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Body language speaks volumes

HOW YOU talk is more important than what you talk. Even more important are your gestures, for, if psychologists are to be believed, more than half of the impact of a conversation depends on body language or non-verbal communication, which can make or break a deal.

As competition gets stiffer by the day, and corporates get more and more serious about their performance, they are investing like never before in making their executives conscious of their body language and sending across the right kind of vibes to help them sell ideas and clinch deals.

Helping them hone these skills are a battery of management consultants, institutions and individuals, who now organise on a regular basis such interactive sessions to teach the right body language and communication skills to not only company executives but aspiring candidates for interviews to blue chip companies and civil services.

``Nowadays it is a wide spectrum of companies wishing to hold workshops on presentations and communication skills for their employees,'' says Ms. Shalini Lal of Ma Foi Consultants, who organises up to five such two-day workshops in a month for corporates.

``No it is not a new concept, only consciousness about the concept and the realisation regarding its significance has increased and the response to it is new,'' observes Ms. Lal. ``Lots of companies are serious about their results, so whatever contributes towards buttressing the performance of the company and its performance is welcome,'' she says.

Mr. Navneet Dhawan, manager development, Crowne Plaza, a hotel, says, body language is among the vital signs of a conversation and an Indicator of its progress. ``A person may say `yes', `excellent' while commenting on a proposal, yet his body language could be such that it conveys a complete disinterest in the issue,'' says Mr. Dhawan explaining that at such a time, knowledge of body language could be helpful in conveying to the discussant the actual impact of his proposal and using a different kind of strategy or means for explaining his point.

For instance, a handshake can be soft, firm, brief, long or even painful. Aggressive people have firm handshakes, those with low self esteem often have a limp handshake while politicians typically cover the handshakes with the other hand, mentions Mr. Robert C. Brenner, in ``body language in business.'' ``Posture,'' says Mr. Brenner, ``is another aspect of body language. A slouch can suggest lack of interest or enthusiasm. Standing straight with weight balanced on each foot makes one look confident and relaxed.''

Says Ms. Lal, ``knowing how to read body language is a useful communication skill. So is knowing, how to use it.'' In an article on decoding body language on Internet, Mr. John Mole categorises two basic groups of body language postures: open/closed and forward/back. People with arms folded and legs crossed and bodies turned away signal that they are rejecting messages. ``People with open hands, fully facing you and both feet planted on the ground are accepting them.''

Forward/back indicates whether people are actively or passively reacting to communication. When they are leaning forward and pointing towards you, they are actively accepting or rejecting the message.

When they are leaning back, looking up at the ceiling, doodling on a pad, cleaning their glasses they are passively absorbing or ignoring it.

``These posture groups combine to create four basic modes: responsive, reflective, combative and fugitive,'' writes Mr. Mole.

But this very logical interpretation is easier said than noticed and needs skills to be interpreted to one's advantage observes Ms. Madhurima Bhatia, head public relations, NFO MBL, a brand tracking company.

Ms. Bhatia, who has been through a two-day workshop on the subject, notes that such exercises are veritable eye openers and help a great deal in improving mannerisms to one's advantage.

Citing in particular, one exercise in the workshop, she recalls how the participants are made to play roles which are video- played to explain the impact of body-language in on-going conversations.

``Even while making presentations, some very innocuous gestures could prove to put off some clients,'' explains Ms. Bhatia noting how repeated displays of subconscious actions work to spoil the show, despite the best of efforts and intent that has gone into its making.

In all this endeavour, gestures as also eye contact have an important role to play, says Mr. Dhawan, recalling how on the first day of the recent Agra summit, Pakistani president general Pervez Musharraf's gestures were observed minutely to interpret the signals and tone of the utterly confidential negotiations between the heads of the two countries.

Mr. Dhawan feels a conscious effort had been made on projecting the image of the Pakistani president, on his first visit to India, specially against the backdrop of Kargil. ``It's only a matter of time that more and more people and professions will take to understanding the significance of body language more seriously,'' he says.

Today, there are roughly about a thousand individual professionals in Delhi alone who are providing consultancy in body language and other communication skills, says Ms. Lal hazarding a conservative estimate.

A two day workshop for a batch of 20 costs between Rs. 65,000 and Rs. 70,000 ``minus the mandays of the employees,'' she says. But when the training translates into cash, the companies are not complaining.


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