During a business meeting, if someone is crossing their arms does this mean they are shutting you out or they are not buying into what you are saying?

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Experts themselves have different philosophies on the nuances of nonverbal communication. And although this is a very complex subject matter, let me simplify it for you so that you learn how to be more effective during a business meeting.

There are three ways that you can communicate with your body and each are considered critical aspects of the total communication process: a nonverbal cue, a gesture, and emblems.

A nonverbal cue refers to how you move or position various parts of the body. A nonverbal cue cannot be interpreted as one complete message. Although it has its influence, it cannot act alone. For example, if someone is crossing their arms while you are speaking with them, does that mean they are shutting you out? Well it depends on the other nonverbal cues they are giving.

Are they leaning back a bit, while giving you a strange look as if your breath is bad? Or are they leaning a bit forward, while at the same time tilting their head ever so slightly toward you as to say, “I am interested in what you have to say, please continue.” Can you see the difference?

Gestures and emblems (another form of body language) have a very different impact on what is being communicated. Gestures are usually accompanied with verbal comments to reinforce the spoken words. For example, someone holding the door open for you while your hands are full of groceries is a nice gesture. It is a way of saying, “Let me help you.” Or someone might gesture you where to sit for the meeting by using their hand to direct you in the chair, while they say, “please, have a seat”.

Emblems usually communicate a complete message without needing words to get the message across. The “A-okay” symbol or the “thumbs-up” symbol gives you a complete message without words needing to be spoken. I do not even have to tell you how they are made because of their universal language. I would avoid them. They tend to be more for casual or group conversation, not for something serious as most business meetings, especially for those of you just entering the workforce. You need to appear as professional and polished as possible and emblems are not part of that profile.

So how does this help you in a business meeting? Quite a bit actually. First, if answering questions during a meeting, the other person’s body language may tell you if they like what they are hearing. When you sense they do not approve with their nonverbal cues that is an indication it is time to shift your position, change your approach, or clarify your point on the subject.

You should learn how to effectively use gestures to emphasize the verbal content of your message. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. For example, you might explain to someone that you developed a chip so small that it can fit on the nail of your index finger. If from the excitement of your design, you spread your hands wide in front of you, as opposed to showing the size of your fingernail; they “heard” the size of a large beach ball, not the size of a fingernail. Get the picture?

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