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Competitive Intelligence: How to Read Posture

Posture sends a message that’s important for you to receive in gathering competitive intelligence information. Whether a person is leaning forward or back, literally talking down to you, or rigid as a plank, their posture tells you something about their character and how they feel about you and whatever they happen to be saying. Run through this checklist when observing a person’s posture:

  • Begin by considering your first impression of the person’s demeanor, which takes into account other aspects of their behavior.

  • Notice whether the person seems to be leaning back, which indicates a lack of engagement or disinterest in the topic of discussion.

  • Note whether the person seems to be leaning forward, which may indicate interest in the topic or aggressiveness.

  • Look for changes in body position, which can often mean a shift in attitude. For example, when a person begins to lean forward during a conversation, it usually indicates that they’re becoming more interested or committed to what’s unfolding.

  • Always put your analysis into context by considering everything you see and hear. For example, don’t interpret posture out of context.

To become more sensitive to posture and what it means, read through the following scenarios. Each scenario describes a different posture and is followed by a brief analysis of what it might mean.

Scenario: Susan is highly motivated and driven. As you work with her over a period of months, you notice that when she answers questions about projects she’s working on, she seems to sit up with her back very straight. Her demeanor is positive, but what does it mean when she straightens up in her chair?
Analysis: Susan seems like a bit of a perfectionist. Note that she responds physically to issues that relate to her personal image and job performance. The change in posture may mean that Susan wants to make sure that she’s accurate in everything she says.
Scenario: John seems casual enough, but at some point in conversations he puts his feet up on his desk and leans back in his chair.
Analysis: People, especially men, lean back in their chairs and put their feet up for a variety of reasons. More often than not, it means that they’re very relaxed and comfortable. That probably indicates that they’re going to be very honest with you in the conversation. (Sometimes, though, it’s just a sign that the person has back problems.)
Scenario: When Sam approaches someone who’s sitting down, he often seems to arch over the person with his shoulders forward. It makes some people nervous. What’s that all about?
Analysis: Sam is probably insecure and trying to counteract his insecurities by posturing as dominant. People who engage in this type of behavior can be highly manipulative. If that’s the case, Sam is not to be trusted.
Scenario: Arnold is a guy who has a few tics. In a number of different situations, you notice that when he’s asked certain questions, he almost always slumps forward, puts his hands in his pockets, and looks down as he answers. Why?
Analysis: Based on the behaviors just described, Arnold probably puts on a façade of being a person of high integrity. The truth, however, is that Arnold is exhibiting a pattern of dishonesty that you probably picked up on from the get-go. People like Arnold can be incredibly dishonest and self-focused.
Scenario: Roberta is the most agreeable person you’ve ever met. She never challenges anything anyone says. Her body posture is usually almost rigid, and it never seems to change.
Analysis: Roberta is probably sending you a very troubling message. She may be the type of person who will say anything to avoid conflict with others. Information provided by Roberta is probably useless in most cases.
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