Body Language

by Mary-Louise Angoujard

When things aren’t working well

We all find some people or situations easier to handle than others. Here are some general strategies – in the form of a five-step programme – for dealing with difficulties in communication.

  1. Maintain an open, curious mental state rather than a defensive one.
  2. On this basis, your body language will remain open rather than becoming closed or defensive. Signs of defensiveness or negativity when dealing with unexpected difficulties include stepping back, folding your arms in front of your body or withdrawing your hands, tenseness, over-serious and a closed facial expression. Avoid all of these, since the other party will subconsciously register them and their own defences will be raised!
  3. Maintain a neutral, interested facial expression. (A frown would make the other party feel defensive and a smile would seem fake, if it is obvious that things are not quite as they should be.)
  4. Keep your questions open – focus on inviting the person to talk about their perceptions so that you can understand the underlying reasons for the objection or issue at hand.
  5. Address the underlying reasons rather than focusing entirely on the objection or difficulty itself.

Visualise the following:

You are in a meeting with one of your company’s biggest, most important clients, who begins to voice serious displeasure about how their account is being handled. You are the only one present, so you must handle this situation by yourself for the moment.

Imagine yourself feeling calm, remaining both alert and interested, rather than afraid or defensive. Imagine considering this an opportunity to understand your client and provide better service, rather than an unpleasant or dangerous situation.

Because you are feeling calm rather than anxious or defensive, your body will remain relaxed, rather than go tense – and you will not be tempted to fold your arms or squirm nervously in your chair.

Now imagine yourself looking sincerely at the client and asking open questions about their complaints, listening attentively to the answers, perhaps asking follow-up questions, expressing concern over the incident and reassuring them with your words, voice tone and body language that not only is this important to you, but you will see that action is taken to resolve the issue.

What would that be like for you? What would it be like for the customer? How much more productive would this reaction be as opposed to a more defensive or other negative reaction?

Try using a similar approach the next time you are faced with a complaint or difficult situation – this could help turn it into an opportunity to strengthen the relationship!