didn’t line up with what he was saying, so I instinctively knew something was off.

What most people don’t realize is that while we may have mastered the ability to tell a carefully curated story with our words, our subconscious mind will almost always tell the real story through subtle cues presented in our body language. This isn’t something that most people can hide.

You might see a highly-trained CIA operative align their body language with their omissions, misdirection and even outright lies, but the average person will almost always convey their true thoughts through their body language. This can provide tremendous insight to people who understand what to look for.

So why does this matter to you?

It matters because despite the fact that we’re still in a hot real estate market, closing a real estate transaction still requires proficiency in sales. The competition is fierce, so the better you can understand what a buyer or seller really wants, the more likely you are to close the deal in a way that’s favorable to you and your clients.

This gives you a powerful competitive advantage, which is always important, but could mean the difference between thriving or starving in the coming years because of market corrections, growing inflation and tightening credit requirements.

As we plow deeper into this new economy, skills that set you apart from your competitors will become more valuable than ever before.

Let’s unpack how to read others’ body language to get a better idea of what they’re really thinking, as well as how to use our own body language to build more trust and authority.

Always be authentic

When it comes to your own body language, it’s important to always be authentic. While you can try to fake it to appear more confident and authoritative, that rarely works if it’s not congruent with your subconscious.

That incongruence is almost always noticeable, at least on a subconscious level, so while people probably won’t think, “Hey, this guy is faking his confidence to get me to buy this house,” they almost always will feel that something isn’t quite right, and that creates doubt and uncertainty which can kill a deal.

So just be yourself. It will be easier to build trust and authority that way, and it will help you attract the right prospects and repel the wrong ones from the start.

The handshake

How someone shakes your hand can tell you a lot about them. For example, if they have a soft grip and make little to no eye contact, they may be submissive or afraid of conflict. This could be great for you if they’re on the other side of the potential transaction, but if they’re your client, it indicates that you may want to do most of the talking for them.

On the other hand, if they try to crush your bones, they are probably more assertive. In this case, it’s important to determine if they truly are, or if it’s just an act to compensate for insecurity. That nuance is crucial in determining exactly how to respond to them because you would approach each of those cases very differently.

Also, pay attention to how long they hold the handshake. If they hold it longer than most people tend to, you are likely dealing with someone who is more confident, and often, someone who values relationships and is more open and transparent in communications. When you are the one who holds longer, it can help to create a sense of intimacy, demonstrating that you’re safe and trustworthy.

Eye contact

Contrary to popular belief, more eye contact isn’t always better.

It’s important to meet others where they are. If they seem reluctant to match your eye contact, don’t try to force it. Otherwise you risk making them feel uncomfortable.

I know you’ve seen someone do exactly that, staring maniacally and not blinking the entire time. No one feels comfortable in situations like that, so don’t be that person.

Instead, pay attention to how much eye contact they make, and reciprocate with just slightly more. And don’t forget to blink.

Mirroring

If you want an easy way to quickly build trust and rapport, mirroring is going to become your new secret weapon.

Essentially, this is modeling some aspect of the other party’s body language or behavior. This might mean crossing your legs if they cross theirs, or putting your hand into your pocket if they put their hand in their pocket. But it’s important not to go overboard here — just do one thing they’re doing, and wait a little bit before modeling that behavior.

This is critical because if you instantly do everything they do, it’s going to look like a creepy version of Simon Says, and hurt your rapport with them.

Body language while showing a home

It’s generally best to be the first to walk through the door and then guide the buyer through the property when showing it rather than letting them wander aimlessly on their own. That positions you in a more authoritative role. It frames you as a guide or a trusted advisor instead of an order taker.

This makes you appear confident while also enabling you to frame the property and its benefits the way you want it to be framed which will give you more leverage when it comes time for them to make an offer. And when you’re the first one into a room, it also makes the buyer feel safer because there is nothing and no one in between them and the door. This is especially important if you’re a man showing a property to a woman.

While gesturing to point out a property’s features, I suggest using large arm movements with open palms facing upwards or towards the buyer. This is one of those things that may seem silly or even hokey, but the reality is that our subconscious is wired, from countless years of evolution, to perceive open palms as non-threatening because the person is not carrying a weapon or making a fist. The sense of ease this gesture fosters can make the buyer more open and receptive to negotiating.

And while talking to someone, try to face them with both feet pointing in their direction. When you’re facing away, particularly with your feet facing away, it creates a subconscious impression that you want to escape, which can make them less trusting of you.

Body language while at the closing table

There are two schools of thought when it comes to where you should sit at the closing table; sitting on the other side so as not to crowd the other party, or sitting on the same side to signify that you’re both on the same side working together to achieve a mutual win.

Here’s the thing — neither one is right or wrong.

Your decision here comes down to the other person. Sitting on the same side may create a subconscious impression that you’re both on the same “team” so to speak, but it could also make some people uncomfortable if they get anxious when they feel crowded. So you’ll have to pay attention to their personality and body language leading up to this point so you can make the right decision here.

It’s also important to make sure you’re not sitting higher than them. I’ve seen a lot of Realtors make the mistake of sitting on the edge of the table or desk, towering above someone who is sitting, as a power play.

More often than not, though, this causes the other party to start pushing back, and often, they don’t even consciously realize they’re doing it because it creates a perceived power imbalance, which mimics a predator/prey relationship, so they feel uneasy and fearful. This is the last thing you want while trying to close a real estate transaction.

When someone crosses their arms across their chest, it’s a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) cue that they’re closed off and unreceptive. When you see this, you’ll need to back up and work on getting them to open up and trust you. Otherwise, your efforts to close the deal will be met with resistance. We all know that the harder you push in cases like this, the more likely they will be to push back.

You’ll want to begin probing with gentle questions to get them talking in an effort to uncover what’s bothering them. The more they talk, the more you’ll learn about what’s driving their behavior. Getting them talking also makes them feel heard, which helps to get them over whatever is causing them to be unreceptive in the first place.

Body language is your secret to closing more deals

Body language, both yours and the other party’s, is critical for two reasons.

The first is that being able to read the body language of others provides valuable insight that will help you to close more deals more quickly, and often on terms that are more advantageous to you and your client.

The second reason is that it helps you to build trust and position yourself as an authority, which helps in the same ways. If you take the time to read and use it properly, you’ll have a powerful advantage over your competitors.

Dr. Christy Wise is a clinical psychologist and performance coach. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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