Real estate agent Maggie had a meeting with home owner John. A few minutes into the conversation, he began to rub his cheek. “John, I think you’re not agreeing with what I just said. Let me explain further.” John hadn’t said a word, but Maggie read his body language and was able to address his concerns.
When you or your agents meet with a client, you need to be aware of what they’re thinking—and there’s a real science behind it. Observation is the key to understanding. Dr. Lillian Glass, in her book I Know What You’re Thinking (Wiley, 2003), outlines four codes of communication that reveal hidden cues: speaking, vocal, body language, and facial.
As you observe a person, you’ll soon discover “leakage”—what they’re subconsciously telling you— through speech and movement. These observations reveal personality, motive, truthfulness, and more. For speech and vocal codes, you need to be a good listener. Don’t just throw your pitch at a client. Give them time to really speak—that alone will reveal a lot to you.
Speaking Code refers to behaviors and phrases that reflect the underlying meaning of words. Here are a few to look out for:
- Sarcastic comments followed by “just kidding.” They’re not kidding. It’s what they mean but they’re unwilling to say it directly. Address these concerns up front.
- Constant contradictions. This person is looking to “win” the conversation. You can combat this by appealing to their ego. “Yes, that’s a valid point. However, I’m sure you know that…”
- Self-effacing. This is an unsure, perhaps fearful person. Show your confidence in them and be warm as you give information.
- “I don’t know,” “Yup,” or “Nope” answers. This is a “closed” person, afraid to trust or commit. Ask questions that can’t have a simple yes or no answer. For instance, if they don’t know if they want a townhouse or single-family home, rephrase the question: “Tell me about your lifestyle…” This kind of person may also need some hard facts and statistics that come from a reliable source.
- Starts a sentence with “Let me be honest” or “I would never lie.” You guessed it. This person is about to lie to you.
- Few words or constant one-word answers. You’re dealing with someone who is stubborn and doesn’t like change. You’re going to have to show real value in what you offer.
The quality, tone, and pattern of the speaker’s voice can reveal the real motivation behind whatever words are spoken:
- Rising pitch. Anger is rising. You’ve said something to make them upset or they’re adamantly disagreeing. Quickly diffuse the situation with calm, quiet words based in fact. Don’t match volume or pitch.
- Lowered pitch. This signifies interest and the real motive. Aha!
- Clipped edge in voice. This person is feeling defensive and is challenging you. Don’t become defensive yourself. Take the high road and put them at ease. If you know you said something they took the wrong way, apologize and then redirect the conversation.
- Choppy, staccato tones. You’re dealing with someone who is inflexible. They know what they want. Narrow choices down to limited options that offer something of what they want. Write down pros and cons and let them choose.
- Sugary sweet. This is a manipulative person who has a hidden agenda. Be wary, don’t be thrown off by backhanded compliments, and don’t take everything they say as truth.
- Slow, overarticulating. This is a thinker, a very detailed person. So give them just the facts. Pause so they can think about what you say. Allow them to formulate their answer. Show that you respect their careful consideration.
Body Language Code
Body language is the most obvious nonverbal code. No matter what they’re saying, or even what they try to show on their face, people forget that their body posture and movements can give away the truth.
- Leaning in, head tilting. Interest. You’ve made a connection.
- Leaning sideways. Friendly. They like you.
- Leaning back. Bored or uncomfortable. Stop talking “at” them. Lean in and ask a question about what they’re looking for.
- Fidgeting. Anxious. They need reassurance.
- Head jerking. Displeasure. Deal with this directly. “I think you didn’t agree with what I just said. What can I clarify?”
- Constant nodding. This is insecurity, not agreement. Stop and ask a pointed question. “Mary, what is your goal for this home sale?”
- Head bowed, head scratching. Unsure, thinking, confusion. Stop and make sure they understand what you just said. Don’t be condescending about it.
- Jutted chin, body lunged forward, rigid posture. Hostile, feels threatened or angry. Address whatever you might have just said. Be relaxed and reassuring.
- Slumped posture. Disinterested. You may have to be direct with this person. “So what’s your timeframe? Are you really interested in selling your home now?”
- Arms crossed or akimbo (hands on hip, elbows out). Stay back; don’t mess with me. Work on trust – be factual and not salesy. “I’ve done some research on your property and the neighborhood. Why don’t we sit down and take a look?”
- Hands behind back. This is a sign of openness. Green light for presentation.
- Hidden hands or thumbs, fist, gripping object, face touching. Secretive or lying. There’s something they’re not telling you, or they’ve told you a lie. Be on guard.
- Hard handshake. Aggressive, hostile. This is not a friendly handshake. You’re going to have to win this person over.
- Limp handshake. Can’t connect. Sorry, but there’s something about you they don’t like. You may have to change gears with this person to connect on a personal level.
- Feet flat, uncrossed legs. Honesty. You’re getting the truth or they are serious about what they’re saying.
- One ankle over another. Holding back. There’s something they haven’t told to you. You may have to dig for the answer.
- Legs pointed away. “Get me out of here.” You need to put this person at ease or you need to change your approach.
Research says that 55 percent of nonverbal communication is facial. You can tell a real, genuine smile, with lifted cheeks and crinkled eyes. There’s life behind it. A fake smile is mouth only – often it reflects lying or inner hostility. Here are a few less obvious clues:
- Eyes narrowed, furrowed or raised eyebrow, scratching behind the ear. Doubt. Always be able to back up any numbers or stats you use.
- Lack of eye contact. Dislike or guilt. Be personable or change your approach.
- Blinking. Worry. There’s a real issue you need to address. Reassure you client.
- Yawning. Boredom or escape from difficult or uncomfortable issue. Address the issue.
- Gulping, nose touching. Saying one thing but meaning the opposite. Don’t be fooled!
- Lip biting, aloof expression. Hostility or anger. Be relaxed and try to find out what the underlying objection might be.
- Cheek rubbing. Disagrees with what you’re saying. Stop and address the issue.
- Tugging an ear. Thinking it over. Don’t keep talking. Give them a minute to process
- Rubbing ears between thumb and forefinger. “I don’t want to hear this” — denial. Show them facts, give anecdotes, show how it benefits them.
Once you know what your client is thinking, you can react appropriately. Reassure them if they’re feeling doubt. Make an insecure person feel more comfortably. Speak softly to tone down an angry person. Get to the truth (or get out of the situation) if they’re being deceptive.
Don’t forget that people observe you as well. So be aware of your own communication codes. Work on maintaining an open, positive, trustworthy demeanor that reflects your professional integrity. Matching your client’s energy and mirroring positive body language establishes good rapport. For example, if they lean in, you lean in. Be subtle; this isn’t the copying game from your childhood.
To read others well, trust your instincts first and improve your observation skills. Then try incorporating the following habits:
- Pay close attention to what people say, how they say it, and how they look when they say it.
- Notice people’s reactions to what is being said.
- Be aware of your feelings at any given moment.
- Be conscious of your surroundings.
- Notice small details.
- Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them.