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Read Between The Lines: Client Body Language and Vocal Cues


Read between the lines

Read Between The Lines: Client Body Language and Vocal Cues

Shhh. Listen. Did you hear that?


It’s the sound of a frustrated client.

In your professional and personal relationships, non-verbal communication often speaks louder than words. Case in point: body language accounts for up to 55% of how you communicate.

And don’t forget about those vocal cues. Tone, volume, inflection and pace of voice can totally change the emotional impact of any verbal message. Silence, throat clearing, and grunts of approval – these are ways to communicate without saying a word.

So when you’re in a meeting with a client, whether face-to-face or on a conference call, it pays to be attentive to non-verbal cues. You’ll have the power to:

• Detect and redirect frustration, suspicion, and boredom
• Amplify enthusiasm and interest


• Increase meeting productivity and positive outcomes.

Here’s what to look out (and listen) for:

When a client needs reassurance or clarification
You could riff on the intricate inner-workings of your product or service for days, but for the prospective client on the other side of the room, ten minutes of your gabbing feels like a century. He has questions, but can’t get a word in edgewise.

Unfortunately, you have no idea; until you notice this nonverbal behavior:

• Pen chewing/gnawing
• Nail biting
• Hands in pockets
• Quiet volume of voice (if/when he does get a minute to speak)

When a client is lying
The meeting went well, you think. Promises were made and contracts were discussed. So why haven’t you heard a peep from the client in over three weeks? Next time you’ll have a better idea of whether or not the person is being honest by watching for what Forbes contributor Carol Kinsey Goman calls “clusters” of these non-verbal signals, which have been proven statistically to be a highly accurate indicator of deception:

• Hand touching
• Face touching
• Arms crossed
• Leaning away
• Change in pitch or voice cracking

When a client is uneasy or unhappy
Nothing kills productivity during a meeting like a person who simply won’t contribute. So why not get to the bottom of why? Could the person be unhappy about something? If you pick up on “clusters” of these non-verbal signals, consider clearing the air before moving forward. It could be the most valuable action you take during the whole meeting:

• Throat clearing
• Whistling
• Tugging or pinching at clothes or skin
• Fidgeting with hands
• Moving or leaning away from you
• Short breaths
• Rubbing back of neck, eyes

When a client has checked out
During the meeting, you realize the subject matter is about as engaging as the directions on a box of macaroni and you certainly haven’t made any effort to jazz it up. But the meeting is only halfway through, so you still have a chance to change pace. It’s a chance you’ll definitely want to take if you notice this nonverbal behavior exhibited by the people around you:

• Hand drumming on the table
• Blank stares
• Hands resting in palms
• Long pauses before speaking
• Doodling

When a client is definitely on board
During a meeting where everyone involved is engaged and involved in the decision-making process, the energy exchange can feel like a rock concert. The more the audience gives, the more the leader gives back. Take note of these positive cues, and prepare to extend the power and productivity of your meeting even further:

• Person moving or leaning close to you
• Open hands
• Tilted head
• Vocal nods (“Mmhmm”, “Uh-huh”)
• Smiling
• Vocal tone projects warmth and ease

When in doubt, check in
Non-verbal communication changes with context, so it’s worthwhile to verbally check-in with clients during meetings to ensure you’re on the same page. Direct specific questions to individuals to increase engagement, and don’t be afraid to ask, “How am I doing?”

During conference calls, take advantage of web controls that provide your clients with the option to ask questions (5* here on Conference Calling). This helps align your meetings with the needs of the people involved and makes it easy to manage question and answer sessions.

And remember, your own non-verbal cues speak volumes, too. What message do you send?

Peter Doan is Vast Conference's customer service lead and dedicated account manager. With 10-plus years of experience, he's a customer service superstar and a regular contributor here.

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