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Why Is Reading Your Guests’ Body Language Important?
By Lily Lin
Most people believe that speech is our main form of communication. In reality, oral communication is a fairly recent development in the history of human evolution. Before speech was developed, humans relied on body language and deep throat sounds to convey attitude, emotions and feelings. Today, nonverbal communication, or paralanguage, which includes body language, facial expressions, the use of personal space and tonation, still makes up approximately 65 percent of our communications, whereas verbal element makes up the remaining 35 percent. While verbal communication is often used to convey facts and data, nonverbal communication expresses our physical, mental, or emotional states.
Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell claims that an average person can recognize approximately 250,000 facial expressions. The authors of “Definitive of Book of Body Language”, Allan and Barbara Pease, believe that body language accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the impact made during a business negotiation. In addition, people draw their initial opinion about a person whom they have just met in less than four minutes. Much of this opinion is based on their conscious and subconscious observation of the new person’s nonverbal cues. In fact, in our verbal language, we have a number of descriptive vocabularies, which we use to describe certain nonverbal behaviors that many of us intuitively understand. Word phrases such as “a cocky attitude” or “a self-satisfied smirk” elicit mental images of certain body posture and facial expressions. Our paralanguage is such an important part of the human communication process that in a face-to-face situation, what we see means more to us than what we hear. According to Allan and Barbara Pease, non-verbal signals carry about five times as much impact as the oral communication. If what we see and what we hear happen to contradict each other, we, especially women, tend to disregard the verbal content and rely on nonverbal signals. This intuitive understanding of nonverbal behaviors is reflected in one of the old proverbs: “People may doubt what you say. But they never doubt what you do.
Yet, since the development of speech, most people tend to rely on verbal language and are not even aware of that there is another level of communication going on with all of us. Men, in this case, are less aware of the ongoing nonverbal communication between individuals than most women. This could be because women are more in tune with communication in general and tend to send out more nonverbal cues, such as nodding and eye contact, while carrying on a conversation. Women are also more in tune with their own emotions as well as the emotions of others.
Nonverbal Communication Is Ongoing and Often Without Our Knowing.
While speech can be turned on or off, allowing us to choose whether to express our thoughts or to keep them to ourselves, nonverbal communication is ongoing. The way we stand, sit, or use our hand gestures and facial expressions, all send out stronger signals than the words we speak. Our body language reveals our feeling, attitude and emotion, even to strangers and often does so without our knowing. For example, when two individuals unconsciously match each other’s body gestures, called “matching and mirroring”, it clearly indicates that they feel that they are on the same wavelength with each other. It also implies that they have developed certain trust and goodwill. Further, when people are at the ‘making friends’ stage, they tend to mirror each other’s gestures in a subconscious effort to reach out. Conversely, many people instinctively know that when the conversation with another person is not going well. If two people mismatch their body gestures, we know that trust has not yet been established and perhaps, there might be disagreements between them. In addition, if one shows hand gestures such as touching the ear, eyes or back of the head (especially among men), the message is that disinterest has set in and that he/she is ready to move on.
Hotel Industry Needs to Emphasize Nonverbal Communication Training.
More and more, the service industry begins to realize that in order to offer the best customer service, company-wide customer care training is important. However, much of the training involves verbal behaviors. For example, I recently flew with one of the American airline companies. It was obvious that the ground staff was trained to address each passenger by his/her name. Even though they addressed me by my name, which supposedly signaled friendliness and caring, their nonverbal communication said something else. To begin with, there was no eye contact. Also, some of them addressed my name while their shoulders were turned away or their head was facing the opposite direction. This made their verbal communication seem insincere and half hazard. Under these circumstances, most of us would trust the accuracy of nonverbal cues rather than verbal behaviors. The airline company simply neglected to train the ground crew members, so that they understand that:
In business, any top sales executive or contract negotiator could testify on the importance of understanding their clients’ or opponents’ paralanguage. After all, hotel business is people business. People communicate — verbally and nonverbally. It is only natural that hotel staff should acquire a good understanding of nonverbal communication and be able to identify their guests’ emotional state as well as their likes and dislikes. Not only that, hotel staff should be able to use nonverbal communication to convey friendliness, helpfulness and genuine warmth. They should also learn to eliminate negative paralanguage that may send out the wrong message. For example, matching and mirroring can be used to send strong positive signals while subconsciously assuring the guests that the hotel staff likes them and agrees with what they are saying. This will instantly create a positive and harmonious guest relation. On the other hand, a stiff upper lip and cold eyes convey hostility regardless of what one says.
Like the airline company training, much of the hotel guest service training focuses on verbal behaviors. Nonverbal behavior training is not always adequately addressed or properly understood. Perhaps, nonverbal communication training should include more than just smiling, nodding and a few simple and basic gestures. For instance, men and women “mirror” differently. Wrong approach will not achieve the positive result expected and may even cause misunderstanding. Every day we respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviors, that include our facial expressions, handshakes, gestures, tone of our voice, and even our appearance. Nonverbal details reveal who we are and how we relate to other people. Consequently, nonverbal behavior training must be more in depth and broader in scope. After all, nonverbal communication is humans’ original language! Hotels that are able to master nonverbal communication will surely establish memorable and long-lasting guest relations.
About Lily Lin
Lily Lin, MBA, Ph.D. is the Chief Editor of Dr. Lily Lin’s Blog at http://iworkinhotels.com. She has extensive experiences in marketing management, consulting and training. She has taught in American, German and Dutch universities. For more than 20 years, she was the designer and the senior lecturer of a number of courses at the Hotelschool the Hague, including Revenue Management, the first ever offered at the School. She conceived her latest project, ”Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers Series”, in which she interviews hotel managers from major international chain and independent hotels. Her interviews and other works are published regularly in her blog.
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