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Investor's Business Daily
Follow The People Signs
Friday June 6, 5:36 pm ET
Sonja Carberry

Business leaders know how to read people -- and be read positively. Gain an edge by paying attention to these subtle cues:

Hand signals. The old thinking was that touching your hand to your mouth meant you were lying. Not necessarily so, says Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI agent and author of "What Every BODY Is Saying."

"Touching of the mouth -- that's a pacifier," he told IBD. "We use pacifiers to sort of calm us down for a variety of reasons."

The gesture can signal discomfort, not dishonesty.

"It can mean, 'I really don't like you going that route with your questions,'" Navarro said.

Jugular gestures. If you're selling a product to a couple and the husband is sitting forward showing obvious interest, but the wife is sitting back with her hand on her neck, turn your attention to the wife's concerns.

"She's not comfortable with what you're talking about," Navarro said. The hand to the neck is a primal response showing "protection of the most vulnerable area of your body."

The limb look. Cross your arms, and others will perceive you as being guarded or disinterested. Kevin Hogan, author of "The Secret Language of Business," advises that to clearly communicate confidence and ease, use a more open posture.

Eye power. If you want to show an interest or a liking of someone, "split your eye contact between the other person and looking down," Hogan told IBD.

Don't look to the side or around the room. By returning your gaze to the eyes after looking down, you send a powerful "I'm interested" message.

Danger points. Don't aim your finger at anyone, unless you have a big grin. "Pointing is a high-risk behavior," Hogan said, because it comes off as accusatory.

Fragrance fouls. Wearing perfume or cologne -- even the good stuff -- is a bad idea at work because of the mixed reviews you'll receive. Half will like your scent; the other half will think you reek. "Smell is so polarizing," Hogan said.

Involuntary reactions. Ever wonder why poker players wear sunglasses in dimly lit casinos? Marty Seldman, one of the authors of "Customer Tells," says top players shield their eyes because the pupils dilate when a person is delighted or surprised -- and it's the only bodily reaction that can't be controlled.

Individuality matters. Because other nonverbal cues are not ironclad, the best poker players watch their opponents for changes in demeanor. The same applies away from the poker table.

"Try to get a sense after a few minutes of what's normal for the person," Seldman said. A shift from the norm signals an important reaction. A prospect who talks with her hands, but suddenly becomes still, may be losing interest.

The last word. Don't ignore that little joke or sarcastic remark muttered at the end of a conversation. According to Seldman, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud showed that when people are torn between a desire to say something and fear of the reaction, "the way they resolve it is to make a joke," Seldman said. Give that throwaway comment extra weight.

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