The Art of Reading Body Language

If the words your prospects are saying are all you “hear” when you meet with them, then you aren’t listening very well. That’s because more of what a client communicates will come in the form of nonverbal communication (aka body language) than in the sentences they’re aiming at you.

There is an art to reading body language, and if you hope to be a top-tier insurance agent, then you need to learn it. But before we get into that, here are some typical forms of body language that you will see along with a brief explanation of what each COULD mean.

(More on that COULD in a bit.)

Direct eye contact: conveys interest or engagement with what you’re having to say.

  • Too much eye contact: appears threatening or like there could be a potentially unhealthy power play at work.
    Blinking: excessive could mean not trustworthy.
  • Squinting: distress, anger, or disagreement.
  • A look up: weighing options or the logic/emotional elements of something; contemplating.
  • Toe tapping: nervousness.
  • Proximity: the level of comfort a person feels with you; if they stand too far away it could mean discomfort; if they stand too close, they could be threatening.
  • A tilted head: questioning.
  • Slight shaking of head: “I don’t buy it.”
  • Head nods: agreement.
  • Chin strokes: considering.
  • Nose rub: distrust.
  • Crossed arms: closed off to what you are saying.

Now that you have some idea of the types of behaviors that a prospect may exhibit when meeting with you to discuss a policy or coverage limit, here’s how you can make the art of reading body language work to your advantage.

1. Place the body language signal in context.

Not every body language signal will come with the same meeting. The examples listed above only scratch the surface of what each individual action could mean in a different context.

For example, let’s take the signal of proximity. If you stand too close to someone, it could certainly be perceived as threatening provided you barely know one another. But what if the person coming to your office is a longtime friend, who has finally decided to leave his current insurer and throw business your way? You might find yourself standing or sitting a closer-than-usual distance apart simply because you’re fond of each other. That’s quite different than threatening, don’t you think?

2. Make considerations for human complexity.

It is rare that we human beings do things in a one-dimensional way. Perhaps it would be easier if that wasn’t the case, but it is, and there’s no getting around it. What that means for you is that you need to be mindful of multiple signals being thrown your way at once.

For example, going back to the list, you have a client that crosses his arms and strokes his chin as you are telling him something. If you simply took the meanings as they are laid out above and combined them, you could be thinking as follows: “The guy is crossing his arms, so he must be closed off to what I’m telling him. Since he’s also stroking his chin, that must mean he’s considering how to tell me he doesn’t want to do business with me.” Here’s the problem with that: the crossed arms could simply be a comfortable position for him when he strokes his chin. What he may be considering is how your plan stacks up to the one he currently has — not a bad sign at all.

3. Stay flexible.

No. 2 raises an important point in the art of reading body language. Just because two clear signals are present, that does not mean they both mean what they typically mean in those scenarios. The key is in noticing the dominant gesture and staying flexible with your interpretations.

For example, a person makes direct eye contact through much of your presentation, but they are also tilting their head a lot. While the bullet points we’ve given above might make you think the eye contact means they’re eager to buy, that may not be the case if the tilted head is dominant simply because they may be confused by what you’re saying. The eye contact is there to help them try and make sense of what you’re saying, but the dominant gesture — the tilted head — shows you’re not getting through. Being flexible with how you interpret each gesture will allow you to sort through the possibilities and approach difficult subjects from another angle.

4. Be mindful of body language even when dealing with clients and prospects who aren’t in person.

It may not be possible to read all of a client or prospect’s body language if they’re not there in front of you, but becoming skilled at the art of reading it will help you decipher certain behaviors that occur through other modes of communication.

For example, the more you communicate with a client via email and pick up on some of their written communication patterns, the more you can visualize them as if they are sitting right there in your office. Are their words and phrases and response times sending a signal that they are eager to work with you, or do they seem to be looking for a way out? By being able to tell these cues in person, you will often be able to judge email, phone, and other methods of communication in a more accurate manner.

In Summary

As you meet new prospects, make extra sure that you’re paying attention to those nonverbal cues. And if you don’t know where to start, here’s one final tip: focus on one area of the body per day. You’re going to set up a lot of meetings, right? Well, each day focus on just eye contact or just hand and arm gestures or just body movements. By the time you work through each of the body language reaction centers, you’ll become a master in learning what to watch out for.

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