Throughout human civilization, the art of selling ideas or products has been a cornerstone of society. Some people have become masters at this art, yielding themselves and their companies, large amounts of profit. Why is it that some people are better at this than others? This paper will take a look at the various aspects of nonverbal communication in selling (or influencing others to buy) and in job interviews by examining in detail the various aspects of proximics, haptics, physical attractiveness, and other nonverbal cues that influence people to say yes.
Artifacts and local environment
Several studies have presented evidence in support of the theory that “dressing for success” affects one’s ability to influence other people. One study found that people dressed in suits versus people dressed in casual or working-class clothes actually affects a subject’s likelihood of answering a question correctly. In this study, a person dressed in a suit had a 77% percent chance of getting money returned to them, while those dressed casually or in working outfits had a 38% chance (Bickman, 1971). This study suggests that a person’s status affects how well they are received by the person they are trying to influence, and thus their likelihood of being able to influence them into buying an idea or product.
Seating arrangements can affect one’s ability to influence others. Seating arrangements that are closer to one another have a greater effect and lead to a less hostile environment than when people are seated opposite of one another (Sommer, 1967). Sommer found that when a relationship is of a competitive nature (i.e. bargaining situations such as labor contract agreements) there is a preference for this style of seating because it “reflects a desire to obtain information about one’s competitor.” Another study suggested round tables help to “increase informality and feelings of closeness in comparision to square or rectangular tables” (Sommer, 1965). Dawson (1986) suggested having the members of the negotiation dispersed, that is, have intermixing the opposing members together helps smooth over negotiations.
Placing artifacts in the negotiating environment can have affects on the negotiation. A flower, vase, or abstract artwork have a tendency to promote informality and affiliative behavior while books and magazines placed in the environment discourage these processes (Mehrabian, 1971).
Voice and Tone
Voices have a significant persuasive affect. A study by Mehrabian and Williams (1969) suggested that there are four nonverbal cues of voice that have a persuasive effect. These are: having a louder amplitude, having a greater intonation, having greater fluency in speech, and having a faster tempo during speaking. Another study showed that when one has a louder and more fluent voice they were more likely to get a favorable decision on a job interview or in a legal battle (Hollandsworth et al., 1979). Faster tempos have a more persuasive affect by exhibiting expertise and competence (Buller, 1986). But, there is a limit. Speaking tempos greater than 375 syllables per minute decrease their persuasive affect with faster tempos exhibiting greater and greater levels of loss of persuasiveness.
Physical appearance has several manners in which it can help or hinder the outcome of a negotiation. Raw physical attractiveness, one’s innate or genetic attractiveness, has been shown to dramatically affect the attentiveness of an audience. One study did an experiment with a woman, first she was dressed to look unattractive, and then she was dressed attractively. The study showed that among male audience members her ability to influence them varied with how well she dressed. When she was dressed well, she was seen as more persuasive than when she was dressed unattractively (Mills & Aronson, 1965). Another study between a middle aged male professor and a younger attractive male undergraduate yielded some interesting results. The study showed that among a female audience, the young male was seen as persuasive with or without evidence to support his theories; whereas, the male professor was only seen persuasive with evidence (Norman, 1976). All of these studies suggest that the persuasive affect of attractiveness is most significant with the opposite sex. That is, the persuasive effect of attractiveness only works when the audience members being influenced are not of the same sex as the speaker. Why is this so? Bettinghaus and Code (1987) offer this answer: “Attractive sources influence us because of their attractiveness, not because of message content. That is, since we identify with, and desire approval from, attractive sources, we respond to them, not the messages).”
Listening and Silence
Listening (or silence) is another key and often under-rated aspect of effective nonverbal behavior. While most people think they know how to listen, few can do it well (Churchman, 1993). One cliche concerning listenings said, “You can’t lose a negotiation while the opponent is talking.” Interrupting an opponent or cutting them off during speaking tend to have a negative effect during negotiations (Chuchman, 1993). Silence is also an important characteristics during successful negotiations. Hopkins suggests during the closing aspect of selling it is important to be silent and resist any temptation to speak after asking a closing question. Getting someone to listen to an idea or information about a product is often difficult. A study by Doby (1970) showed that it is easier to motivate people to listen to the ideas presented when the person feels like he/she does not know enough about it.
Proximics and Haptics
While persuasiveness varies with distance for speakers of large audiences, there are some general trends for selling and negotiations. Distance between individuals are divided into zones: intimate zone, social zone, etc. For the sake of negotiations, a distance of 1 1/2 to 3 feet is best (Baron, 1976). Another study found that during an interview, a close proximity gives someone a greater likelihood of getting hired versus being further away. This is due to a greater feeling of warmth and enthusiasm that is portrayed during the interview (Imada, 1977).
A person’s body position can also affect how well one’s ideas are perceived. Leaning forward or having a “more direct body orientation” can lead to greater persuasiveness (LaCross, 1975). Another study showed that having an open body position allows for ideas to be evaluated in a more positive manner versus having a closed body position (McGinley, 1975).
Touch or haptics is another nonverbal cue that can play a role is successful negotiating. A light touch on the arm during a presentation. Various studies have shown that a person becomes more willing to “sign petitions or complete questionnaires, to assist with scoring inventories, and to help an interviewer pick up dropped questionnaires” (Crusco, 1984). Hence, the shaking of hands at the beginning of a business meeting to facilitate good will and cooperation (Dawson, 1986).
The role of nonverbal communication within business meetings should not be over-rated. Nonverbal behavior does play a role and can help with success in negotiations, but is not the be all, end all to negotiating successfully. However, being aware of violating someone’s personal zone or knowing when to be quiet is as important as knowing what to say. In general, more successful persuaders were found to be smiling, nodding, and gesturing at appropiate moments during a business meeting or job interview (Edinger, 1983). What is important to remember is to know when to use these various cues to your advantage, and to know not to overuse them. Specific research in this field was difficult to find, and more research is needed before greater and more detailed conclusions can be drawn.
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